The Red Wolves season ended in a place they’d never been before, the Superdome in New Orleans.
It took five conference championships to get there but it finally happened. As far as the game, Arkansas State fell to Louisiana Tech 47-28 in what turned out to be Walt Bell’s final game as offensive coordinator.
The Red Wolves were tied 17-17 at the half and 20-20 midway in the third quarter before falling to the constant pressure of the Tech offense and the inability to use Fredi Knighten in the running game in the second half.
Still, it was the Red Wolves’ fourth Sun Belt title in five seasons and their fifth straight bowl appearance.
What went right
A lot. While there was a high-scoring offense and the Red Wolves set a conference record for most points (520) scored, it was an opportunistic defense (34 turnovers, 26 interceptions) and a strong kicking game (30 punts downed inside the 20 and just 18.8 yards per kickoff return) that was just as important. And the rebuilt defensive front was able to shut down the inside running game, a must fix after what happened in the 2014 season. Coaches talk about all three phases and A-State stood out in all areas.
What went wrong
The early non-conference schedule was a bit much for the Red Wolves, especially after Knighten went down in the Missouri game with a groin pull and redshirt freshman James Tabary had to finish the game with Mizzou and start against a strong Toledo team two weeks later. While Tabary wound up 2-1 as a starter and did win the conference opener vs. Idaho, Toledo and Missouri were daunting tasks for the rookie.
And we need to mention injuries, which started to mount during the latter part of the season. It was very evident in the bowl game as OT Jemar Clark went down as the Red Wolves’ offensive line depth was challenged. Two defensive starters -- freshman LB Tajhea Chambers and transfer safety Bo Sentimore– were gone for the season after the second game.
Chambers, Sentimore and DL Robert Mondie, who transferred to A-State this season from UAB. Mondie is a non-injury hardship.
Fr WR Omar Bayless, Jr OL Ben Benton, Fr RB Jamal Jones, Fr QB DJ Pearson, Fr QB Carson Coats, FR WR Darveon Brown, Fr LB Avery Johnson, Fr DB Jai Knight, Fr LB Kirk Louis, FR DE T.J. Harris, Fr OL Cameron Davis, Fr OL Dalton Ford, Fr WR Jaylon Marshall, Fr DL Javier Carbonell, Soph DL @E.J. Sutton.
Sept. 3 Toledo, Sept. 10 at Auburn, Sept. 17 at Utah State, Sept. 24 UCA. Conference games: Troy, Georgia Southern, ULL, ULM, Georgia State, South Alabama, New Mexico State, Texas State. (If the schedule continues to alternate, last year’s road games will be at home, etc. We believe the Ga. Southern game will be in Jonesboro and A-State will travel to Troy, if the league follows its pattern on not visiting the same state twice in a season.)