2011 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas State

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Arkansas State is a team that many of us are not familiar with, myself
included. The Red Wolves (Indians until the NCAA made them change their name in
2008) are 1-1 on the season, with a 31-16 loss to Illinois and a 47-3 victory
over Memphis. They are coming off a 4-8 season, though they were very close to
being much better than that. The Red Wolves lost five games by a touchdown or
less and were in just about every game they played, with the exception of the
season opener against Auburn.

Arkansas State is coached by Hugh Freeze, who was Michael Oher’s high school
coach and a major character in the move The Blind Side. Freeze followed
Oher to Old Miss, where Freeze served as running backs coach. He was the head
coach at Lambuth in 2008 and 2009, compiling a 20-5 overall record, and then
went to Arkansas State as offensive coordinator in 2010. He was promoted to head
coach following the 2010 season.

Freeze is an offensive coach who runs the spread offense. This is the third
consecutive week that the Hokies will have seen the spread. The Red Wolves will
employ an H-back/tight end more than East Carolina did, and they won’t throw it
quite as much. However, they will throw it more than Appalachian State, and they
will mix in plenty of read option.

The Arkansas State Offense

  • Spread Offense
  • Put up 611 yards against Memphis

The Arkansas State offense has been very effective so far, putting up 611
yards against Memphis and 350 yards in the season opener at Illinois. The Red
Wolves have been able to run the ball and throw the ball, achieving balance,
which is critical to offensive success.

Their best player is quarterback Ryan Aplin (6-1, 205, r-Jr.). He was a First
Team All-Sun Belt performer last season, and he has played very well so far this
year. Through two games, Aplin is 39-of-53 (73.6%) for 564 yards, with three
touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw for 290 yards at Illinois, and was a
nearly perfect 19-of-21 last week against Memphis.

In 2010, Aplin broke school season records for total offense (3,416 yards),
completions (252), pass yards (2,939), passing touchdowns (21) and pass attempts
(410). His 61.5% completion percentage was the second-highest in school history.
So far in 2011, he is 20th nationally in passing efficiency, and also holds one
of the nation’s best completion percentages.

Aplin can move as well, having posted 122 yards rushing against North Texas
as a r-freshman back in 2009. The Red Wolves will run plenty of read option with
him at the helm.

Arkansas State will use as many as four running backs against the Hokies.


Arkansas
State Backfield

Player

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Carries

Yards

YPC

TD
Frankie Jackson 5-9 185 r-Fr. 21 140 6.7 2
Sirgregory Thornton 5-11 190 So. 8 68 7.9 0
Jermaine Robertson 5-11 230 r-Sr. 14 46 3.3 1
Derek Lawson 5-11 210 r-Sr. 8 13 1.6 0

Frankie Jackson wasn’t technically in the two-deep as of the Memphis game,
but he is obviously getting the most carries. He had 10 carries for 101 yards
and a touchdown in that game. Jackson obviously doesn’t have great size, but he
put up huge numbers at Capitol High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He ran for
2,545 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior. In one playoff game, he had 371 yards
and five touchdowns on the ground.

Jackson doesn’t have the ideal size, but he’s obviously a good natural
football player, and he should have an excellent career at Arkansas State.

The Red Wolves are also good at wide receiver. Josh Jarboe (6-3, 215, r-Jr.)
was ranked #13 nationally in the ESPU Top 150 in 2008, and the #69 recruit in
the country by Rivals.com. He originally picked Oklahoma over Florida, UNC,
Georgia and others. However, he was dismissed from school quickly, and was later
dismissed from Troy as well. After a year of JUCO, he signed with Arkansas State
this past February.

So far this season, Jarboe has 12 catches for 220 yards (18.3 yards per
catch) and two touchdowns. He is a very good receiver who makes the Red Wolves a
much more dangerous offense. He is joined by Dwayne Frampton (5-9, 180, Sr.), a
very productive receiver who caught 69 passes last season as a junior. Frampton
doesn’t have great size, but he has always been productive, dating back to when
he was a JUCO All-American.

Taylor Stockemer (6-4, 210, r-Jr.) plays a lot, as Arkansas State uses three
and four wide receiver sets. He was a Preseason Second Team All-Sun Belt pick by
Phil Steele. Earl Lucas (5-9, 157, r-Fr.) and Allen Muse (6-4, 215, Jr.) are
also targets, and Muse was Honorable Mention All-Sun Belt last season when he
caught 42 passes for 635 yards and six touchdowns.

Aplin has plenty of good targets to use in the passing game, and he has a
good running back behind him. The Red Wolves certainly have ability at
quarterback, and at the skill positions.

Their questionable spot on offense is the offensive line.

The
Arkansas State Offensive Line
Pos. Player Ht. Wt. Yr.
LT Delano Moore 6-5 305 r-Sr.
LG Alex Kautai 6-2 305 r-Sr.
C Tom Castilaw 6-3 280 r-Sr.
RG Jake Campbell 6-6 320 r-So.
RT Zack McKnight 6-4 300 r-Jr.

On paper, that seems like plenty of experience. If you take a look at each
player individually, that’s not the case.

  • LT Delano Moore: Moore has been a career backup, and is a full-time starter
    for the first time this year.
  • LG Alex Kautai: A former JUCO who was recruited to Arkansas State as a
    defensive lineman. Redshirted last season to learn offensive line.
  • C Tom Castilaw: Arguably the best OL in the Sun Belt. A sixth year senior,
    Castilaw is on the Rimington Award Watch List.
  • RG Jake Campbell: Campbell played in just three games last year as a
    r-freshman.
  • RT Zack McKnight: A JUCO who redshirted last year, McKnight is playing for
    the first time.

That’s a mix of JUCOs, a former defensive lineman and a career backup.
Virginia Tech’s defensive line should have a major advantage over Arkansas
State. The Red Wolves have given up five sacks already, including three to that
bad Memphis team they blew out. I think Arkansas State is going to have a very
hard time with the Hokies up front, and that will neutralize their quarterback
and skill position players.

The Arkansas State Defense

  • 10 senior starters, plus three more seniors and four juniors in the
    two-deep
  • 4-3 defensive scheme

Unlike Virginia Tech’s last two opponents, who didn’t feature many playmakers
in the front seven, this Arkansas State defense has guys up front who can play
in the offensive backfield.

At defensive end, Arkansas State starts Justin Robertson (6-2, 250, r-Sr.)
and Brandon Joiner (6-3, 255, Sr.). Robertson is a former linebacker who moves
well for a defensive lineman, while Joiner is a playmaking end who has three
tackles for loss and two sacks so far. Joiner is a former Texas A&M Aggie.

They are backed up by two experienced defensive ends: Jeremy Gibson (6-5,
250, r-Sr.) and Timothy Starson (6-5, 255, r-Jr.). Both players have starting
experience, and Gibson has 13.5 tackles for loss during his career.

At defensive tackle, the Red Wolves have the luxury of starting Dorvus Woods
(6-3, 265, r-Sr), who is arguably the best interior defensive lineman in the Sun
Belt. Woods had nine tackles for loss a year ago, and though he is somewhat
undersized, he is quick. Starting alongside him is Gregory McCall (5-11, 305,
Sr.), a very experienced player in his own right.

Backup tackles Ryan Carrethers (6-2, 310, r-So.) and Amos Draper (6-3, 270,
r-So.) are very experienced for their age. Draper was a CollegeFootballNews.com
Freshman All-American last season with seven tackles for loss and three sacks.

Arkansas State also has some experience and depth at linebacker. On the
weakside, Demario Davis (6-3, 230, r-Sr.) and Nathan Herrold (6-3, 235, r-Jr.)
both play. Davis was a First Team All-Sun Belt performer last season, and he is
on the Lombardi Award Watch List this season. Herrold also gets playing time
after starting nine games last season at a different linebacker spot.

Najel Byrd (6-0, 225, r-Sr.) starts on the strongside, while Qushaun Lee
(5-11, 225, r-Fr.) is the starter at middle linebacker. This is a solid group of
linebackers overall, thought not the strength of the Arkansas State defense.

Four seniors start in the secondary for the Red Wolves. The cornerbacks are
Darron Edwards (5-11, 175, Jr.) and Darryl Feemster (5-11, 185, Sr.). Both are
JUCO transfers who are in their second season with Arkansas State. Edwards
started every game last season, broke up 10 passes, and is an All-Sun Belt
performer. Feemster played in every game last year, while starting two.

Adrian Hills (6-2, 185, Sr.) is yet another JUCO recruit who will play free
safety for Arkansas State. The strong safety is Kelcie McCray (6-2, 195, r-Sr.).
McCray is the only starter in the secondary who is not a JUCO transfer. He
started every game last season, and was Preseason All-Sun Belt by Phil Steele,
Athlon and Lindy’s.

This will be the most experienced defense Virginia Tech will face this
season. Not only do the Red Wolves have 10 senior starters, but they’ve got
three more seniors and four juniors in the two-deep. With so much experience,
you worry about the confusion that the secondary could potentially cause for
Logan Thomas.

Despite their experience, this is still a defense that allowed 473 yards to
an Illinois offense that isn’t as talented as Virginia Tech’s. The key for the
Tech offense is sustaining balance. If they can do that, then they should have
no trouble moving the football. However, considering how the passing game went
against East Carolina, that’s a big if.

Arkansas State Special Teams

The Red Wolves use two field goal kickers. Bobby Zalud (5-8, 160, So.)
appears to be their long field goal specialist. All four of his attempts have
come from beyond 40 yards this year. He is 2-of-4 with a long of 56 yards, and
one of his attempts was blocked.

The other kicker is Brian Davis (5-11, 160, So.), who is 2-of-2 with a long
of 47. Whoever lines up at placekicker for Arkansas State, it appears they will
have a guy who is capable of making long field goals.

The Red Wolves have also experimented at punter, with Neely Sullivent (6-0,
190, Sr.) averaging 53.3 yards on three punts, and Ryan Wilbourn (5-10, 157,
Jr.) averaging 35 yards on three attempts. Sullivent is listed #1 on this week’s
depth chart.

Opponents have returned just two punts against Arkansas State for a total of
four yards. As a result, they are 11th nationally in net punting. They are also
20th nationally in kickoff return defense. However, the Red Wolves are only
114th in kick returns and 69th in punt returns.

Virginia Tech has better overall athletes than Arkansas State, which means
they should have an advantage on special teams. However, it doesn’t always work
that way. Scott Demler needs to be effective punting the ball for the Hokies,
and if he’s not, I could see Frank Beamer giving true freshman Michael
Branthover a shot. Branthover is dressing for the first time this weekend.

Final Thoughts

Virginia Tech is 3-0 all-time against Arkansas State – 34-7 in 1994, 50-0 in
1997 and 63-7 in 2002. The Arkansas State offense has scored a touchdown against
the Tech starting defense just once, way back in 1994. The Red Wolves have never
totaled more than 227 yards of total offense against the Hokies. This is a
historically lopsided series.

However, this is a much better Arkansas State team. The team is stocked full
of JUCO recruits, some of which are talented enough to play at bigger schools.
Wide receiver Josh Jarboe is a former 5-star recruit. Quarterback Ryan Aplin is
one of the most productive quarterbacks in the country. Tailback Frankie Jackson
is undersized, but he’s an undersized guy who is a good natural football player.
The defense has 10 senior starters, and experienced backups. They have punters
and kickers with big legs.

There is talent on his Arkansas State team. Just watch a highlight
clip
of their game with Illinois and you’ll see more good plays from the Red
Wolves than you saw in their three previous games with Virginia Tech, combined.
If the Hokies don’t show up, they don’t play well, or they hand Arkansas State a
bunch of turnovers with good field position, they can lose this game.

I don’t see that happening though. Tech’s offensive line is playing very
well, and the Arkansas State offense hasn’t seen anything resembling what
they’ll see from Bud Foster’s defense this Saturday. I like the Hokies to win
comfortably.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Arkansas State 10

Will Stewart’s Take: 147-14. No, that’s not my score prediction. That’s
the aggregate score of three previous Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas State games:
1994 (34-7), 1997 (50-0), and 2002 (63-7).

In 1994, VT led 21-0 at the end of one quarter. In 1997, the Hokies held
Arkansas State to 168 yards of offense, including (-28) yards rushing. In 2002,
Tech led 56-0 at half time before letting up off the gas.

147-14, for an average of 49-5. It’s really easy to reflect on those games
and assume that another 49-5 blowout is coming, but this Arkansas State team has
a lot of talent, so don’t dismiss them.

I don’t know the Red Wolves’ history or usual team makeup, but they sure do
seem to have a lot of transfers and JUCOs playing for them. That means the
talent level can be good, but consistency often suffers, because players aren’t
in the program their whole careers. Short-timers also might not buy into the
team philosophy as much as kids who have known the coaches since they were
recruited out of high school.

I think the Red Wolves will find the going much tougher offensively than they
did against Illinois and Memphis. The Hokie defensive line should give ASU’s
o-line fits, and ASU hasn’t seen a set of defensive backs the likes of which the
Hokies will put on the field. Most teams in the country would find the going
tough against this year’s Hokie defense, based on what we’ve seen so far, and
ASU will be no different.

The Red Wolves defense sounds like it’s going to be an interesting matchup
for the Hokies. They’re experienced, and they play in the opponents’ backfield.
ASU ranks 9th in the nation in tackles for loss and 14th in sacks, and that’s
not just a result of their blowout over Memphis (5 sacks, 10 TFLs). ASU spent a
lot of time on Illinois’ side of the ball as well (3 sacks, 8 TFLs). The Hokies
have given up just one sack so far this year, so I’m very interested in seeing
if they can keep ASU’s defenders off the QB and out of the backfield.

As Chris noted, Arkansas State’s defensive backs could also pose some
problems for Logan Thomas as he continues to develop. ECU had similar age and
experience in their defensive backfield, and LT almost wound up throwing 3-4
interceptions.

Lastly, Arkansas State’s special teams are solid. Based on the action on
TSL’s ticket boards (sell-sell-sell), and the fact that tickets for this game
are still being sold on
hokietickets.com
, attendance will be thin. Hokie fans aren’t buying into the
idea that they should show up for this one. Expect the noise level to be below
average, maybe well below average.

49-5? No, but the Hokies should win comfortably, as long as they don’t take
the Red Wolves as lightly as the fan base is.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Arkansas State 13

(I swear, I don’t look at Chris’ score prediction before making my own….)

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