Oklahoma coach Brent Venables runs onto the field before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the UTEP Miners at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. Oklahoma won 45-13.

No. 20 Oklahoma rolls out rebuilt defense vs. Arkansas State

During his time as a defensive coordinator at Clemson and before that at Oklahoma, Brent Venables established a reputation as one of college football’s top defensive minds.

So it was especially disappointing for Venables, during his first season as Oklahoma’s head coach, that the Sooners’ defense struggled as they slipped to a 6-7 finish in 2022.

The defense finished near the bottom nationally in total defense, struggling in virtually every area.

When the 20th-ranked Sooners open the season at home against Arkansas State on Saturday, the personnel on defense will look much different than it did last season.

Venables and defensive coordinator Ted Roof made overhauling the defense a particular emphasis in the offseason, adding a wave of experience in the transfer portal — defensive ends Rondell Bothroyd from Wake Forest and Trace Ford from Oklahoma State, interior linemen Jacob Lacey from Notre Dame, Da’Jon Terry to Tennessee and Davon Sears from Texas State, linebacker Dasan McCullough from Indiana, safety Reggie Pearson from Texas Tech.

Venables was frustrated with his team’s depth all around, but particularly on defense.

Heading into the opener, Venables said he feels much better about where his team stands entering his second season.

“I thought we were soft in short-yardage situations and got knocked off the ball,” Venables said. “Second level didn’t support like we needed to support.
“I think we’re more knowledgeable as well as more physical. Our football IQ has improved. … I do feel like we’ve helped ourselves with the development of the guys that are on our roster and with some of the portal guys that we have brought on.”

The last time Oklahoma and Arkansas State faced off, the Sooners also were ranked No. 20. Oklahoma won that game 45-7 in 2000 and went on to an undefeated season and the program’s seventh national championship – with Venables as co-defensive coordinator.

Arkansas State is coming off an even tougher season than the Sooners, going 3-9 in 2022 in its second season under Butch Jones.

The Red Wolves are looking for their first win over a Power Five opponent since 2020, when they knocked off Kansas State.

Arkansas State hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since knocking off No. 25 Troy in 2016.

“I like where we’re at, but we’ll know a little bit more (Saturday),” Jones said. “When you play a quality opponent like Oklahoma, everything that you do can be exposed. What I mean is fundamentals, details, simple things like your hand placement, the violence or mentality that you play with, with your style of play, the discipline to execute play-in and play-out, the ability to handle the clutter and distractions of the crowd noise.”

One player who does have experience in those environments is Red Wolves’ starting quarterback J.T. Shrout.

Shrout spent the last two seasons at Colorado, throwing for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games last season, after playing for Tennessee from 2018-20.

Shrout beat out redshirt freshman Jaxon Dailey for the starting spot, with Jones saying Shrout’s consistency and experience helped turn the tide.

“We’ll see how that goes,” Jones said.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (18) makes the touchdown catch during the second quarter against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Harrison Jr., C.J. Stroud power No. 2 Ohio State past Arkansas State

C.J. Stroud threw for 351 yards and four touchdowns, three to Marvin Harrison Jr., as No. 3 Ohio State shook off Arkansas State 45-12 in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday.

The Buckeyes (2-0) led 24-9 at the half before opening the third quarter with a three-play, 75-yard drive capped by TreVeyon Henderson’s 23-yard run to extend the lead to 31-9 over the Red Wolves (1-1).

On their next series, the Buckeyes went 59 yards on two plays, the last a 51-yard TD reception by Emeka Egbuka, who had a 44-yard catch on the previous possession.

Dominic Zvada kicked four field goals for the Red Wolves.

Stroud was 16 for 24. Harrison made seven catches for 184 yards and Emeka Egbuka gained 118 yards on four catches, while Henderson (87 yards on 10 carries) ran for two scores.

Harrison, who tied a Rose Bowl record on Jan. 1 with three touchdowns catches, joined Joey Galloway as the only Buckeye players to have three TD catches in a game multiple times.

Arkansas State’s James Blackman was 20 of 34 for 188 yards with his favorite target being Champ Flemings with 10 catches for 105 yards. Flemings also added 20 rushing yards.

Ohio State was without standout receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who sustained a leg injury in the season opener against Notre Dame, but Harrison made up for his loss with a pair of 42-yard TDs in the first half to shake off the Red Wolves, who were 44-point underdogs.

His first gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead, and he made a catch for 45 yards on the next series to set up an 8-yard scoring run by Henderson to make it 14-3.

Arkansas State responded with field goals of 38 and 34 yards by Zvada to make it 17-9. But the Buckeyes needed only three plays to go 75 to extend the lead to 24-9 on Harrison’s second score.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) drops back to pass during the NCAA football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Ohio State and revamped defense host Arkansas State

Unlike most of his players, Arkansas State coach Butch Jones knows what it’s like to play — and beat — a highly ranked team.

In a long coaching career with stops as head coach at Tennessee and Cincinnati, he also was a special assistant to head coach Nick Saban when Alabama drilled Ohio State in the national championship game, 52-24, in the 2020 season.

Jones is in his second season as head coach at Arkansas State (1-0), but coming off a 58-3 victory vs. Grambling State, the Red Wolves will move into a different stratosphere Saturday when they play at No. 3 Ohio State (1-0).

“The one thing is when you play a high level of an opponent, the mistakes you make are magnified, so your margin of error is a lot slimmer,” Jones said Monday. “A lot of the mistakes that we made Saturday night, if we make those same mistakes against Ohio State, they’re going to turn into explosive plays and negative-yardage football plays and possibly turnovers generated.”

The Buckeyes opened with a marquee matchup against then-No. 5 Notre Dame and overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit to record a workmanlike 21-10 win.

Ohio State and its Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback, C.J. Stroud, struggled for much of the game due to the absence of standout wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who suffered a leg injury during the Buckeyes’ second series. Smith-Njigba played a few snaps just before halftime and then sat the rest of the game.

Coach Ryan Day said Tuesday he was uncertain whether Smith-Njigba will be available Saturday.

“We will not bring him back if there’s any risk of him getting hurt for the future,” Day said.

Stroud, meantime, still completed 24 of 34 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns, turning to Emeka Egbuka for a career-high nine catches for 90 yards. The Buckeyes displayed balance, rushing for 176 yards against Notre Dame, with TreVeyon Henderson gaining 91 yards and Miyan Williams 84.

Ohio State led the nation in scoring last season with an average of 45.7 points per game and is expected to be an offensive juggernaut again, but the story of the game was the defense under first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

Knowles was lured from Oklahoma State to fix a unit that was 59th out of 130 schools in total defense (372.9 yards per game) last season. The Buckeyes held Notre Dame to 253 total yards (72 in the second half) and forced the Fighting Irish to punt on their final six possessions.

“That’s the start we were looking for, for sure,” Day said. “Watching the film, (the defense) played really hard. They played fast and decisive.”

Arkansas State, 2-10 last season, has an experienced quarterback in second-year starter James Blackman, who had been a part-time starter at Florida State. He found an immediate connection this season with Oregon State transfer Champ Flemings, who caught seven passes for 122 yards against Grambling State.

“He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Jones said of Flemings. “Champ is also one of those guys who’s come into our program and bought into our standards, our expectations but has also brought us a whole another level of competitiveness.”

Stroud said the Buckeyes’ goal to win every game will help them avoid a letdown after an emotional victory.

“Arkansas State is a good team,” he said. “They won last week. We’re both 1-0.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Dylan Morris (9) throws a pass against the Arkansas State Red Wolves during the second quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington routs Arkansas St. for first win of season

Dylan Morris threw for a career-high 367 yards and three touchdowns as Washington earned its first victory of the season, defeating Arkansas State 52-3 on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Seattle.

The Red Wolves (1-2), who entered the game fourth nationally with 596.5 yards of total offense per game, were limited to just 268 while UW amassed 598.

The Huskies (1-2), upset by Montana of the Football Championship Subdivision in their home opener before a loss last week at Michigan, went three-and-out on their first possession. But the Huskies scored touchdowns on their next four drives — all 70 yards or longer — to take a 28-0 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Washington got a boost from two players making their season debuts — wide receiver Jalen McMillan and running back Sean McGrew. McMillan, who suffered a hand injury midway through fall camp, had 10 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown. McGrew, a preseason Doak Walker Award candidate, hadn’t played in the first two games but rushed for two scores.

Morris hit tight end Cade Otton with a 13-yard pass to open the scoring.

After Arkansas State missed a short field-goal attempt, McGrew scored on a 13-yard run.

Richard Newton Jr., who led the Huskies with 52 yards rushing on 10 attempts, scored on a 2-yard run early in the second quarter.

McMillan caught a 33-yard scoring strike from Morris with 10 minutes left in the half.

McGrew scored on a 2-yard run with 4:37 left in the third quarter to make it 35-0 before the Red Wolves finally got on the board on Blake Grupe’s 26-yard field goal.

Terrell Bynum caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Morris with 13:59 remaining to make it 42-3.

Huskies backup quarterback Sam Huard led a 72-yard drive to set up Peyton Henry’s 38-yard field goal with 8:05 left.

UW linebacker Bralen Trice returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown with 3:34 to go.

Arkansas State’s James Blackman completed 16 of 38 passes for 176 yards. Backup Layne Hatcher entered in the fourth quarter and was 6 of 11 for 44 yards.

The Red Wolves’ Lincoln Pare made seven catches for 69 yards. Johnnie Lang was their leading rusher with 18 yards on six carries.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake returns to the locker room following pregame warmups against the Montana Grizzlies at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington looks to avoid 0-3 start against Arkansas State

The “good mojo” Washington coach Jimmy Lake felt after spring ball and fall camp is gone.

The word he used most often in his Monday news conference was “unacceptable.”

The Huskies (0-2, 0-0 Pac-12) have dropped their first two games of the season for the first time since their winless 2008 campaign.

They’ll try to get back on track Saturday afternoon when they play host to Arkansas State (1-1) in Seattle.

“So the positive thing is we have lots of football left to play. Our players are in good spirits. They know we haven’t played our best football,” Lake said. “We know there is a lot of room for improvement, but the improvement needs to happen now. All the work we’ve been doing needs to show up with the results on game day.”

The Huskies opened the season at home with a stunning 13-7 loss to FCS member Montana before suffering a 31-10 defeat last Saturday at Michigan.

Despite scoring just 17 points through two games, and going 20 series between its two offensive touchdowns, Washington opened as a 16 1/2-point favorite against the Red Wolves.

Arkansas State, under new coach Butch Jones, defeated Central Arkansas 40-21 in its opener before nearly rallying in a 55-50 loss to Memphis last week, a late Hail Mary pass falling incomplete in the end zone.

“I’m really proud of our players. They had every opportunity to get out of the game and they kept fighting,” Jones said. “There are no moral victories, but I thought there were things to build upon.”

Arkansas State quarterbacks Layne Hatcher and James Blackman combined to complete 42 of 66 passes for a school-record 582 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions last weekend.

The Huskies are allowing the fewest passing yards per game in the country (74.5). But they gave up 343 yards rushing to the Wolverines, who built a 10-0 halftime lead and never felt the need to put the ball in the air.

“If we’re not scoring any points and they can keep handing the ball off … you’re going to get the result we just got put on us,” Lake said. “So that’s what we’ve got to figure out and make sure we get a different result this Saturday.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Tigers defensive back Rodney Owens (30) and defensive back Jacobi Francis (1) celebrate during the first half against the Nicholls State Colonels at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis, Arkansas State look to build on opening victories

Memphis again will turn to freshman quarterback Seth Henigan when it visits Arkansas State in a nonconference game on Saturday in Jonesboro, Ark.

Henigan stood out in his debut during a season-opening 42-17 win for Memphis (1-0, 0-0 American) over Nicholls State last Saturday, as he went 19-of-32 passing for 265 yards and a touchdown and led the Tigers on nine scoring drives without a punt. Henigan started in place of Grant Gunnell, who was out with a lower body injury and will be sidelined for the “foreseeable future,” according to Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield.

“He’s so calm, cool and collected — that’s just his nature,” Silverfield told reporters of Henigan. “He’s capable and just seeing him out there he’s never too high or never too low.”

The loss of Gunnell, who threw for 625 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions for Arizona last season before transferring to Memphis this past December, thrust Henigan into the starting lineup just days before facing the Colonels.

The Tigers defeated the Red Wolves, a member of the Sun Belt Conference, 37-24 last season in Memphis. Arkansas State led 14-7 early in the second quarter before Memphis scored 30 of the next 33 points to put the game away.

Arkansas State (1-0) will be playing its second game under new head coach Butch Jones, the former coach at Tennessee. Against Central Arkansas on Saturday, the Red Wolves got off to a slow start before outscoring the Bears 34-14 in the second half en route to a 40-21 win.

The Red Wolves implemented a two-quarterback system that featured James Blackman and Layne Hatcher. Blackman, a transfer from Florida State, went 16-for-26 passing for 169 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions before exiting late in the third quarter. Hatcher came in and completed all 12 of his passing attempts and finished with 150 yards and four touchdowns.

Receiver Corey Rucker had nine catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns, and Alan Lamar rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

“We talked about the DNA of our football team and the ability to persevere,” Jones said. “We definitely didn’t play winning football and have a lot to learn from, but we came out in the second half and finally played complementary football. I said I’d learn a lot about this team tonight, and we have a lot of things to work on to get better. We know, with the schedule coming up, that we have to get better in a hurry.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 20, 2018; Knoxville, TN, USA; Former Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones on the sidelines as the Alabama Crimson Tide play at Neyland Stadium. Alabama defeated the Vols 58-21. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Butch Jones named coach at Arkansas State

Former Tennessee coach Butch Jones was named head coach at Arkansas State on Saturday night.

Jones replaced Blake Anderson, who left to become the new coach at Utah State, a move that was also made official Saturday night.

Jones, 52, joins Arkansas State after spending three seasons as a special assistant and offensive analyst to Nick Saban at No. 1 Alabama. Jones previously led Central Michigan and Cincinnati prior to his stint as the Volunteers head coach.

“It is truly an honor and privilege to be the head football coach at Arkansas State University,” Jones said in a statement. “It is a position that I take great pride in, and I look forward to connecting with our student-athletes to build upon the strong tradition of excellence both on and off the field of play.”

Arkansas State said it will host an introductory press conference at a later date.

“Butch Jones’ outstanding record of success at both the G5 and P5 levels is evident, and we’re excited to have him leading our football program into the future,” Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said in a statement. “Our candidate pool was fantastic, but following extensive and positive conversations with Butch, while also looking at his winning history, coaching and leadership abilities and vision for our program, we became confident he was the clear choice to be our next head coach.”

Jones brings an 84-54 record over 11 seasons into Jonesboro, Ark. He went 27-13 at Central Michigan (2007-09), 23-14 at Cincinnati (2010-12) before amassing a 34-27 record (14-24 SEC) at Tennessee before getting fired after 10 games in the 2017 season.

He led his teams to eight bowl games in 11 seasons. Jones led the Bearcats to a Big East conference championship in 2011.

Anderson went 51-37 in seven seasons at Arkansas State with two Sun Belt championships. Reports came out Thursday that he was leaving for Utah State.

–Field Level Media

Sep 5, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves head coach Blake Anderson during the second half against the Memphis Tigers  at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Anderson departs Arkansas State, set to become Utah State coach

Blake Anderson is leaving Arkansas State to become the coach at Utah State, according to multiple reports on Thursday.

Arkansas State confirmed Anderson’s departure and named offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf interim coach.

Anderson had a 51-37 record in seven seasons at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves made bowl games in his first six seasons before going 4-7 this year.

“We appreciate Coach Anderson’s contributions to our program,” athletic director Terry Mohajir said in a statement. “He is the only head coach in our FBS history to win two conference championships, and he played for a third while also leading us to six bowl games. We wish him the best moving forward.”

Anderson will be taking over a Utah State program that is just 1-5 entering Saturday’s season-ending contest at Colorado State.

The Aggies fired coach Gary Andersen in early November after three losses by a combined 114-29. Frank Maile is 1-2 as interim coach.

Anderson was reportedly looking for a fresh start as he continues to attempt to move on emotionally following the death of his wife, Wendy, in August of 2019 after a battle with breast cancer. Wendy Anderson was 49.

Wendy Anderson’s fight became national news. The Red Wolves played at Georgia a few weeks later and the fans turned the stadium into a memorial for her with people sporting pink instead of the usual Bulldogs’ red.

Mohajir said Arkansas State will conduct a national search to identify a new coach.

–Field Level Media

Sep 12, 2020; West Point, New York, USA; Louisiana Monroe Warhawks wide receiver Malik Jackson (2) catches a touchdown pass over Army Black Knights defensive back Malkelm Morrison (2) during the second quarter at Michie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas State postponed due to COVID-19

The Saturday game between Louisiana-Monroe and host Arkansas State was postponed Tuesday due to COVID-19 concerns within the ULM program.

The contest between the two Sun Belt Conference programs was rescheduled for Dec. 12.

The game was postponed after Louisiana-Monroe contacted Arkansas State and the Sun Belt to say it was unable to play on Saturday.

“Out of an abundance of caution along with following the CDC and Sun Belt Conference protocols, a recent round of positive COVID tests within the ULM football program combined with contact tracing have led to the postponement of Saturday’s game at Arkansas State,” Louisiana-Monroe athletic director Scott McDonald said in a statement. “Our No. 1 priority remains fostering a safe campus environment for our student-athletes, coaches and administrators, and it became apparent that the team wouldn’t be able to safely resume practice in time to prepare for Saturday’s game.”

This is the second COVID-19 outbreak in the Warhawks’ program this season. The first led to the scheduled Sept. 5 season opener against Troy to be rescheduled for Dec. 5.

Louisiana-Monroe (0-8, 0-5 Sun Belt) is next scheduled to play on Nov. 21 against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La. Arkansas State (3-5, 1-4) is slated to visit Texas State on Nov. 21.

Red Wolves athletic director Terry Mohajir said he understood the situation.

“Our football team was excited to be back home in front of our fans this week,” Mohajir said in a statement. “We certainly understand these tough outcomes due to COVID-19.”

Arkansas State had to pull out of games with Central Arkansas on Sept. 19 and Tulsa on Sept. 26 due to its own outbreak. The Red Wolves beat the Bears 50-27 in a makeup game on Oct. 10, but the Golden Hurricane game has yet to be rescheduled.

–Field Level Media

Sep 5, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves head coach Blake Anderson during the second half against the Memphis Tigers  at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas State coach Anderson recovered from virus

Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson revealed he was among the members of his program to contract the coronavirus.

He said Monday he tested positive on Sept. 16, four days after his Red Wolves upset Kansas State 35-31 despite being without 10 starters and 20 players in all for the game.

“I got sick within a couple days, started having symptoms,” he said, adding he ran a fever for 10 days.

Arkansas State’s following two games on the schedule — Sept. 19 against Central Arkansas and Sept. 26 against Tulsa — were postponed. The Red Wolves (1-1) are set to return to the field on Saturday in a Sun Belt Conference matchup at Coastal Carolina (2-0).

Anderson became the second college football coach, following Florida State’s Mike Norvell, to disclose a positive COVID-19 test.

“Let’s just say it’s been a challenge. We have dealt with COVID and the reality of it as well as I think you can. We knew there was a risk when we got back to playing, and everybody chose to be here for the potential that we could have some guys both on and off the field that would catch it. And we did,” he said.

He said his players, now past the virus, are ready for Coastal Carolina.

“I do feel like we’re coming over the hurdle, and starting to look like ourselves. And you could tell the kids are real excited about the opportunity to play.”

–Field Level Media