LOOKING AHEAD: Arkansas State

With an All-Sun Belt Conference quarterback and running back in the mix, can Arkansas State give another Texas flagship school a scare, just one year after taking Texas to the brink? Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp takes a look at the Aggies' opening weekend opponent as the Mike Sherman era is set to officially begin.

With less than a minute to play, down by eight, Arkansas State recovered the onside kick against the nationally ranked Texas Longhorns. They were less than 50 yards from pulling off one of the greatest upsets in college football history—the same day that Appalachian State knocked off No. 5 Michigan at The Big House.

But after a raucous celebration, they turned around and saw the yellow flag back at the 30 yard-line. They had been called for an illegal formation. The referee had—incorrectly—ruled that the Red Wolves did not have four players on one side of the kicker on the onside kick. The call dashed any hopes Arkansas State had for the upset and bailed Mack Brown and his Longhorns out of a major catastrophe on opening day.

Almost exactly one year later, many of the same players will try to upset another Texas flagship school on Saturday, as the Mike Sherman era officially begins at Kyle Field as the Aggies host Arkansas State.

The Red Wolves return nearly all of their skilled position players, including All-Sun Belt Conference quarterback Corey Leonard, who completed 182-of-349 passes for 2,235 yards and 16 touchdowns, posting a quarterback rating of 112.5.

He's joined in the backfield by fellow All-Sun Belt Conference running back Reggie Arnold, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 11 carries against Texas and finished the season with over 1,000 yards rushing.

However, the question for Arkansas State—much like the Aggies' same scenario—is can they protect Leonard? The Aggies boast a solid defensive line, looking to make a statement in the new defensive scheme installed over the offseason. Cyril Obiozor, Michael Bennett, Lucas Patterson and Kellen Heard may have an opportunity to "tee off" against four new starters on the offensive line for the Red Wolves.

However, if the newly assembled unit is able to protect Leonard, he's shown that he can put up the yards against big-name opponents, putting up 259 passing yards against Texas' 109th ranked pass defense last year.

But Leonard isn't afraid to run with the ball either. He ran for 547 yards on 171 carries (3.2 ypc) last year.

His primary target will be junior wide receiver Brandon Thompkins, who is the leading receiver among returners after hauling in 41 receptions for 503 yards last season (12.3 per catch) with one touchdown.

The Red Wolves have a mixed review heading into the 2008 season on defense, with just five returning starters from a defense that led the Sun Belt Conference in total defense a year ago. The good news? They've got five returning starters. The bad news? They've got six new starters.

Sophomore linebacker Javon McKinnon led the team with 101 tackles and 7.0 TFL a year ago as a freshman, with two interceptions and four passes broken up for good measure. He's joined by senior linebacker Ben Owens, who added another 96 tackles, with 4.5 TFL.

They'll be joined up front by defensive end Alex Carrington, who added 38 tackles of his own, including 5.0 TFL and a sack. Carrington could give the inexperienced A&M offensive line a good first test to start the 2008 season.

Returning starters Dominique Williams and Daylon Walker will anchor the Red Wolves' secondary at cornerback, but they won't have much experience behind them with two newcomers playing at safety.

Assuming the A&M offensive line can hold up against a much smaller defensive front from Arkansas State, Aggie quarterback Stephen McGee should be able to sit back and rack up early passing yardage—hopefully in time to get backups Jerrod Johnson and Ryan Tannehill some playing time early in the season.

OUTLOOK:
The Red Wolves might have caught Texas napping in 2007, but the 2008 Aggies will be looking to make a statement early after not getting much respect from the media—and even A&M fans—heading into the season. With a new pro-style offense, the Red Wolves will have two disadvantages. In addition to not having as much talent from top to bottom on their roster, they also won't have any game film to watch of the Aggies in action. However, because of those new schemes, the game could stay closer than some may think, but should still serve as a tune-up for the Aggies before heading to New Mexico next weekend.


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