Know Your Opponent: Quick-Scouting Arkansas State

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    The Arkansas State Red Wolves will travel to Knoxville this weekend as Tennessee’s second opponent of 2014 with the Vols hoping to reach 2-0 to start the young season. The Red Wolves began their season last Saturday with a 37-10 victory over the Montana State Bobcats in which ASU was able to hold Montana State to 228 total yards of offense while racking up 547 of their own. ASU used an extremely balanced attack that featured 49 rushing attempts for 283 yards and 30 pass attempts (20 completions) for another 264 yards.

    Arkansas State will bring a talented team into Neyland on Saturday that knows how to win, and while it is understood that this is their highlight video, there are still some things worth noting. Here’s what stood out from the highlights of their win over Montana State:

    0:20: Allow me to introduce you to Arkansas State quarterback Fredi Knighten and his star receiver Tres Houston. The two hooked up 9 times on Saturday for 132 yards – one of which was a throwback from Houston to Knighten (which we’ll talk about later) for 45 yards. On this play, Knighten sells the play-action perfectly and hits Houston over the middle for a big play.

    0:32: Knighten is a threat to run every time he touches the ball. Here, Montana States defenders all get caught watching the quarterback and running back Michael Gordon takes the handoff around the end for a 41-yard touchdown. ASU loves to play at a fast tempo on offense – much like Tennessee – and you can see here that the referee manning the line of scrimmage marker (bottom-right of the screen) is still running to catch up from the previous play as the ball is snapped.

    1:47: Knighten again sells the play-action perfectly, sucking in the middle linebacker and creating a lot of space in the middle of the field for his receiver to get open. The receiver here is J.D. McKissic, who averaged 20.8 yards per catch on 4 catches against Montana State.

    2:00: Here, Montana State sends a run blitz to the perfect spot, but ASU’s right guard plows two players out of the way to open up the hole. The threat of Knighten keeping the ball freezes the defensive end and the strong safety is caught out of position thanks to the fake screen action that the receivers run (bottom of the screen). It’s hard to tell if this is a true run/pass option for Knighten or if the receivers are simply trying to distract the defensive backs. Either way, it works and Johnston White hits the middle for a 17-yard gain. These plays force a defense to be incredibly disciplined with all of the multiple actions taking place and will certainly be a challenge for the Vol defense this week.

    2:23: This play gives a small taste of how fast the Arkansas State defense is. The defensive end blows by the right tackle and forces the MSU quarterback to step up into the pocket – and right into the face of the blitzing cornerback who overruns the play and misses the tackle. Senior middle linebacker Qushaun Lee is there to clean up the play and gets the quarterback for a three-yard loss.

    2:49: Look at how many ASU players are moving around in the box before the snap. This is an attempt to confuse the quarterback and offensive line into calling the wrong protection for the actual blitz that the defense is sending. The quarterback has a receiver open in the flat, but the blitzing linebacker is untouched and smashes him before he even reaches his throwing point in his drop. ASU only ended up sending four players after the quarterback, but the pre-snap movement caused the offense to guess wrong on their protection as the left tackle tries to help the left guard and allows Xavier Woodson to run free.

    3:15: ASU catches MSU in a corner blitz and has the perfect play called to beat it, the wide receiver screen. Tres Houston makes an easy catch and explodes upfield for 17 yards. The inside receiver looks confused and ends up being late downfield to blocks (he blocks nobody) or this play could have gone for six points. You can bet that he won’t make that mistake again this week.

    3:25: Another receiver screen and another hug play for ASU. They catch MSU in another blitz and hit the underneath screen to McKissic with offensive linemen in front and the only hope MSU has is that they can keep him out of the end zone. They eventually shove McKissic out of bounds, but not before a 44-yard gain on 3rd and 3.

    3:50: Head on a swivel. (ouch)

    4:10: If only Matt Darr hadn’t rolled his ankle on Sunday.

    4:30: This is where Knighten can absolutely kill you. MSU has great coverage downfield and looks to have the play stopped, but Knighten takes off and beats the spying linebacker to the corner for a 24-yard gain.

    5:20: As a defense, you work hard all night to react quickly and fly to the football as fast as you can – and then this happens. The offense uses your pursuit against you and does a throwback pass to their incredibly dynamic quarterback when you have the bubble screen played perfectly. Knighten gains 48 yards on a play that could have gone further if he doesn’t outrun his blockers down the field.

    5:40: Great throw under pressure and on the run against good coverage for a touchdown. It took a perfect throw for a touchdown here and Knighten threw it.

    Now…Until this point (1:53 left in the 3rd quarter) ASU had only scored 16 points against an outmanned MSU defense, so it’s clear that they had some mistakes and stalled out on a few drives. This touchdown pass from Kighten absolutely ignited this team and gave them a ton of confidence on offense as they closed the game with 21 points in the final 17 minutes. Tennessee will have to avoid letting ASU get this type of confidence on Saturday.

    6:22: Hard to tell if this is a designed quarterback run or just great vision by Knighten, but it shows you how quickly he can exploit a defense if they are caught out of position – 38-yard run.

    6:59: This play is nearly identical to the play A.J. Johnson made against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State. The middle linebacker drops into a zone coverage and just waits for the receiver to cross the field. Qushaun Lee reads the quarterback’s eyes and simply beats the receiver to the ball for the interception. Game Over.