We knew this was not a non-con slate for sissies. In fact, 1-3 was a prediction made by many a prognosticator, though many of us (including the guy typing this poorly crafted column) believed a home win against Missouri and a revenge win against Toledo were reasonably attainable.
One win and three losses later, the Red Wolves are where level heads thought they'd be. But the lackluster style of A-State's three losses is puzzling and concerning considering we're talking about an offense that's returning the majority of its starters.
Let's see what we have here.
Not counting FCS program Missouri State, the Red Wolves offense has scored 6, 20, and zero points.
With the lone score in Toledo coming off a heroic special teams effort from J.D. McKissic, the Red Wolves offense ended non-con play looking less "explosive" and more like a wet firecracker. A-State has yet to play a FBS program without surrendering multiple soul-crushing turnovers. After four weeks, Arkansas State ranks 99th in college football for total offense. Yuck.
But consider this: The Red Wolves have faced some pretty bad ass defenses. Missouri ranks 7th in the nation for total defense. Toledo ranks 2nd nationally for red zone defense. Only USC's defense ranks pedestrian, yet the Trojans are currently the 17th ranked program in the nation. Yes, Arkansas State needs to break these defenses if it wants to rise further as a program, but there's no denying that the competition has been top tier.
The Red Wolves need Fredi Knighten to come back. And step up.
Against FBS competition, the Red Wolves are more potent with the senior signal caller than without.
The A-State offense with Fredi Knighten: 3 TDs
The A-State offense without Fredi Knighten: 0 TDs
Three touchdowns is puny production coming from the Sun Belt's most dynamic quarterback. But Knighten was effective against Missouri before the groin injury. And as promising as red shirt freshman James Tabary is, he simply isn't ready to lead the A-State offense, which isn't designed for his pocket-passing style of play.
As of this writing, Fredi's status is a mystery. Coach Blake Anderson and staff had declared Knighten 100% before psyching everyone out and putting Tabary behind center. As far as we know, Knighten's groin is as damaged as Owen Wilson's nose.
Anderson says Fredi Knighten is day-to-day. Will be reevaluated later today.— Troy Schulte (@TroySchulteADG) September 28, 2015
The Red Wolves Defense is improved, but it can't do it all.
On defense, the Red Wolves pass the eye test. They look heavier on the line. They seem faster in the back field. There are playmakers aplenty. But offensive turnovers is constantly putting the defense in the opponent's red zone.. As a result, the stats don't look impressive after four games.
Currently, the Red Wolves rank 79th in total defense, 70th in rushing defense, and 80th for passing allowed. But here's the kicker: our turnover margin average is -6! We rank 118 in the country! The Red Wolves have created just as many turnovers as Alabama, but the offense ranks 124th in turnovers lost. By surrendering the ball 13 times, the defense has been asked to save the day 13 additional times.
The Place Kicking Game Is Still A Horror to Behold
Luke Ferguson is a master at punting, netting 39 yards per kick, good for 45th in the nation. But while the Red Wolves have only missed one field goal this season, it was from twenty yards. One missed kick should not indite the entire squad, but A-State endured the nation's second worst XP percentage last year. The fans are still shellshocked. Missing a chip shot does little for the confidence.
It's all Sun Belt from here.
Let's just admit it: the Sun Belt Heat has cooled considerably. The conference is currently 14-24. The Red Wolves have plenty of Sun Belt buddies sitting on one win. There were too many P5 blowouts and the conference was a miserable 3-7 against peer-to-peer competition.
But, the Sun Belt did take care of business against the FCS.
As for the Red Wolves, the program is 0-1 versus the PAC12, 0-1 versus the SEC, 0-1 versus the MAC, but a convincing 1-0 over the Missouri Valley Athletic Conference. From here on, it's all Sun Belt. And when nobody is very good, that means everybody is good. A-State opens conference play against traditional Sun Belt powerhouse, Idaho, and Vegas still believes in the Red Wolves offense.
So bring it on! Buy extra fireworks, Arkansas State fireworks guy. Somebody is going to win that sweet Sun Belt trophy. And my dollar is still on the Red Wolves.