A-State lived by the turnover in 2015. Starved of turnovers in the New Orleans Bowl, the Red Wolves were quickly in a difficult situation.
The defense didn’t have the losses of seniors that the offense experienced in New Orleans. Chris Stone’s arrest knocked him from the roster a game early. Robert Mondie played but appeared to be hampered by his injury recording only one tackle.
Bowl Game Defense
La.Tech finished the first half with 8 first downs, 50 yards rushing on 11 carries, and 12 of 18 passing for 299 yards with 71 of that coming on the final play of the half.
Tech added 18 first downs, 179 rushing yards on 25 carries, and 159 yards passing on 14 of 20 passing in the second half.
A-State struggled to get off the field but even when they got off the field they didn’t get much rest. The defensive woes were magnified by the offense’s struggles staying on the field.
During the season, the defense forced opponents to punt nearly 7 times per game and produced nearly 3 turnovers per game, and almost one failed fourth down conversion per game, an average of 10.5 possessions per game for opponents that resulted in no points. The defense forced opponents to settle for a FG 11 times in the regular season with only 7 of those being successful.
Against Tech there were only three punts forced, no fourth down attempts by the Bulldogs, but they were forced to settle for a FG four times, all successful.
Chris Stone, Charleston Girley, Austin Copeland and Rocky Hayes are the big losses on defense with Robert Mondie’s situation currently unresolved. Girley was lost for good at the end of the year and finished the regular season 7th in tackles with one fumble recovery. Austin Copeland was 10th in tackles with a fumble recovery and a sack, he added 6 tackles in the bowl.
Robert Mondie’s case for an additional year goes back to his time in junior college. He enrolled and started classes which started the clock on his eligibility but he withdrew from school to go home because of a family medical emergency within about a month of starting. If the NCAA accepts the explanation as an appropriate hardship he can return for the 2016 season.
A-State will need immediate help in the secondary, primarily at corner. Depth is needed at linebacker as well.
The Red Wolves depended greatly on forced turnovers in 2015, producing 34 turnovers and scoring eight times on defense. That will be a difficult feat to replicate in 2016. For example last year La.Tech lead the nation with 42 turnovers gained, this year they had 22. TCU was second with 40 in 2014 they gained 18 this year. Of the top seven teams in turnovers gained last year only two made the top 50 this year.
A-State will need to beef up the stopping power in 2016.