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Taking a Closer Look at Arkansas State with Underdog Dynasty

How worried should the 'Canes really be this weekend, you ask? All that and more with SB Nation's UnderDog Dynasty, a new blog for for The American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and Independent football fans.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

All week long Miami fans have heard how tomorrow's game might just be tougher than expected.

A classic trap game if you will, with a trip to Lincoln on deck.

But is that because of the 'Canes struggles, the chance they look ahead, or the opponent?

I caught up with Matthew Monte of Underdog Dynasty, to learn more about the Arkansas State Red Wolves.

SOTU:  Miami Head Football Coach Al Golden has praised former UNC OC and current Arkansas State HC Blake Anderson all week long, including saying, "It’s a culture. Make no mistake, the coach they have right now is a great coach. I’ve watched him the last couple of years up close at North Carolina, and I think they do a great job between tempo and being disciplined."   How would you assess the job he has done for the Red Wolves?

UD: As you may be aware, breaking in a new coach at Arkansas State is a pretty common occurrence. Blake Anderson is the fourth in as many years, and each of his predecessors have won at least a share of the Sun Belt title before bolting to better funded pastures. After only two games it's hard to say whether he is leading the program, or if the program is leading him. I will say, his play calling is a bit different than Bryan Harsin's last year, but it they still rely heavily on tempo. That's been the one constant in the One-and-Done coaching era for A-State. Freeze, Malzahn, Harsin, and Anderson all rely on tempo offenses, so adjusting to each coach hasn't been a stretch for these seniors and juniors.

SOTU: Along the same line, AG has warned that this is not your average mid major, and that Miami needs to be at their best. You also had them ranked #1 in your Sun Belt Power Rankings.  How good is this Arkansas State team?

UD: Well the #1 ranking might have been more about attrition than anything, but they can be dangerous. Like I said before, they've won the conference with three different coaches already, so there is obviously talent there. Despite referring to last week's game as a blowout in the power rankings, the Red Wolves put up a pretty solid fight against a surprisingly potent Tennessee team. One turnover would have changed that game dramatically. I would say they are much better than your average mid-major team, but they aren't necessarily the cream of the crop just yet. Although the last few times we've thought that they still managed to outplay expectations.

SOTU:  Who are the key players to watch for on the Red Wolves?

UD: This is actually a tough one.  On offense there are seven different players with touchdowns through the first two games, but the key is Fredi Knighten. He's passing for nearly 200 yards per game, and rushing for another 85. Not amazing numbers, but he knows how to keep this offense moving. He even has a reception for 45 yards.\
On defense, look out for Xavier Woodson. The sophomore linebacker is really coming into his own. This will only be his fifth start, but he's made some noise, including 10 tackles and 2 pass breakups in last year's Go Daddy Bowl against Ball State. He's still raw, but he has a nose for the ball. He will also have to carry some of the weight for potential pro and team leader Qushaun Lee, who went down with leg injuries twice last week. Lee will play this week, but I doubt he will be 100%.


SOTU: What style of play can we expect on both sides of the ball from them? 

UD: On offense you can of course expect tempo and a heavy dependence on athletes who can play multiple roles. They like to roll out a split back set, and then let Knighten move his guys around to match the defensive look. They showed how effective this can be in their opening drive against Tennessee. Knighten also has no qualms about calling his own number, and has the speed to get around the edge.
Defensively, they usually play in a 4-2 set due to the luxury of some pretty solid linebackers. They will also bring edge pressure with their DBs, like true freshman D. J. Armstead. The Red Wolf secondary is also very experienced, but prone to giving up some big plays. They can usually prevent yards after the catch, and tackle well in general, but giving up 20+ yard chunks is more common than one would like.


SOTU: What if anything did you learn from last week's 34-19 Arkansas State defeat at the hands of Tennessee?

UD: That even with starting running back Michael Gordon healthy, this running game needs some help. Knighten can pick up yards on the ground when he needs to, but you obviously don't want your quarterback taking the brunt of the carries. 

SOTU: How do you see this game playing out?  Who wins and why?

UD: My first reaction to the 16.5 point spread was, "that's way too much." The more I think about it though, the more I see that being somewhat reasonable. Gordon will be out this week, and Lee will be hampered, but should still play. Miami also has the speed to match Freddie Knighten when he tucks and runs. Don't expect to get comfortable during this game though. Arkansas State has made a living playing up to their competition, and they don't go away. Miami needs to be ready to play all four quarters. I see A-State coming out guns blazing with some solid opening drives, before they taper off in the second quarter. It will probably be within a score in Miami's favor at the half, before Golden makes some adjustments and pulls further ahead in the third. The Red Wolves will then mount a minor comeback and make everyone miss the first quarter of whatever late game they wanted to watch. Miami 37 Arkansas State 26

Thanks again to Matthew Monte with Underdog Dynasty for the closer look at the Red Wolves.  This weekend's game should be fun and interesting.