2013 Arkansas State's 10 things to know: Checking in on the Boise blueprint

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Arkansas State has modeled itself the Boise State of the South. If they could stop losing head coaches at some point, they might just get there. The size of their potential drop-off in 2013 will tell us a lot.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Four years, four coaches

Well, five, actually, if you're counting interim coaches.

In 2010, Steve Roberts' nearly decade-long tenure of almosts at Arkansas State ended unceremoniously, with a second straight 4-8 season. Roberts had taken ASU to one bowl game -- the 2005 New Orleans Bowl -- but his progress was otherwise hindered by a six-win glass ceiling. ASU won six games in a season four times in nine years and won five two other times, but his Indians-turned-Red Wolves just couldn't quite get over the hump. In 2011, ASU brought in Hugh Freeze, who stayed for a year, won 10 games, and left. In 2012, ASU brought in Gus Malzahn, who stayed for a year, won 10 games (including the bowl for which he had already departed), and left.

Heading into 2013, ASU seems to be dealing with another glass ceiling of sorts. The Red Wolves can either hire a six-win coach and keep him until they don't want him anymore, or they can keep aiming high, keep reeling in really good, exciting, young coaches, and watching them leave for an SEC school once they have succeeded. They appear to have elected the latter.

Just over a decade ago, Bryan Harsin was a graduate assistant at Boise State. He became Dan Hawkins' tight ends coach at BSU, then took over the reins as offensive coordinator in 2006 (at 28 years old) when Hawkins left for Colorado and Chris Petersen took over. Mack Brown brought him to Texas for two years to resurrect an inexcusably awful offense, and despite only reasonable success -- Texas' offense absolutely improved but still wasn't elite by any standards -- his career trajectory has continued apace. At 35, the former Boise State quarterback, grad assistant, tight ends coach and offensive coordinator has become the head coach at a school that has openly yearned to follow the Boise blueprint to success.

Bryan Harsin as Texas OC. Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

2. How big is the setback?

It might not be a smart policy to begin doubting Arkansas State after it won 20 games in two seasons despite constant transition. But the transition issues could kick up a notch or two this time around.

Not only did Malzahn, like Freeze, leave after one year, but quarterback Ryan Aplin, the two-time Sun Belt player of the year, is now also gone. Aplin started more than 40 straight games for the Red Wolves, passed for 10,753 yards, rushed for another 1,756 and helped to account for 98 total touchdowns (67 through the air, 31 on the ground). After interception issues earlier in his career, he was nearly perfect in 2012: 3,342 passing yards, 68 percent completion rate, 24 touchdown passes, four interceptions. In his place is a grab bag of potentially interesting replacements.

ASU heads into 2013 also in need of replacing two of its top three receivers, its most experienced offensive lineman, its best defensive end, three of its top four linebackers and two of its top three defensive backs. The cupboard is far from bare, but one has to assume a setback of some sort is likely.

With UL-Lafayette and ULM returning vastly experienced, interesting squads and Bobby Petrino looming at Western Kentucky, ASU's odds of winning a third straight Sun Belt title aren't great. But the size of the setback -- do they slip to eight or nine wins, or do they stumble to five or six instead? -- will determine the program's trajectory moving forward. The ASU program has so many things right in recent years, and it continues to aim high. In 2013, we'll find out just how strong the bones of the program are.

3. Gus Malzahn left some presents

His tenure was not a long one, but new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn oversaw some pretty impressive recruiting in Jonesboro. His 2013 recruiting class, culled from both his own efforts and maintaining Hugh Freeze's before him, ranked 68th in the country according to Rivals.com, ahead of teams like Wake Forest, Minnesota, Kansas, and Temple. It featured a rather incredible 17 three-star recruits, and while many of them either didn't make it to campus or have already left, just check out the list of true sophomores and redshirt freshmen below. Recruiting rankings obviously only take you so far, but they do hint at a program's overall ceiling. And aside from perhaps UL-Lafayette and/or Western Kentucky, no Sun Belt team has a higher ceiling of talent than ASU.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 53
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep at Oregon 34-57 L 44.6 - 28.9 W
8-Sep Memphis 33-28 W 36.8 - 27.2 W
15-Sep at Nebraska 13-42 L 21.4 - 39.0 L
22-Sep Alcorn State 56-0 W 37.9 - 12.9 W
29-Sep Western Kentucky 13-26 L 19.9 - 30.8 L
4-Oct at Florida International 34-20 W 38.0 - 21.3 W
13-Oct South Alabama 36-29 W 35.5 - 26.9 W
23-Oct at UL-Lafayette 50-27 W 35.4 - 29.3 W
3-Nov at North Texas 37-19 W 38.1 - 24.0 W
8-Nov UL-Monroe 45-23 W 40.5 - 27.0 W
17-Nov at Troy 41-34 W 34.9 - 37.1 L
1-Dec Middle Tennessee 45-0 W 37.3 - 12.0 W
6-Jan vs. Kent State 17-13 W 22.2 - 22.9 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 34.9 26 24.5 44
Adj. Points Per Game 34.0 27 26.1 48

4. Arkansas State was ridiculous after September

September was a month of ups and downs for ASU as a whole. The Red Wolves played reasonably well (average, at least) in a loss at Oregon, barely scraped by Memphis and performed pretty poorly at Nebraska, laid a nearly perfect pasting on Alcorn State, and fell behind in the Sun Belt race with a home loss to Western Kentucky that featured very little in the way of effective offense.

Then, the light bulb came on.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 FBS games): Opponent 31.5, ASU 30.7 (minus-0.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): ASU 35.2, Opponent 25.1 (plus-10.1)

Over the final two months of the season, ASU's offense improved by nearly a touchdown, and its defense improved by nearly a touchdown. There were setbacks along the way -- Troy handled ASU's defense with ease, and the offense was far from perfect in the bowl game versus Kent State -- but for the most part ASU's season-ending eight-game winning streak was accompanied by truly solid, Top 25-caliber play. (For the full season, a plus-10.1 adjusted scoring margin would have ranked 19th in the country, one spot behind Michigan and three ahead of South Carolina.)

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 23 37 20 42
RUSHING 23 41 19 53
PASSING 44 34 17 37
Standard Downs 31 15 40
Passing Downs 33 21 40
Redzone 38 16 76
Q1 Rk 56 1st Down Rk 39
Q2 Rk 33 2nd Down Rk 12
Q3 Rk 14 3rd Down Rk 76
Q4 Rk 40

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Ryan Aplin 276 404 3,342 68.3% 24 4 15 3.6% 7.7
Fredi Knighten 5'10, 160 So. ** (5.4) 3 5 44 60.0% 1 1 0 0.0% 8.8
Phillip Butterfield 6'2, 215 Sr. *** (5.6) 0 1 0 0.0% 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0
Dezmond Stegall 6'1, 208 RSFr. *** (5.5)








Chandler Rogers 6'2, 210 Jr. ** (5.3)








5. Who doesn't enjoy a good QB derby?

The race to replace Ryan Aplin does not lack for warm bodies or variety. You've got sophomore Fredi Knighten, an interesting dual-threat who makes Denard Robinson look enormous. You've got senior Phillip Butterfield, a former star recruit who has spent the last three years stuck behind Aplin on the depth chart. You've got Dezmond Stegall, a redshirt freshman with a pedigree. And you've got Chandler Rogers, a mid-year junior college transferr who will be in for spring ball. For that matter, you've also got two-star freshman Cameron Birse.

The winner of this battle might have as much to do with the approach Bryan Harsin wants to take on offense as it does with spring performance. Knighten was a run-first guy last year, and Stegall threw for 5,500 yards and rushed for 2,400 in high school. And for that matter, Butterfield has proven more with his legs (27 carries for 154 yards) than his arm (13-for-27 with a touchdown and an interception) in his limited opportunities. Meanwhile, Rogers is more of a pure passer -- he threw for 3,164 yards and 30 touchdowns at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in 2012.

At Texas, we pretty clearly learned that Harsin doesn't mind a quarterback platoon if a clear leader does not emerge.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
David Oku RB 5'10, 195 Sr. **** (5.9) 243 1,080 4.4 3.6 16 -6.9
Ryan Aplin QB 89 548 6.2 5.4 6 +11.0
Frankie Jackson RB 5'9, 185 Jr. *** (5.5) 68 315 4.6 2.9 4 -0.5
Rocky Hayes RB 5'11, 177 So. ** (5.2) 58 538 9.3 7.6 3 +20.1
Fredi Knighten QB 5'10, 192 So. ** (5.4) 16 112 7.0 6.3 0 +1.7
Rod Smith RB 13 104 8.0 2.4 1 +1.4
Sirgregory Thornton RB 5'11, 190 Sr. ** (5.4) 9 76 8.4 8.4 1 +1.0
Michael Gordon RB 5'9, 190 So. *** (5.5) 7 38 5.4 4.0 0 -0.2
Josh Jarboe WR 6 12 2.0 1.1 0 -1.4
Kendrick Daniels RB 5'7, 155 RSFr. *** (5.5)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
J.D. McKissic WR 5'10, 185 So. *** (5.5) 126 103 1022 81.7% 8.1 31.8% 66.7% 8.1 145.8
Josh Jarboe WR 80 50 570 62.5% 7.1 20.2% 60.0% 7.1 81.3
Taylor Stockemer WR 44 31 483 70.5% 11.0 11.1% 59.1% 11.1 68.9
David Oku RB 5'10, 195 Sr. **** (5.9) 29 20 159 69.0% 5.5 7.3% 24.1% 7.3 22.7
Julian Jones WR 6'0, 190 Sr. ** (5.1) 27 13 394 48.1% 14.6 6.8% 55.6% 15.0 56.2
Darion Griswold TE 6'5, 240 So. ** (5.4) 18 10 172 55.6% 9.6 4.5% 55.6% 9.6 24.5
Carlos McCants WR 5'11, 194 Sr. ** (5.2) 17 8 168 47.1% 9.9 4.3% 52.9% 9.1 24.0
Anthony Kincy TE 17 11 98 64.7% 5.8 4.3% 76.5% 5.2 14.0
Rocky Hayes RB 5'11, 177 So. ** (5.2) 11 10 45 90.9% 4.1 2.8% 63.6% 4.2 6.4
R.J. Fleming WR 5'10, 170 Sr. ** (5.2) 9 9 113 100.0% 12.6 2.3% 66.7% 12.8 16.1
Kedric Murry TE 6 4 28 66.7% 4.7 1.5% 83.3% 3.4 4.0
Frankie Jackson RB 5'9, 185 Jr. *** (5.5) 5 5 61 100.0% 12.2 1.3% 0.0% 4.8 8.7
Derek Keaton WR 5'11, 169 So. ** (5.4) 2 1 33 50.0% 16.5 0.5% 100.0% 10.0 4.7
Allen Muse WR 2 1 7 50.0% 3.5 0.5% 100.0% 2.1 1.0
Andre Smith TE 2 1 7 50.0% 3.5 0.5% 0.0% 1.4 1.0

6. Can ASU maintain its efficiency, all things considered?

In players like Rocky Hayes, Tayloer Stockemer and Julian Jones, ASU certainly had some big-play ability last year; but for the most part, this was an efficiency attack. J.D. McKissic and Josh Jarboe combined for 16 targets per game and only 10.4 yards per catch, while primary running backs David Oku and Frankie Jackson averaged just 4.5 yards per carry. ASU's was a Top 50 offense in terms of explosiveness but a Top 20 offense in terms of efficiency. One has to fear that Aplin's departure will hurt the Red Wolves most in that regard.

Oku, Jackson, McKissic and Jones all return, as do six linemen with starting experience -- from a line that was one of the best in the country in short-yardage situations, no less -- but the losses of Stockemer and Jarboe, not to mention the potential loss of Hayes to the defensive side of the ball (he was originally signed as a defensive back and is listed as a defensive back on the 2013 spring roster), will hurt this team's impressive precision.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 105.7 3.04 3.43 45.1% 83.0% 17.3% 175.8 3.7% 1.9%
Rank 44 51 45 9 2 34 18 42 6
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Zack McKnight RT 26 career starts; 2012 1st All-Sun Belt
Cliff Mitchell RG 6'5, 277 Sr. ** (4.9) 18 career starts
Aaron Williams LT 6'5, 298 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 career starts
Steven Haunga LG 6'1, 315 Sr. NR 13 career starts
Bryce Giddens C 6'0, 285 So. *** (5.5) 12 career starts
Eric Allen C 8 career starts
Alan Wright RG 6'4, 295 Jr. ** (5.4) 6 career starts
Jake Campbell RG 6'6, 320 Sr. ** (4.9) 2 career starts
Kevin Galdino LT
Tyler Greve LG 6'3, 277 Jr. ** (5.2)
Steven Stevens RT 6'4, 268 So. ** (5.3)
Jemar Clark OL 6'6, 305 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Michael Flint OL 6'3, 297 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Brennan Tutor OL 6'4, 280 Jr. ** (5.4)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 52 70 69 70
RUSHING 59 44 54 36
PASSING 54 87 96 80
Standard Downs 53 55 51
Passing Downs 91 96 87
Redzone 69 69 80
Q1 Rk 57 1st Down Rk 63
Q2 Rk 69 2nd Down Rk 57
Q3 Rk 54 3rd Down Rk 74
Q4 Rk 78

7. ASU relied on its athleticism on defense

If you look at the chart above, you see that ASU's defensive Covariance was off-the-charts high. What does that mean? It means they tended to play quite a bit better than the average defense against bad offenses and quite a bit worse than average against good ones. Against teams like Alcorn State, North Texas and Florida International, the ASU D was a brick wall. But offenses like Nebraska's, Troy's and Western Kentucky's fared better than average against them.

If ASU had an athletic edge over you in 2012, it proved capable of completely hindering your big-play ability, generating pressure without blitzing, and stiffening nicely in short-yardage situations. With a new staff and some turnover atop the depth chart, we'll see if that remains the case in 2013.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 100.3 2.64 3.24 35.9% 64.8% 19.6% 89.3 5.0% 4.0%
Rank 59 22 64 31 44 58 81 49 104
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tim Starson DE 13 49.5 6.6% 13 5 0 1 0 1
Ryan Carrethers DT 6'2, 310 Sr. ** (5.3) 13 42.5 5.7% 3.5 1 0 0 0 1
Chris Stone DE 6'3, 245 So. ** (5.4) 13 25.5 3.4% 3 1 1 3 0 0
Eddie Porter DE 6'3, 235 Sr. *** (5.7) 12 23.0 3.1% 5.5 2.5 0 2 4 1
Ronnell Wright DT 12 20.0 2.7% 2 1.5 0 1 0 1
Amos Draper DT 6'3, 270 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 15.5 2.1% 8 2 0 0 1 0
Dexter Blackmon DT 6'4, 283 Sr. ** (5.4) 10 12.0 1.6% 1 0 1 0 0 0
Shervarius Jackson DE 10 10.5 1.4% 4 1.5 0 0 1 1
Markel Owens DT 6'2, 280 Jr. ** (5.2) 3 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darius Dunaway DE 6'5, 274 Sr. ** (5.0) 8 1.5 0.2% 1 1 0 0 0 0
John Gandy DE 6'0, 245 Sr. ** (5.3) 3 1.5 0.2% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Quintaz Struble DE 6'2, 235 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Jabari Mathieu DE 6'3, 235 Jr. ** (5.2)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nathan Herrold MLB 13 81.0 10.8% 10 2 4 5 2 2
Qushaun Lee WLB 5'11, 225 Jr. ** (5.4) 12 79.5 10.6% 2.5 0 1 5 2 0
Don Jones SLB 13 59.5 7.9% 5.5 0 1 2 0 0
Nick Nelms WLB 13 43.0 5.7% 5 0.5 0 2 1 0
Kyle Coleman SLB 6'1, 215 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 18.0 2.4% 2 0 0 1 0 1
LaAngelo Albright MLB 5'11, 205 Sr. ** (4.9) 3 4.0 0.5% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Darius Buckley LB 5'10, 223 Jr. NR 2 0.5 0.1% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Quanterio Heath LB 6'2, 200 RSFr. *** (5.5)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Sterling Young FS 6'2, 182 Jr. ** (5.2) 13 55.5 7.4% 1.5 0 2 6 0 1
Cole Lorigan SS 13 40.0 5.3% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Chaz Scales CB 13 38.0 5.1% 1 0 2 7 0 0
Andrew Tryon CB 5'10, 185 Jr. ** (5.2) 13 33.0 4.4% 0 0 0 5 0 0
Artez Brown CB 6'0, 170 Jr. *** (5.6) 12 20.0 2.7% 2 1 0 3 0 0
Tausean Holmes FS 9 17.0 2.3% 0 0 1 2 0 0
Chris Humes SS 5'11, 190 So. *** (5.6) 13 15.5 2.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Victorian CB 4 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Terrious Triplett DB 7 4.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Charleston Girley DB 6'1, 190 So. NR 3 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Jacobs DB 6'1, 185 Jr. NR 2 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rocky Hayes DB 5'11, 177 So. ** (5.2)

Todd Mays DB 5'11, 200 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Colin Janice DB 5'10, 180 Fr. *** (5.6)






8. The back seven has been thinned out

Chaz Scales was one of the most important pieces of ASU's back-to-back Sun Belt titles. In 2011-12, he picked off three passes, broke up 18 more, and made just 62.0 total tackles. You potentially don't want your corner making too many tackles in a pass-happy league -- it suggests his man caught a lot of passes -- and Scales' ratio of passes defensed to tackles made was stellar. (Those same data points could also suggest he wasn't much for helping on run defense, but ASU's run defense was rock solid, so that's probably not the case.)

The loss of Scales, strong safety Cole Lorigan and end Tim Starson, the team's top pass rusher, could significantly hinder a pass defense that was already a relative weak point on this defense. ASU linebackers combined for just 2.5 sacks in 2012; with the front and back of the defense thinned out a bit, defensive coordinator John Thompson (a holdover from Malzahn's staff and the interim coach during the GoDaddy.com Bowl) might need to blitz quite a bit to help the secondary out.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Neely Sullivent 28 37.7 3 3 2 17.9%
Ryan Wilbourn 18 37.6 1 7 4 61.1%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Luke Ferguson 6'0, 195 So. 46 56.2 11 23.9%
Brian Davis 5'11, 160 Sr. 30 54.3 7 23.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Brian Davis 5'11, 160 Sr. 53-56 14-17 82.4% 3-4 75.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Rocky Hayes KR 5'11, 177 So. 20 19.0 0
Frankie Jackson KR 5'9, 185 Jr. 9 20.9 0
David Oku KR 5'10, 195 Sr. 4 17.8 0
Rocky Hayes PR 5'11, 177 So. 9 3.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 120
Net Punting 124
Net Kickoffs 100
Touchback Pct 104
Field Goal Pct 23
Kick Returns Avg 103
Punt Returns Avg 110

9. Special teams was ... lacking

ASU might be fighting regression on both offense and defense, but special teams has nowhere to go but up. Brian Davis is a rock solid place-kicker, but every single other aspect of special teams was poor to awful in 2012.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2012 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug UA-Pine Bluff NR
7-Sep at Auburn 59
21-Sep at Memphis 113
28-Sep at Missouri 39
12-Oct Idaho 121
? Georgia State 125
? South Alabama 119
? Texas State 107
? Troy 102
? UL-Lafayette 78
? UL-Monroe 86
? Western Kentucky 94
Five-Year F/+ Rk 78
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 84
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +9 / +11.1
TO Luck/Game -0.8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (6, 6)
Yds/Pt Margin** -2.3

10. How's the Boise Blueprint™ coming along?

Again, Arkansas State is openly using Boise State as its model for program building. Though it recently reassigned athletic director Dean Lee to more of a fundraising position within the university, the commitment seems to be there. ASU is investing in facilities, hot young coaches, etc. And one cannot argue that the last two years have been incredibly positive for the Red Wolves on the field. One just has to fear the amount of turnover the program has endured.

If ASU can maintain a solid level of play this coming season -- without Gus Malzahn, without Ryan Aplin, and with another year of coaching transition -- then we will have no reason to doubt where the program is headed. The Red Wolves have earned quite a bit of benefit-of-the-doubt in the last two years; they will earn a lot more with a solid 2013.

More in College Football:

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