The Red Wolves of Arkansas State lost 34-19 at Tennessee last Saturday to tune-up, so to speak, for the Miami Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes defeated Florida A&M 41-7 last Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, not exactly SEC-type preparation for the Red Wolves.
The Hurricanes (1-1) go into Sun Life at 3:30 p.m. Saturday as 161/2-point favorites over the Red Wolves (1-1). But chances are they won’t be overlooking A-State — a team that has won at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference title the past three seasons.
“How are you keeping your guys focused on this Arkansas State game with the Nebraska game coming up next week?” UM coach Al Golden was asked this week.
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“This season for us is all about one mission at a time,” Golden replied, “so nobody is mentioning the other team that you just mentioned.”
Though the Red Wolves fell to the Volunteers, they led after the first quarter and edged back to within five points late in the second. Quarterback Fredi Knighten ended the game with 65 yards and a touchdown rushing and completed 21 of 34 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown.
In two games, dual-threat Knighten has completed 40 of 63 passes (63.5 percent) for 385 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also leads the Red Wolves in rushing with 158 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, for 5.3 yards a rush.
He has yet to turn the ball over.
“As long as you don’t try to do too much, don’t make any stupid plays, you’re always in the game,” he told media members this week at practice.
Knighten acknowledged that playing in front of a Tennessee crowd about 500 fans shy of 100,000 more than helped prepare him for the Miami game.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “You don’t get to do that too often. So when you come out to crowds with 45, 50,000 people, it’s going to seem like nothing.”
The UM crowd, which could be sparser than that should the skies open with rain, as forecast, will not nearly have as much to do with Arkansas State’s success, or demise, as will the UM defense.
The season is still young, but the Hurricanes are eighth nationally in total defense after games at Louisville and against FAMU, allowing an average of 225 yards per opponent. They’re 15th in rushing defense (77.5 yards per game allowed) and 22nd in passing yards allowed (147.5).
Blake Anderson, the fifth head coach at Arkansas State in five years, said this week that the Red Wolves’ offense would “spread it around,” then praised UM linebacker Denzel Perryman, a Butkus Award candidate with 18 tackles (four for losses), one sack and a pass breakup this season.
“He pretty much stays in the middle and hawks down anything that’s moving,” Anderson said. “We’ve seen him before, and he’s as good as advertised.”
Anderson was North Carolina’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons, so he has a pretty good idea of what he will be facing.
The Hurricanes will be without talented receiver Stacy Coley, who sustained a shoulder injury last weekend. But the Red Wolves will be without even more.
Arkansas State running back Michael Gordon, who rushed for 754 yards last season, has badly bruised ribs and is doubtful for Saturday. Also, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jonah Hill tore his ACL last weekend, backup offensive tackle Daniel Keith broke his ankle and strong safety back Chris Humes is out with a torn biceps.
Red Wolves starting middle linebacker Qshaun Lee, who led the Sun Belt with 134 tackles in 2013, is questionable with bruised ribs.