Not long ago – like literally last season – the Arkansas State defense had an identity. The defense wasn’t a shutdown unit (it did, in fact, rank among the nation’s lowest, statistically speaking), but it did feature a plucky “bend don’t break” attitude that resulted in turnovers and sometimes even goal line stands.
The catalyst for the defense’s shaky success was applying tremendous pressure on the quarterback, fueled by Arkansas State’s golden age of defensive ends: Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, Ronheem Bingham and William Bradley King. Thanks to the ” Troika of Disruption” (a name I just coined for the sake of this paragraph), it didn’t matter so much that our defensive backs were too short or too slow or too undisciplined. What mattered is that opposing quarterbacks feared for their own bones, resulting in mistakes for our secondary to scoop.
Today, Bradley-King has dumped us for a supporting role at Baylor, and Arkansas State ranks dead last in the Sun Belt for total defense and sacks. Currently, the Red Wolves defense has zero identity, and it was painfully evident in the 54-17 murder-scene against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. No pass rush. No run stoppage. No coverage. No disruption. We may as well fielded a jar of no-fat mayonnaise.
Who’s at fault for this tragedy? Losing Bradley King and Jerry Jacobs didn’t help, of course. Our secondary is a little young and a lot inexperienced. Forrest Merrill gets double teamed, and the rest of the line has yet to really take advantage. But these aren’t crippling liabilities. The problem lies elsewhere.
Defensive Coordinator Dave Duggan came to Arkansas State via Western Michigan, and he was expected to deliver some MAC-style toughness to the team. But the criticism of Duggan’s designs is that he plays the passing game too softly, granting opposing wide receivers a juicy five yard cushion with every snap.
The method to this blandness may be found on Duggan’s official A-State bio:
The Red Wolves’ proved to have an opportunistic defense under Duggan in 2019, posting 19 turnovers gained that ranked second in the Sun Belt and 48th in the nation. The unit turned three of those turnovers into touchdowns, which ranked third in the league and 12th in the country. The Red Wolves’ recorded 12 interceptions that ranked second in the conference and 31st in FBS, while they also added seven fumble recoveries.
I’m not a defensive savant, but perhaps what Duggan is attempting to do is lull QBs into throwing lazy passes for the corners to pick up and pick off. However, if this be the case, the strategy ain’t working. The Red Wolves rank a woeful last in the Sun Belt for defending the pass, and last week, Duggan and Co. made a freshman QB look like Joe Montana on teal.
Listen, y’all: COVID-19 makes everything about this season stupid. Key players miss time. Coaches are scheming against quarantine timelines. Teams who’ve played zero games are ranked in the nation’s Top 10. There are no rules in 2020! Entropy reigns.
So sure, we can point the easy finger at Duggan. For that matter, we can point a second finger at Anderson for sticking with the guy. But the cold fact of the matter is that by the second quarter in Conway, the entire Red Wolves squad looked ready to watch some Netfilx on the flight home. Two weeks of Covid Cancelations likely takes the steam out of the season. I get it.
The Red Wolves finally get a home game on Saturday, where they host in-state boogyman UCA. Duggan will either apply fire to his defense, or face the red hot heat of the fans when the final whistle blow.