Arkansas State and Texas State Attempt to Evict Themselves from the SBC Basement Through the Power of Disdain
As a citizen of Arkansas State University, I’ve found myself rummaging around the Sun Belt Basement of late, discovering leftovers from past occupants: a pair of jorts from ULM, an unused ticket to a Georgia State game, a half consumed can of beer that I assume was either left in 2012 by FIU or FAU. Only ghosts of their presence remain! The space requires a haunting from a new distressed spirit.
The SBC is currently reviewing housing applications from Texas State and Arkansas State, two programs for which success remains but an abstract concept. Both teams enter their head-to-head matchup 1-5 in conference play, and neither have anything to play for outside of satisfying grudges both real and imagined. That begs the question: is hatred between the Bobcats and Red Wolves real, or is it imagined?
For reals, the Red Wolves are 6-3 all-time against the Bobcats, and at one point won five straight. There was a time when a win over Texas State signaled another Sun Belt conference title for Arkansas State. However, Texas State has won the last two meetings by disrespectfully slim margins (47-45, and 24-22). The balance of power remains, well, somewhat balanced.
There’s also the matter of the Bobcats’ sinister poaching. In the last year, Arkansas State’s former starting quarterback (Layne Hatcher), former starting running back (Lincoln Pare), and university chancellor (Kelley Damphousse) have all heeded the siren call to San Marcos, where the lazy river flows with the nector of the gods. One might be tempted to take such brazen burglaries personally!
“This game is not about them,” said Butch Jones regarding Pare and Hatcher. “It’s Arkansas State versus Texas State.”
The emotional space that Arkansas State and Texas State occupy is a bit stuffy – both programs had endeavored to improve their fortunes in 2022, and perhaps even makes some teams uncomfortable in the Wild Wide West. While the Bobcats succeeded in driving a stake through the Mountaineers’ heart, neither team has acquitted themselves with much distinction, exposing both as viable candidates for “Worst Team in the Belt.” They can be room for only one.
How Have Pare and Hatcher Fared in San Marcos?
Lincoln Pare left the Red Wolves as a sometime starter at running back and a part time spokesman for Pizza Inn. Layne Hatcher arrived to Jonesboro by way of a brief stint at Alabama and took SBC Freshman of the Year honors. His record with A-State was checkered with dramatic victories and frustrating losses.
At Texas State, Pare is the Bobcats’ leading rusher (464 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Hatcher is the starting quarterback (2,324 yards, 19 touchdowns, 9 picks). Hatcher was named a team captain in August, and the expectations set for him were high. At best, his performance as a Bobcat has been a mixed bag, as Hatcher is tied for second in the Sun Belt for most interceptions but only behind Chase Brice, Carter Bradley and Kyle Vantrease in passing yards.
The biggest indicator of impact, however, is victories, for which neither addition has budged the needle. The lack of success may have proven to be the final splash of grave dirt placed upon Jake Spavital’s coaching career at Texas State.
The Problem at Texas State
Only Old Dominion and Troy score fewer points than Texas State in the Sun Belt. The problem isn’t the Red Zone offense – the Bobcats are among the Sun Belt’s best for converting in the Red Zone. They simply can’t get into position to score with the Sun Belt’s least effective run game, that has netted the Sun Belt’s fewest ground yards and is tied for Arkansas State (and Troy) with the fewer yards per attempt (2.9). That has left too much responsibility on Hatcher to “make something happen” with the pass. As a result, the Bobcats see the fewest yards per play in the Sun Belt – even fewer than Arkansas State (4.7 to 4.9).
Not the Problem at Texas State
The defensive line for Texas State has made the Bobcats defense a serviceable unit, with monster defensive linemen Levi Bell and Nelson Mbanasor combining for eight solo sacks on the season. The backfield defense, led by senior corner Kordell Rodgers, has also collected 10 interceptions – twice as many as Arkansas State.
It’s not accurate to say that The Bobcats excel defensively. But the defense does keep the games close. “They play physical. They play violent. They’re a top 25 defense,” said Coach Butch Jones.
What Can We Glean From the Red Wolves’ Victory over UMass?
Winning by two points at home to the Minutemen was both a necessary and unsatisfying outcome from the Red Wolves, who saw leads of 15 and 16 points evaporate to near nothingness in the second half. Still, a win is a win, and the Red Wolves will be entering San Marcos high on those elusive vapors on Saturday night.
On the surface, one might see UMass scoring nearly three times their season average against Arkansas State as a negative towards the defense. However, a significant chunk of blame can be assigned to the offense, which has managed to covert on third down just twice in their last 36 attempts. That’s a lot of three-and-outs. The Minutemen offense ran 93 plays against the Red Wolves’ 42, which nearly put A-State’s defense in a coma by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
The Red Wolves are injured and inexperienced on both sides of the ball, with the offensive line bearing much of the brunt. Outstanding OL Jordan Rhodes may be closer to full-ish strength come Saturday, which would be a great help to quarterback James Blackman, who has absorbed more sacks than any quarterback in the Sun Belt.
The biggest takeaway is that the Arkansas State Red Wolves are not yet ready to compete. While the offense has shown sporadic bursts of ability, the team lacks go-to playmakers who can push the team over the goal line through sheer will. Defensively, the Red Wolves have made massive improvements since 2021, with team leader Eddie Smith putting a cork into massive opposing plays. However, the physicality is painfully lacking up front – no team in the Sun Belt has recorded fewer quarterback sacks than the Red Wolves.
The Analysis That Is Final
The Red Wolves and Bobcats may be the most evenly match programs in college football when it comes to weakness, woe and chagrin. What determines the outcome may be less about the ability of the players and the skill of the coaches, but by who harbors more passion for a meaningless victory. Though they may not be saying it, Hatcher and Pare will certainly have something to prove on Saturday. But so will Coach Jones and James Blackman.
May the basement door close upon the loser.
This post will be updated as fresh Hate Trouser information is made available
Phot Credit: Me