Bowl Preview: Red Wolves set to take on Kent State in GoDaddy.com Bowl
Published: Saturday, January 5, 2013
Updated: Saturday, January 5, 2013 18:01
It’s finally here.
After a wait of 36 days since last taking the field, the Arkansas State Red Wolves will end their 2012-13 campaign Sunday night in the GoDaddy.com Bowl against the MAC’s 25th ranked Kent State Flashes (11-2, 8-0).
“I think our guys are fed up with hitting each other,” said interim head coach John Thompson after the team’s Friday night practice. “I’m really happy with our focus and what our guys gave done down here and I think we’re prepared to step in there and play Sunday night.”
The Red Wolves (9-3,7-1) will be looking to write a different ending to their season a year after their 2011 campaign also ended in Mobile, with a 38-20 loss to Northern Illinois.
“It’s kind of getting to that point where you get a little bit antsy,” said senior linebacker Nathan Herrold. “Anytime you get a large amount of time off and you know you have a game coming up, you’re going to get antsy and [be] ready to play.”
Herrold, who is four tackles away from earning the most by an ASU player since 2003, leads the ASU defense against one of the more prolific offenses in the country.
One component both teams share is a strong running game, though Kent State’s dual back system has put up more points than the Red Wolves but it doesn’t have a solid passing game to compliment it as David Oku and Rocky Hays have.
The Flash’s rank 15th in the nation with 228.3 average rushing yards per game thanks to the output from junior Dri Archer, who has pumped out 15 touchdowns and 1,352 yards on 150 carries, giving him an average of nine yards per rush. Archer’s compatriot, sophomore Trayion Durham has almost equaled those numbers by belting out 14 of his own touchdowns and earning 1,248 yards.
“Slowing those guys down is going to be hard to do. Archer, people across the country are going to be surprised when they see this guy and how good he is, how fast he is. He’s got world class speed,” said Thompson.
Entering tomorrow’s contest, the Red Wolves rush defense ranks fifth in the Sun Belt, having given up 1,840 yards and 14 touchdowns through 12 games with an average of 153.3 yards a game.
The Flash's running attack shores up a passing game for Kent State that only produced 13 touchdowns all season and ranks 114th in the country under the leadership of senior quarterback Spencer Keith.
“You can’t underestimate it. When you say [Keith] just manages the game, that’s not a shot at him. He gets [the ball] to the right person, they move him out of the pocket, they get people out in space,” Thompson said.
“We understand that if we load the box with too many people, we can get hurt in the passing game. They’re going to keep you honest, but obviously, it starts with the running game.
Leading the Red Wolves and his fellow seniors in their final collegiate game is Ryan Aplin, who owns 25 of ASU’s single game, season and careers records. Aplin will lead the Sun Belt’s top scoring offense and third best passing game against a Kent State defense that leads the FBS with a +21-turnover margin and has picked up 33 sacks for 220 total yards.
“They play well as a team. They play in their scheme. They’re playing good coverage; they’re putting pressure on the quarterback, making guys move around. They’re just throwing people off,” Aplin said.
Aplin said the Red Wolves have to establish a physical presence on the offensive line early in order to give the running game a fighting chance.
Unlike last year’s bowl endeavor, the Red Wolves will take the field with all of their coaching staff from the regular season still intact, the only exception being head coach Gus Malzahn who departed for Auburn in the days following ASU’s Sun Belt clinching win against Middle Tennessee.
Where David Gunn led the charge in the loss against Northern Illinois last year, this time around the team will be under the leadership of defensive coordinator Thompson.
With more than 30 years of coaching experience at the college level, including a two-year stint as the head coach at East Carolina where he finished with a 3-20 record, Thompson is in familiar territory, even if it’s just for one game.
“Everybody on our staff has done a great job. Everybody does their job; I think I’m just the guy who puts the schedules together. I might get to call a time out or two in the game,” Thompson said jokingly.
“This thing is about our players, making sure we all stay on the same page and we all keep pulling the rope in the same direction.”
Sunday’s match-up will mark the first time the two schools have faced each other and it will be the first bowl game for Kent State in 40 years. If ASU wins, it will be their first in three tries since returning to the FBS level.
Arkansas State kicks off against Kent State at 8 p.m. at Ladd Peebles Stadium and the game will air on ESPN.