Taking a Minute: Red Wolves Take a Breather from the Sun Belt Against UMass

Arkansas State is a 17-point favorite to defeat the Minutemen

Though 2022 has been a true season of woe and suffering, a few golden daises have sprouted from the radioactive crater. Tight end Seydou Traore is one such sprout, currently ranked among the top five tight ends in the nation for receiving yards.

However, there may be no future Red Wolf with more promise than place kicker Dominic Zvada, the true freshman who has yet to doink a field goal – a perfect 13/13 and one of only ten kickers in the nation with a flawless percentage. His efforts are being recognized by those on high.

For college football fans, confidence in your team’s kicking can feel like a luxury. Arkansas State, curiously, has enjoyed a bit of a luxury at that position, fielding golden-footed greats like Blake Grupe, Brian Davis and Josh Arauco.

My brother Rex Steel and I especially enjoyed the tenure of Aracuo. Currently 4th on the Sun Belt list for field goals made, Steel and me took delight in Aracuo’s consistent accuracy from very limited range. He nailed 58 field goals in his career, and I swear to good all 58 were delivered from no longer than the 10 yard line.

Zvada is a different creature. Only a freshman, he jogs onto the field colder than a cadaver. For much of the season, a protective Butch Jones has spared him the impossible distances, though one begs to see Zvada from beyond the 50. He’s current long is 46. If asked to attempt a 100 yard field goal, he seems to be the kind of guy who’d trot out there without hesitation.

The Minutemen are Very Bad

One is tempted to say that a 17-point spread favoring the Red Wolves seems awfully unrealistic, but UMass fields a team almost incapable of scoring points – the Minutemen average less than 12 per contest. UMass ranks next to last in total offense. The defense isn’t so bad (66th in Total D), but the team has just one win this season – against Stoney Brook. One wonders why the University of Massachusetts, a university with a storied history for hoops, even bothers fielding a fielding a football program. As an Independent, they are without conference rivalry. The head coach, Don Brown, served as the interim head baseball coach at Yale in 1992, where he led the team to a 26-10 record and an NCAA Tournament bid. The team’s football stadium, Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium, holds 17,000 – surely among the smallest in the FBS. What are they even doing?

Who’s Behind Center for the Minutemen?

That’s been a real thing for the University of Massachusetts. Gino Campiotti started the season and actually still leads the team – in rushing. But Campiotti has vanished, and Garrett Dzuro materialized from the mist only to dematerialize just a mysteriously. The Man of the Minute is Brady Olson, a 6’4″ sophomore who tossed for 266 yards and was 19-for-34 passing in a 27-10 loss to UConn.

Butch Jones Finally Gets His Bye Week

A common refrain/complain from Coach Jones has been the lateness of the Bye week afforded to Arkansas State. Injuries have piled up like firewood, and a long rest is exactly what the team medic has ordered for a significant chunk of the roster. Though Jones released a two-deep for the game, it’s not a very reliable document. Is offensive lineman Jordan Rhodes available? Or back-up running back Brian Snead? Or cornerback Samy Johnson? Will the rest benefit dinged up wide receiver Champ Flemings and center Ethan Miner? Is back-up quarterback AJ Mayer back in the rotation? Is Starting QB James Blackman near 100%? He announced that he feels as healthy as he did early in the season, so that’s a big plus.

The Analysis That Is Final

Few programs needed a home game against UMass like the Arkansas State Red Wolves, who are beat-up and in ravenous need for reps for the next generation of players. Even if Rhodes is ready, I’d expect to see more freshman offensive lineman receive reps against this struggling non-con opponent.

This may be a get-well game in all facets – health, mentality, emotionally and statistically. However, the temptation to chalk UMass as an insta-win for Arkansas State is dangerous. The Minutemen are not without some defensive skill, and Saturday would be a bad time for Coach Don Brown to remember that he has Greg Desrosiers Jr. on the roster – a running back who put up 110 yards on Liberty earlier in the season, but hasn’t seen many touches since.

That said, I think the Red Wolves bask in the glow of moxie, at least for a day.