Arkansas State allowed 73 points in its first game of the season. The Red Wolves were outscored 110-3 in losing their first two games.
Oh yes, and this past week Arkansas State scored 77 points in becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2019.
That type of crazy swing explains the wild up-and-down year of Arkansas State.
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There will be no Sun Belt playoff game for the Red Wolves, so a bowl game will have to suffice.
Arkansas State is in the Sun Belt West, where Troy has clinched the regular season title and berth in the title game. Troy beat Arkansas State 37-3 during this whacky uneven season.
Still, the Red Wolves (6-5) have been able to bounce off the canvas and already doubled the win total from last year’s 3-9 edition.
That opening game was a 73-0 pasting by host Oklahoma. Losing to Oklahoma was expected but by more than 10 touchdowns? Then came a 37-3 home loss to Memphis, a quality team that was just eliminated from the American Athletic Conference race with Saturday’s 38-34 home loss to SMU.
Three straight wins were followed by two Sun Belt losses, the aforementioned wipeout against Troy, and a 27-17 home loss to Coastal Carolina. Wins over Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe were followed by a 21-14 loss at a quality South Alabama team. Both South Alabama and Arkansas State are 6-5, 4-3.
Then came last week’s home stunner: Arkansas State 77, Texas State 31.
Imagine scoring 31 points and still losing by 46.
What made this all more surprising is that Texas State entered the game ranked No. 18 in the HERO Sports G5 Top 25.
Maybe the scoring explosion against Texas State was an anomaly, but the Red Wolves, who even after this game are just ninth in the Sun Belt in scoring, averaging 28.4 points, had help in all three phases of the game.
The Red Wolves scored seven rushing touchdowns, two TDs on interception returns, another on a fumble recovery, and yet an 11th on Ja’Quez Cross’ 93-yard kickoff return.
A redshirt sophomore, Cross has enjoyed a solid season that was greatly enhanced by his game against Texas State.
He entered the game with three rushing touchdowns in his first 10 games. Cross then added three on the ground against Texas State, in addition to his first kickoff return for a TD.
He had 139 yards and three scores on 13 carries, two receptions for 15 yards, and three kick returns for 166 yards and the score.
Just your basic 310 all-purpose yard day. For the season, he has rushed for 661 yards (6.0 avg.) and six touchdowns and is averaging 29.2 yards on 20 kickoff returns. Add in another 19 receptions for 129 yards and he has been awfully versatile. But against Texas State, he was unstoppable.
The win came at a good time for coach Butch Jones, the former head coach at Tennessee, Cincinnati and Central Michigan, who had not gotten off to a great start in his first two seasons at Arkansas State (5-19).
The good thing about Arkansas State is that the Red Wolves have many key young playmakers, beginning with true freshman Jaylen Raynor, who has completed 60.3% of his passes for 2,030 yards, 14 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 340 yards (3.4 avg.) and five touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman LB Javante Mackey has 80 tackles, sharing the team lead with redshirt junior LB Charles Willekes.
Arkansas State closes its regular season Saturday at Marshall (5-6), another Sun Belt team with a roller coaster season. Marshall will have more incentive since the Thundering Herd would need to win to become bowl-eligible.
So it will be a big road test for the Red Wolves and a chance to see if they can build off their most impressive showing by far this season.