It’s been a long week for Coach Paul Petrino and the young Vandal football team. After getting utterly destroyed in front of a less-than-packed home crowd, Idaho finds itself back in the same spot it was a few games ago, looking for answers on how to improve and prevent it from happening again. This week, the Vandals get an opportunity to look into the future and see what life will be like in 2014 as they face off with future Sun Belt foe Arkansas State on the road in Jonesboro.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ARKANSAS STATE:
In the passing game, the Red Wolves are currently ranked 55th in the nation, averaging 251 yards per game. They are led by senior QB Adam Kennedy whose completion percentage usually hangs around the 70% range. While incredibly accurate, Kennedy doesn’t really find the end-zone through the air. Through five games, Kennedy has only thrown three passing touchdowns. While not the type to scramble, Kennedy will take to the ground if need be. He has 28 carries in the last two games for 50 yards.
Most of Arkansas State’s strength comes from its run game. Ranked 30th in the nation with 213 yards per game, the running game is led by RBs David Oku and Michael Gordon as they have combined for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. Oku is the overwhelming favorite go to back for the Red Wolves as seen by his 84 carries thus far through the season. Arkansas State will use a combination of these two, plus probably a few others, to see if they can keep the Vandal rushing defense off-balanced.
Defensively, Arkansas State has been having a rough time keeps points off the board since only allowing 11 to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in Week 1. Since that game, the Red Wolves have allowed at least 30 points per game. During this time, they have forced seven turnovers, but a majority of those came in their game against Troy, which they barely won. The Red Wolves do come into the game with 10 sacks on the season, a interesting point as the Vandals have been giving up sacks by the basket-full this season.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR IDAHO:
For the Vandals to be success in this game, Coach Paul Petrino has to make sure that young QB Chad Chalich keeps his composure. Maybe it was just the very good Fresno State defense last week, but Chalich seemed to be rushing a lot of his passes, which led to a career-high three interceptions. In the games where Idaho has been successful on offense, it all stems from Chalich being able to make his reads and do what he needs to in order to get the ball down the field.
Chalich’s success also comes from the offensive line holding their own. After a great game against Temple, the OL fell apart in a big way last week, allowing six sacks and countless other tackles for loss. Granted, the OL has shown a lot of improvement over the last few weeks, but there is still a large amount of room for improvement. If the OL can keep Chalich off his back and give the RBs some room to run, it could be a very productive day for Idaho.
Defensively, it’s all about stopping the run. The Red Wolves love to do it and the Vandals have been particularly good this season at stopping it at times. The key to their play will come from forcing a lot of turnovers and not giving up big plays. A lot of that will hinge on the defense getting off the field and getting a rest.
Idaho and Arkansas State have a fairly competitive history going back for some time. These two teams played each other consistently from 1998 till 2004 with the Vandals getting the better of the series 4-3. Both teams have had three game win streaks in the series with the Red Wolves holding the last one from 2001 to 2003. These are two teams that have undergone completely different paths since then, for better or worse.
As for today, this game reminds me a lot of the North Texas game as both teams seem to be fairly well matched against each other. Although it feels like this could be a close one, the North Texas game taught me that things could get out of control very quickly for Idaho on the road. Even though the Vandals haven’t won a single road game since November of 2011 and haven’t won in Jonesboro since 1999, I think they have a legitimate shot here if Chalich can have a good game, but if they win, it will be a close one.
NCAA 14 Prediction: Arkansas State 45 Idaho 17
My Prediction: Idaho 27 Arkansas State 24