Bowl season is not just a reward for a conference championship or good season, it can be a launching point into spring drills.
We got our first peek at what the 2016 Red Wolves offense will look like. Tyler Trosin took himself out of the line-up with his bad decision(s) off the field. Michael Gordon went out almost as soon as the game started. J.D. McKissic went out of the game twice with injuries and was last seen about a minute before halftime.
Bowl Game Offense
A-State ended the first half with 17 first downs, 146 yards rushing on 29 carries and 10 of 16 passing for 225 yards.
In the second half the Red Wolves attempted to run only 10 more times and gained 31 yards net. A-State was 5 of 13 passing with two picks (the final one well after the outcome was determined) and managed only 6 first downs in the final half.
The Red Wolves offense inability to move the ball led to short possessions. In the third quarter the offense was out for 1:51 on the opening possession, 1:43 for the second possession and netted only a FG, and the third possession the offense was on the field for 18 seconds. The offense was on the field for only 2:11 of the fourth quarter and that includes the time it took Blaise Taylor to take a kickoff to the house.
Even with a sack taken, Fredi Knighten was A-State’s number two rusher with a 42 yard net on 13 carries.
There is no question that there are holes to fill among the skill positions.
At receiver McKissic will be the hardest to replace, he was the Swiss Army knife of the offense as a receiving threat, rusher, and return specialist. Cameron Echols-Luper looks like the most likely A back. With Justin McInnis, Chris Booker and Kendall Sanders coming in WR depth looks to be solid with Chris Murray becoming more involved.
The concern offensively has to focus on quarterback. Barring a late enrollment or graduate transfer, the quarterback battle in the spring appears to boil down to James Tabary being challenged by Cameron Birse and D.J. Pearson. While Pearson had surgery on both hips he expects to go through spring drills.
Tabary showed some promise both in spring and at times under game conditions. Merely having a rough start as a freshman QB doesn’t mean another spring won’t produce significant improvement. Tabary had four TD passes vs. six interceptions. Compare that to Ryan Aplin who had three TD passes and six picks as a freshman. Aplin was sacked 11 times, Tabary 10. Aplin produced 7.53 yards passing per attempt and Tabary 7.51. Aplin as a freshman had a QB rating of 126.8 while Tabary had a 126.1.
None of that means Tabary will progress into the second coming of Ryan Aplin but you shouldn’t write off Tabary just because of his freshman struggles. Two of his six picks came as a late game injury replacement. Pearson and Birse will need to shine early in spring to get the reps to challenge Tabary.
While Cameron Echols-Luper seems to be on track to move to receiver, he may get another look in spring at QB given the additions of McInnis and Sanders at receiver.