Last night, purely for academic reasons, I checked in on the betting line for the Arkansas State Red Wolves versus the Washington Huskies and was met with an atomic blast of incredulity: the Huskies were favored by 17 points.
That’s free cabbage right there. Bear in mind, the Huskies offense has score 17 points for the entire season, having only put up seven against FCS Montana and another ten against a Michigan team that was granted pity entry into the AP Top 25 this week. Now Vegas would have you believe that Washington is suddenly going to pile up points on Arkansas State? I get it, the Red Wolves rank 126th nationally in total defense after two games. Memphis bullied through the defensive line and piled up 263 yards on the ground in Week 2.
But the Red Wolves also boast the nation’s #3 offense headed into Saturday, scoring 45 points per contest against the Huskies’ 8. I can’t square the numbers. However, Vegas may be taking account a gut feeling: wounded dogs are dangerous.
The Run Game Will Be Key to a Red Wolves Victory
You don’t beat Washington through the air. Controlling the run game – on both sides of the ball – is how you beat the Huskies. Montana Grizzlies QB Cameron Humphrey threw for only 105 yards versus the Huskies – getting all of 4.5 yards a toss. Michigan barely bothered to throw, piling up a massive 44 yards on 7/15 passing.
Nope, you run the ball on the Huskies. Montana gained only 127 on the ground, but the Griz’s one TD came on a run. Michigan was far more brutal: 343 yards and 4 TDs, with three of those scores courtesy of Blake Corum (171 yards).
On the other side of the ball, the Huskies ground patrol has tallied 57 yards and punched in one TD. Wow, that’s terrible. Washington can’t run, nor can Washington stop the run, and that means opportunity for a Red Wolves rushing attack that has yet to find its identity.
To date, A-State head coach Butch Jones has relied heavily on newcomer running backs Johnnie Lang and Alan Lamar, but neither has stood out. Against Memphis, the running back who seemed most effective was Lincoln Pare (36 yards on 6 attempts). Marcel Murray, who looked strong against UCA, did not play against Memphis (and may be a bit dinged up).
Somebody can choose to emerge as the Red Wolves bell cow on Saturday. Running backs coach Ryan Aplin should be motivated to pad his LinkedIn page with a master performance.
Of Course, Why Run When You Can Throw Dingers?
The Red Wolves are, after a mere two weeks, the nation’s leading pass offense, racking up 920 yard via the air while bombing the end zone 9 times. A-State’s Corey Rucker is second in the nation with 4 TD grabs, and he’s richly accompanied by exceptional talent in Jeff Foreman, Te’Vailance Hunt and about half-a-dozen other guys who can step in and make big plays.
The elephant in the room is the “quarterback situation.” I’ve seen in a number of places where both Huskies media and the program’s coaching staff have called the A-State offense a “two quarterback system.” Red Wolves fans know this not to be true. We have a one QB system that can’t decide between the incumbent Layne Hatcher and the newcomer James Blackman. Both QBs started one game and both replaced each other in the second halves.
|2nd Half Hatcher||150||4||315||UCA|
|2nd Half Blackman||308||4||199.7||Memphis|
After Week 1, it was obvious that Hatcher was the right choice at quarterback. After Week 2, all the evidence suggests a return to Blackman. We’re really all quite befuddled. The only thing we know for certain is that Coach Jones will maintain the fog of war by refusing to name a starter until Saturday.
The Huskies are a Wounded and Dangerous Animal
Flashback to the days leading to Week 1: the Washington Huskies are an AP Top 25 team with aspirations for winning the PAC 12 and possibly sneaking into the College Football Playoffs. One loss to an FCS team and one loss to Michigan later, the Huskies are limping badly and baring fangs, as evidenced by this segment from The Athletic:
Seattle is ready to toss assistants into Elliot Bay, and only a big win over Arkansas State can save offensive coordinator John Donovan from an unceremonious dunking. And that makes the Huskies dangerous. Desperate men do desperate things.
Who (or What) Should We Be Looking For from The Huskies?
Here’s another telling observation from that article from The Athletic: “The problem is that through two games, the Huskies have no apparent strengths.” Ouch. The thing is, Washington was supposed to be a solid run team with a capable rush defense and an excellent pass defense led by pre-season all-conference selection Trent McDuffie – he and fellow cornerback Kyler Gordon will put pressure on Hatcher/Blackman with frequent blitzes.
But this appears to be a team with zero offensive chemistry. Doak Walker candidate Sean McGrew has yet to see a second of action (considered a bit of a Seattle mystery), and freshman QB Dylan Morris has a single passing touchdown against three picks. The offensive line, which returns the majority of its starters from last season and includes NFL prospect Jaxson Kirkland, has yet to protect Morris or provide much running room.
What will we see from the Huskies? Unless a totally different Washington team trots into Husky Stadium on Saturday, we won’t see much.
Who Needs to Wolf Up?
As mentioned before, a running back needs to make the position his on Saturday. Butch Jones said after Week 1 that he has “four starting running backs.” I’d like to see just one.
Additionally, whoever starts behind center on Saturday needs to access that second half intensity immediately. The Huskies’ confidence has to be a fragile flower right now, and to score early and often will make it nearly impossible for Washington to recover.
Lastly, defensive coordinator Rob Harley needs to learn whatever lessons Memphis provided and find ways to plug those run lanes. Defensive ends Kivon Bennett and Joe Ozougwu are providing the pressure on the quarterback, but the defense cannot allow Washington to find its ground-mojo on Saturday.
Out With It, Dork! Who Wins?
Vegas likes Washington, but man, it’s hard to like Washington. There’s no real reason to expect the Huskies to be any less bigger or faster than Memphis, but then again, Memphis didn’t lose to Montana. My greatest concern is that the booster pressure motivates Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake to pull out every and all stops to defeat Arkansas State.
Red Wolves 50, Huskies 17