Week 1 Red Wolves Preview: Arkansas State Red Wolves vs Grambling State Tigers

The Tigers didn’t hire Hue Jackson to direct the band

The Red Wolves season opener with the Grambling State Tigers presents the perfect ingredients for an Arkansas State disaster: 1) mysterious FCS moxie, 2) an opposing new head coach looking to impress, and 3) a high-profile game the following week. While Red Wolves head coach Butch Jones doesn’t seem the type to overlook the hidden qualities of a lower tier opponent, this dust-up with the Tigers certainly smells like a trap.

Game 1 for Grambling Head Coach Hue Jackson

After nearly two decades of coaching in the NFL, Jackson returned to the college ranks, first joining Tennessee State as OC and then taking up the reins at Grambling in 2022, where he inherited a defense that allowed ten more points (27.6) than the offense scored (17.1).

Coach Jackson only seems to have been around forever – he’s only 56. Grambling may be just his latest stop. Regardless of Jackson’s future plans, the Tigers brought him in to win games, and you can bet he’s hungry for Wolf this Saturday.

The Tigers need to sharpen their claws

Grambling State went an inglorious 4-7 last season which included a 45-0 loss to Houston. We discussed that poor offense-to-defense ratio earlier, but what adds to the challenge is that Grambling will start a QB who has attempted a collegiate pass. Defensively, the situation looks a little better, with the team’s leading tackler (Joshua Quiett), sack leader (Sundiata Anderson) and most dangerous defensive back (Quincy Mitchell) returning to the gridiron.

You Don’t Say?’

Sporty website Athlon ranks this game 81st out of 83 Week 1 Games.

The Red Wolves Must Tune-up Without Overlooking

With Ohio State looming next on the schedule, it’s easy for Arkansas State to look past the Tigers and get blinded by the oncoming train light. Coach Jones indicated during Monday’s SBC weekly presser that he’d be closely examining team intensity and focus during the game – which is Coach Speak for “Don’t screw up.”

Who’s In?

The Red Wolves released a two-deep on Monday, which among a number of things lists Miami (not Florida) transfer AJ Mayer as James Blackman’s backup at QB, and places TW Ayers at nose tackle. At a listed 275, Ayers is a bit light at that position, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on his effectiveness.

At Monday’s presser, Coach Jones pointed to two offensive linemen – Ole Miss transfer Jordan Rhodes and redshirt freshman Makilan Thomas – as fresh faces he expects to deliver quality minutes on Saturday. Also mentioned, freshman kicking phenom Dominic Zvada, who has impressed so much in practice, that he has been awarded the starting placekicker position and a scholarship.

Who’s Out?

Wyatt Begeal, the QB turned wide receiver, will miss the game due to injury. Freshman linebacker Javante Mackey, initially thought to be out for the year with a fully torn meniscus, had surgery on Tuesday revealing only a partial tear. He’s predicted to be back in a supporting role in 4-6 weeks. Blayne Toll, the highly visible transfer from Colorado is not listed at DE, but Kivon Bennett, who was supposed to move to linebacker, is back at defensive end. Coach Jones explained the the defensive scheme calls for Bennett to alternate from DE to linebacker. We shall see.

What I’m Looking For

  • Will the offensive line give James Blackman time to work?
  • Has the defense plugged the holes on Big Plays?
  • Can this defensive line menace the QB?
  • Will the Red Wolves show some life at the run game?
  • Is Jeff Foreman ready to step up and take over?

Because I tend to overlook (at my own peril) FCS opponents, I will be focused more on those issues on Saturday than the final score. Hopefully, the story won’t be the final score.

What Are We Wearing?

Red Wolves wide receiver Reagan Ealy raises the temperature in the locker room for the Uni Reveal, with the reduced-size wolf head on a cloud-white helmet.