The Ponies get a tricky one in Jonesboro to start the 2019 schedule. A few quick thoughts on the game Saturday night.
Welcome Shane Buechele
In a baffling move, Chad Morris named SMU transfer Ben Hicks his starter at Arkansas on Tuesday. It’s baffling because Ben is now a starter in the SEC and most Pony fans were relieved to see him go. Hicks left as SMU’s leading career passer, but I’ll remember him most for chasing defenders as they raced into the endzone on one of Hicks’ patented pick-sixes.
SMU snagged Texas transfer Shane Buechele, who left UT as a grad transfer and returned home to the metroplex. Buechele is a grown-up, a steadying force in the offensive meeting room and he has the physical tools to be a very good signal-caller. He started at Texas until the force of nature that is Sam Ehlinger arrived on campus. Tom Herman found Buechele’s preparation and handling of the demotion. He’s not a backup, he’s a frontline player with all the talent and skill to guide an offense.
If Buechele can play the game more efficiently (read: fewer turnovers and a higher completion percentage) the SMU attack is in great hands.
When SMU has the Ball
SMU has as talented a group of receivers as you might find in a G5 offense this side of Houston. James Proche is the next NFL bound Mustang. Proche plays his best games against the best the Ponies schedule has to offer. Reggie Roberson is a burner who gives SMU a homerun threat and the newest weapon, tight end Kylen Granson, a Rice transfer, who moves to a down position but can play in the slot as well.
The key for SMU is whether they can string together a running game. SMU averaged just 3.5 yards a carry, a yard, and a half drop off from 2017. SMU rebuilds its offensive line as well.
A-State defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen left in January to work on Dana Holgorsen’s staff at Houston. David Duggan takes over attempting to continue Cauthen’s aggressive style. Arkansas State is more prone to the run, that was certainly the case in 2018. The Red Wolves are revamping their defensive end position with youth, but the A-State returns their secondary intact with lots of talented depth waiting in the wings.
When Arkansas State Has the Ball
The Red Wolves replace multi-year starter Justice Hansen who threw for over 10,000 yards in his career with 83 touchdowns and a 146.5 QB rating over his career. Those are big shoes to fill, Logan Bonner from Rowlett gets the first crack as filling them.
Red Wolves will have a new offensive coordinator in 2019 as well as Buster Faulkner moved on to Southern Miss. A new QB, a new coordinator, expect some hiccups, but Arkansas State has Marcel Murray who rushed for over 800 yards as a true freshman. A-State returns three of five linemen from 2018. Last year's line group played just three different combinations in thirteen games as only two linemen missed starts due to injury.
Kevin Kane returns for his second season leading the Pony defense. Last year the Mustangs showed steady improvement throughout twelve games, but the start was so poor that the final numbers were basically in line with 2017. The player to watch is Richard Moore the A&M transfer and All-AAC linebacker. Moore made 92 tackles with 13.5 tackles for loss. Demerick Gary returns up front along with Delontae Scott and Turner Coxe.
The Ponies finished 72nd in sacks but 27th in tackles for loss last season. A rebuilding A-State offense is more friendly opening challenge than a hungry North Texas crew, but the road can be a fickle mistress.
Inside the numbers…
Rodney Clemons earned the honor to wear Jerry Levias’ number 23.
James Proche ended 2018 with the fifth most catches in the FBS.
As a freshman at Texas, Shane Buechele threw for a freshman school record 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Former Arkansas State quarterback finished his career ranked in the top 10 in Sun Belt history in touchdowns, completions, yards, and completion percentage. He finished his career with the highest passer rating in league history.
The Red Wolves finished fourteenth in the FBS with 100 tackles for loss last season.