Arkansas State’s first must win game of the season: Red Wolves vs UCA Bears

If there is one constant in this entropic universe, it’s that the University of Central Arkansas Bears will field nasty wide receivers who will not rest until your body is destroyed and your soul is stomped into metaphysical gravy. This year is no different. In fact, there’s plenty of familiarity when the Red Wolves host UCA on September 4, starting with WR Tyler Hudson, the ASUN preseason offensive player of the year) who had 12 catches for 154 yards when UCA visited Jonesboro last year.

And he’s not even the only guy that A-State will have to neutralize.

“I’d look out for Hudson’s running mate, Lujuan Winningham who has the numbers and the big play moments in his time in Conway to strike fear into the hearts of a DC at any level,” says Justin Acri, UCA Bears Whisperer for The Buzz. “The Bears also feature a home run hitter at RB with Cameron Myers who doesn’t have impressive numbers having served as a backup to this point, but has shown his explosiveness regularly as a kick returner, and that includes a couple that have gone over 80 including a 96-yard TD last season.”

The Bears landed a conference best 13 players on the first-ever All-ASUN preseason team , with selections on both sides of the line. Overall, the Bears are projected to finish second in the ASUN, which feels a little like bulletin board material. The Bears are good. Expectations are high, and Acri believes “high” is where the expectations belong.

“As Michael Jordan once said, ‘the ceiling is the roof,'” says Acri. “UCA has a handful of key super-seniors from last year back, an experienced and talented QB, the best WR tandem in the FCS, an experienced and deep O-line that has had to compete for playing time, a talented and deep front and back end on defense and an all-league kicker.”

That seems like quite enough justification for the expectations, and yet, Acri wasn’t finished. 

“Also, Coach Nathan Brown has “been there and done it” now as the head coach for a few years.  If the question is, ‘what’s not to like?’ then the answer is, ‘not much.'”

UCA Mentally Damaged Us

To look past the Bears is a mistake new A-State head football coach Butch Jones can’t afford to make – just ask Blake Anderson, the former Red Wolves coach who saw his 2016 team upset by the Bears 28-23. It was a loss that shook Jonesboro to its very core! Even though Anderson repaid the Bears last season with a 50-27 thumping, Red Wolves fans are still cringing from 2016.

“It’s still enraging to think about,” says Channel 4 Strongman Jay Bir.

“Why are we talking about this? I was having a pretty good day until I saw this message,” adds Kara Richey of 95.3 The Ticket.

Legendary record producer Rex Steele is still visibly disturbed. “All I remember was UCA’s go ahead TD. They decided to go for two, which we stopped, and our secondary danced and celebrated as though AState won the game instead of being down by five to an FCS team.”

Kara finally managed to marshal her horror and pull forth a graphic memory of the evening. “I had to host Wolf Howls that night. My memories include a caller that uttered the saddest “Wolves Up” I’ve ever heard in my life and a UCA fan that was far nicer than he ever should have been.”

The End Around Report offered advice for the column. “You should find the man in Section S who kept screaming ‘Burn this whole %$#&! Down!’ Or the band director who yelled “Play louder, we’re NOT going to lose to Conway #@$%! High School.”

Kat Scoggin was forever altered on molecular level. “To this day it is the only game I’ve ever left early.”

So yeah, Red Wolves fans and band directors are dealing with a five-year-old trauma from which we may never recover. However, Butch Jones may have a prescription for wellness, replacing Blake Anderson’s fun-focused style with a more focused and disciplined approach. Should that be enough for victory? Let’s examine the variables.

New Coach. (Mostly) New Staff. And 50 New Players.

This isn’t Blake Anderson’s Red Wolves. It could have been, except when Butch Jones walked into the Arkansas State locker room, he immediately dipped in to the transfer wire to launch an overhaul of the defense, added competition in the QB locker room, and provided some much needed beef on the offensive line. Newbies who will likely make an immediate impact on Saturday: defensive lineman Kivon Bennett (Tennessee), defensive end Joseph Ozougwu (North Texas), and wide receiver Tevailance Hunt (TCU).

The newcomers bring with them tantalizing potential. But who knows? We do know that A-State has a proven winner in Butch Jones who is hungry to re-prove he’s a top tier college football coach. Furthermore, the defense seems much improved under new defense coordinator Rob Harley, and the offensive line can only get better under Matt Limegrover.

Yeah, But Let’s Not Forget Those Anderson Red Wolves

For all the talk of new faces, the roster is undergirded by Red Wolves veterans that fans will raise a Howler for. Reports out of camp suggest that running back Marcel Murray is back at 100%, plus an extra 100%, joining Lincoln Pare in a backfield that may finally be poised to inflict damage. Rising superstars Corey Rucker and Jeff Foreman lead another accomplished wideout corps. Andre Harris, Ivory Scott and Jacob Still are still serving in the offensive trenches, and Samy Johnson builds on a promising career at corner.

The youngbloods are receiving all the attention, but the veterans will be the ones who determine whether or not the Red Wolves will regain their place at the center of the Sun Belt.

Something About the Quarterback Situation

As of this writing, the quarterback battle between incumbent Layne Hatcher and Florida State transfer James Blackman is ongoing and Butch Jones isn’t compelled to reveal his hand too soon. Practices have been stubbornly closed to the public, but Jones has uttered nothing but praise for both guys. Regardless of who’s behind center, look for the remodeled run game to provide more opportunities for big-yardage pass plays.

Please note: that last statement will be tested on Saturday with all-conference defensive backs Cameron Godfrey and DeAndre Lamont locking down the Bears backfield.

Can the Bears Relive The Terror of 2016?

Blake Anderson received so much guff from fans after losing to UCA in 2016 that he pulled zero punches in 2020. To open the Butchboro Era with a defeat to an in-state rival doesn’t seem like Coach Jones’ style. But this is a Bears team with just as much incentive as A-State has to grab the W. After all, UCA is a flagship program in a brand new football conference. They’re not in Jonesboro to sup at Cracker Barrel.

“The blueprint is there, but will be hard to follow,” says Acri. “You have to execute in key situations like they did in 2016.  It seems like every time the Bears HAD to make a play (TD run on 4th down, late stop on defense), they did. Central Arkansas also won the turnover battle 4-0 and that makes things awfully tough for the team on the wrong side of that stat.  Both these teams are more explosive than those teams though and keeping the opposition’s big plays to a minimum will also be at a premium.”

Enough! Give Us the Prediction, Nerd!

The Red Wolves schedule offers difficult challenges from September to November. UCA is just one of twelve must-win games for Butch Jones and Arkansas State, and the Bears will not be overlooked nor under-appreciated.

That typed, the Red Wolves play UCA in Jonesboro before a demanding crowd, a demanding administration and a demanding head coach. There are veterans on this team that likely took a dim view of last year’s four wins. There will be vengeance. And the sword shall fall on the Lilac Honans.

Red Wolves 49, UCA Bears 10

Many thanks to UCA Bear Whisperer Justin Acri and to my Red Wolves Emotion Panel: Rex Steele, Jay Bir, Kat Scoggin, Kara Richey and the mysterious End Around Report.

Photo Credit: It’s mine, baby

UPDATE

Arkansas State released its two-deep for the game and announced the season’s opening kit combo: BLOOD MOON.

Offense
QBJames Blackman(or) Layne Hatcher
RBMarcel MurrayLincoln Pare
TEReed TylerRoss Painter
WRJeff ForemanAdam Jones
WRCorey RuckerReagan Ealy
WRTe’Vailance HuntDahu Green
LTAndre HarrisNoah Smith
LGIvory ScottMakilan Thomas
CEthan MinerJacob Still
RGJustin DuttonAvery Demmons
RTRobert HolmesWyatt Luebke
Defense
DEJoe OzougwuThurman Geathers
DEKivon BennetTW Ayers
DTTerry HamptonQuay Mays
DTVidal ScottJohn Mincey
LBAnthony SwitzerCam Jeffery
LBCabel BonnerDerrick Bean
LBDane MotleyJeffmario Brown(or) Jaden Harris
SAntonio FletcherElery Aldexander
STaylon DossTrevian Thomas
CBJarius ReimonenqKenneth Harris(or) Samy Johnson
CBDenzel BlackwellLeon Jones
Special Teams
KBlake GrupeAidan Ellison
PRyan Hanson
KRMarcel MurrayLincoln Parre
PRLeroy DeshazorLincoln Parre