Across The Field: Q&A with Arkansas State writer Mitchell Gladstone as Red Wolves take their first trip to Ohio State

Before every Ohio State game, Eleven Warriors catches up with a member of the media covering the opposing team to get their take on the Buckeyes’ next opponent.

Our guest this week is Mitchell Gladstone, which covers the state of Arkansas for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. As the Red Wolves prepare to face Ohio State for the very first time, Gladstone tells us what to expect from the Buckeyes’ second opponent of the year, who has won just one game against an opponent from FBS in 2021 but started their 2022 season with a resounding victory, albeit against an FCS opponent at Grambling State.

After just 2-10 last season, Arkansas State opened this season with a 58-3 win over Grambling State. Do you take that as a sign of better things to come for the Red Wolves this year, or have they just beaten a weak opponent?

Gladstone: I don’t think the two things have to be mutually exclusive. Grambling was downright bad — the Tigers committed 14 penalties for 128 yards and only broke the 100-yard mark on their last offensive snap of the night — but this Arkansas State team should be better than last year’s version. Part of that is just because the bar has been set so low, but there are definitely the pieces for this team to punch above its weight as the year progresses.

Former Florida State quarterback James Blackman is in his second season with the Red Wolves and the first time he has had the same coach and offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons since high school. . Defensive end Kivon Bennett is an All-Sun Belt caliber player who started his career in Tennessee. Safety Eddie Smith — previously with Alabama and Illinois — has already brought immediate stability to the back of a defense that was downright bad last season. There are a lot of young people around them, however, it will take time for things to kick in.

Brian Snead started his college career at Ohio State, but Johnnie Lang led the way as Arkansas State rushed for 339 yards in the season opener. What made the rushing attack so effective against Grambling State, and what should Ohio State fans expect from the Red Wolves ground game this week?

Gladstone: Because Arkansas State’s defense was so poor last season, its weak running game flew under the radar somewhat. The Red Wolves were third worst in rushing yards per game at 83.3, so it was notable that they committed early in the rushing game against Grambling State. Lang and Snead are going to be a one-two, so I almost don’t think that’s who starts. If you take away Lang’s long carry of 47 yards, both guys had 12 carries – Lang with 81 and Snead with 57. They’re different types of runners, each with a power conference pedigree (Lang transferred from the State of Iowa before last season).

A-State is always going to be a pass-first offense. Blackman looked much more comfortable on Saturday than at any time last season, but number 1 Te’Vailance Hunt missed the opener with a nagging injury and Butch Jones was evasive about his status in the future. Expect the running backs – who might be the Red Wolves’ most talented positional group – to be heavily involved, either running or catching the ball out of the backfield.

Arkansas State gave up more than 500 yards per game in 2021. What were the Red Wolves’ biggest problems on defense last season, and do you expect them to be better at those areas this year?

Gladstone: I think a lot of the early problems were the product of new defensive coordinator Rob Harley. Yes, his great-uncle is Chic Harley, but Rob has mostly been a defensive guy since he was a safety for the Buckeyes in the early 2000s. Last year was his first season leading a defense after having spent several years under Pat Narduzzi at Pitt and it didn’t go well. But the numbers started to improve in the second half of the season as the young Red Wolves on this side of the ball became familiar with his plan.

Combine that with the fact that Arkansas State has better depth on their defensive front and there’s reason to think they can take a pretty big step forward, even if the offense is still the best unit. . Bennett and now-grad Joe Ozougwu played more than 90 percent of A-State’s defensive snaps on the defensive end, which clearly hampered the pass rush and ultimately the defense as a whole.

For people watching Arkansas State for the first time this week, who do you think are a few players that will catch their eye?

Gladstone: Ohio State fans will obviously know Snead, and probably Blackman as well. So I’m going to highlight another name that might not be on people’s radars.

Kivon Bennett is the big name in defense. His father, Cornelius, was a three-time All-American at Alabama, then the No. 2 in the 1987 NFL Draft before earning three first-team All-Pro honors as an outside linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. Kivon intended to move to OLB and follow in his father’s footsteps with his eyes set on the NFL, but at least for now he’s playing as a traditional defensive end again this season. His best skill is getting to quarterback, though managing Ohio State’s offensive line will be a much tougher task than he’s used to.

This is the first time Arkansas State has faced Ohio State. What is the level of excitement among players and fans for the opportunity to play against the Buckeyes?

Gladstone: There’s always excitement in Jonesboro when the Red Wolves get the chance to face a big name opponent. They did this last season, traveling to Washington, and have played in Georgia, Alabama, Nebraska and Auburn in recent years. Just talking to Jones and the players after Saturday’s win, they know the challenge ahead of them to face the No. 3 team in the country and a perennial national title contender, so I don’t think they’ll be taken in unprepared by what they face when they enter the field at Ohio Stadium. As for the fans, I’m not sure how many will be making the trip – it was a small crowd in Seattle, although it’s a longer trip – but Jonesboro is a small community and the excitement will definitely build in town as the season progresses. week. on.

Considering Ohio State is a 44-point favorite for this game, what do you think realistically would constitute a good day for Arkansas State on Saturday?

Gladstone: I know you didn’t ask me to put a prediction on the record, but I’ll say 49-10 Ohio State. So I think Arkansas State has got it covered — even if the Red Wolves have to come through the back door. What’s a good day, then? Let’s say keep the Buckeyes under 40 points and/or keep the margin at 30 or less. I don’t know if I’d bet on one or the other, but Ohio State’s offense is so dangerous (even with Jaxon Smith-Njigba out) and that in itself will be a massive test for the defense of Red Wolves. If Ohio State doesn’t get into the 40s, it would be a sign that A-State’s defense is coming together even faster than I anticipated.

On the other side of the ball, Grambling State couldn’t slow down James Blackman and the Red Wolf offense. Trying to score against Ohio State will be much, much harder. The holding of the A-State offensive line will dictate much of how this season unfolds. That’s where I’m going to have my eyes on Saturday. Even when A-State’s defense struggled last season, the offense showed its ability to at least give the Red Wolves a chance in several games.

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