In five years under Blake Anderson, Arkansas State was the definition of consistent, having a winning record every year but never quite reaching that double-digit win threshold.
He will have to deal with a ton of turnover in 2019, as 3,000+ yard QB Justice Hansen is gone, along with RB Warren Wand (792 yards, four touchdowns, 5.7 YPA), ends Ronheen Bingham and Dajon Emory (combined 15.5 sacks, 15.5 TFL), and NB/S Justin Clifton (81 tackles, six TDL, five PBUs last year).
Both coordinators are gone along with twice that many position coaches, and keeping the ship steady may be tough for Anderson with that much turnover in the coaching ranks.
The new OC is former North Carolina QBs coach Keith Heckendorf. Heckendorf will have a couple of options between junior Logan Bonner, who was Hansen’s backup last year, Alabama transfer Layne Hatcher, and star true freshman Coltin Clack.
Whoever the QB will be (likely Bonner), they’ll have an array of weapons as the Red Wolves return last year’s #1 rusher, Marcel Murray (860 yards, eight touchdowns, 5.6 YPA), as well as three of the top four in the receiving corps, a group led by all-conference senior Kirk Merrit, who racked up over 1,000 yards last year along with seven touchdowns on 12.1 YPC. Omar Bayless (14.5 YPC) and Jonathan Adams (15.7 YPC) are a pair of playmakers for the eventual QB to throw to as well. The depth in the receiving corps is strong too as eight of the top ten are back from last year.
Murray will likely get help from JUCO transfer Ryan Graham in the run game, but the line loses two starters and was a unit that struggled to begin with. Getting more consistency there is probably the key to determining whether or not the offense can keep up with last year’s numbers.
The defense was quite efficient last year, especially in the pass rush, but they do lose their two leading sack artists from last year in Bingham and Emory. Two huge run stuffers are back in NG Forrest Merrill and DT Kevin Thurmon (combined 121 tackles, eight sacks, 11.5 TFL). William Bradley-King (six sacks, 3.5 TFL) will be able to slide into one of the end spots, but JUCO transfer Aaron Donkor will likely need to step in on the other side.
The new DC is David Duggan (former Western Michigan LB coach and Southern Miss DC), and he’ll get back a lot outside of the edges and Clifton. Will linebacker Tajhea Chambers (seven TFL as a sophomore) is a name to watch, and while Clifton is gone in the secondary, three other starters return including corner Jerry Jacobs (eight PBUs).
A ton is back from what was already a pretty good defense, I’m willing to say this is a better side than last year’s D despite the coordinator change.
The schedule shapes out really nicely for the Red Wolves. Outside of a game @ #2 Georgia, they should be within a field goal or favored in every other game this year and they avoid Appalachian State until a potential conference title game matchup with the Mountaineers.
The turnover among assistants may be tough to deal with, but I have confidence in Anderson to steady the ship, and this team has a crack at ten wins, especially if they can finally win a bowl game after losing heartbreakers the past two years.
|Date||Opponent||OPP. RANK||Proj. Margin|
|5-Oct||at Georgia State||120||8.8|
|29-Nov||at South Alabama||123||9.7|
Average Projected Record: 8.2 wins, 3.8 losses (5.7 wins, 2.3 losses)