Jagged Little Pill: Arkansas State vs South Alabama Preview

Small victories are life’s little sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. Mmm, pepper! For example, on Monday the Sun Belt announced its weekly offensive player of the week, and he didn’t hail from a program who had most recently defeated Arkansas State.

We’ll have to deal with this Chandler Rogers kid soon enough, but for now, let us Red Wolves fans bask in the darkness of anonymity afforded by the effort of a defensive squad who finally limited an opponent to under 50 points. Mmmm, pepper.

The Red Wolves defense isn’t exactly channeling the 1985 Chicago Bears – the unit was torched for yet another 99 yard TD on Thursday night. But there was something spunky about the guys’ performance against the Cajuns. The line menaced Levi Lewis into tossing a pick while completing only 11 passes for a mere 122 yards. Sure, the Cajuns piled up 424 ground yards, but take away that 99 yard TD run, then 325 isn’t that bad, right?

Meanwhile, There’s Trouble in Mobile

The Kane Womack Era started off well enough with three wins and one quality loss to the Cajuns. Since then, the Jaguars are 1-2 with ugly away losses to the Bobcats and the Warhawks. South Alabama was supposed to be poised for noise in the Sun Belt West. Instead, it finds itself in a dignity-rebuilding game with Arkansas State on Saturday.

The 41-31 loss to ULM was a crippling blow to the Jags’s defense, which should have been Womack’s strength. But the Jags secondary made freshman Warhawk quarterback Chandler Rogers the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week with 4 TD passes and 369 yards. You have to believe that Red Wolves quarterback Layne Hatcher wants a piece of that action.

More trouble for the Jags: the dynamic duo of QB Jake Bentley (two picks) and WR Jalen Tolbert (lost fumble) accounted for all three of the Jaguars’ turnovers on Saturday. It’s hard to win games when your team leaders aren’t taking care of the pill.

Summoning A Slightly Lighter Dark Emotions Board

Layne Hatcher is Just Getting Started

Hatcher didn’t turn the ball over against the Cajuns, but he didn’t always look comfy behind the wheel of the offense either. Yes, Hatcher threw for 300 yards and three TDs, but he only complete 16 of 31 passes. Some of those passes were dropped – a nagging problem all season – but a noticeable few were simply badly targeted tosses, including missing a wide open Corey Rucker in the end zone.

However, the sophomore also displayed some run toughness he didn’t have last year, barreling through defenders to get tough first downs. But Hatcher can’t rely on his legs and below-average speed. He’ll need to lean on Te’Vailance Hunt, Jeff Foreman and Rucker to get open and make plays. Only Troy and Coastal Carolina have allowed fewer passing TDs than South Alabama (8), and half those touchdowns were allowed against ULM on Saturday night. Whatever weakness Chandler Rogers found in the South Bama secondary, Hatcher will surely find, too.

Breaking Down that Cringe-Worthy 99 Yard Run Play

With the Cajuns locked down on their own one yard line, the Red Wolves were likely thinking safety (I know I was). Instead, Montrell Johnson broke off a 99 yard TD run, the second week in a row that the Red Wolves squandered a brilliant kick and allowed a 99-yard touchdown play.

Anatomy of a 99 yard play.

This is just a well designed play executed nicely by the Cajuns. DE Kivon Bennett is waiting for a run on the outside, leaving the TE free to put a block on the middle linebacker, Jaden Harris. The Cajun WR takes out the safety, Elery Alexander, who bites on Johnson coming up the middle. Freshman CB Kenneth Harris keys in on the wide receiver, and he then stumbles in mid-course correction when he realizes he’s been played. That’s all Johnson needs before he’s off to the races. Had Harris kept his balance, then maybe the play yields at worst a first down. Who knows? Lesson learned.

Going Deep on the Two-Deep

Cornerback Samy Johnson may be listed on the 2-deep, but he is not available to play, though Coach Jones said that he’s progressing after the nasty hit he took against Coastal Carolina. Also progressing, QB James Blackman, who has started to practice agains and may even be available against South Alabama. However, no matter what Blackman’s status is on Thursday, Coach Jones said that Hatcher remains the starter.

Layne HatcherWyatt BegealJames Blackman (Inj)
Alan LamarLincoln Pare
Reed TylerEmmanuel Stevenson
Jeff ForemanAdam Jones
Corey RuckerReagan Ealy
Te’Vailance HuntDahu Green
Andre HarrisNoah Smith
Ethan MinerErnesto Ramirez
Jacob StillMakilan Thomas
Ivory ScottChristian Hoz
Wyatt LuebkeAvery Demmons
Joe OzougwuThurman Geathers
Kivon BennetTW Ayers
Sosaia TuitavakeQuay Mays
Vidal ScottJohn Mincey
Anthony SwitzerCam Jefferyor Melique Straker
Caleb BonnerDerrick Bean
Jaden HarrisJeffmario Brownor Dane Motley
Elery AldexanderAntonio Fletcher
Taylon DossTrevian Thomas
Jarius ReimonenqDenzel Blackwell
Leon JonesSamy Johnson
Blake GrupeAidan Ellison
Ryan Hanson
Marcel MurrayLincoln Pare
Johnnie LangLincoln Pare

Who Needs Stopping?

The guy Butch Jones and the Red Wolves defense will be attempting to mitigate is Jalen Tolbert, the leading Sun Belt receiver who ranks fifth in the nation for receiving yards with 873. The man sniffs balls, which puts a ton of pressure on a Red Wolves secondary who’s already missing Johnson. If Bennett and Joe Ozougwu can apply some pressure on Jake Bentley – perhaps get him to add to those four picks he’s already tossed – then it may give the secondary a breather from chasing after Tolbert and his battery mate, sophomore Jalen Wayne.

Who Needs Starting?

Even with only 97 yards between them, Lang and Pare gave the A-State an offense just enough wrinkle to allow Hatcher to perform his magic. That’s no small request. South Alabama boasts the third toughest run defense in the Sun Belt (behind Troy and Appalachian State). ULM didn’t doing poorly on the ground against the Jaguars. If the run game can manufacturer even a hint of threat, it may be enough to help the Red Wolves out-slug the Jags in Mobile.

Just Make Your Prediction, You Lout!

South Alabama is not having quite the disappointing season that the Red Wolves are enduring, but they probably had marked Texas State and ULM as wins headed into the season. With conference title hopes fading, the Jags will be looking to at least secure bowl eligibility, and a win in front of the home crowd would probably take some heat off the team’s neck.

Arkansas State, even coming off the loss, seems to have momentum heading into Mobile. If the Jags are feeling a little desperate, the Red Wolves are feeling a lot desperate, and one gets the vibe from Butch Jones that he’s getting fed up with the losses.

Red Wolves 35, Jaguars 21

Photo Credit: It’s mine, but I don’t care too much if you steal it