SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Arkansas St. Indians

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Steve Roberts (2nd year, 6-7)
2002 record: 6-7
Sun Belt finish: 3rd
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 182.6 ypg
(3rd in Sun Belt, 37th in nation)
Pass: 143.7 ypg (6th, 105th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 165.3 ypg (3rd, 72nd)
Pass: 176.4 ypg (2nd, 16th)
Projected Starters
Offense (5 returning starters in bold)
WR   1   Jason Wood   Jr.  
WR   22   Chuck Walker   Jr.  
WR  86  Mike Cox  Sr. 
LT  Matt Roth  Jr. 
LG  73  Steven Gibbs  Jr. 
C   52   Tab Slaughter   Jr.  
RG  77  Brandon Crocker  Jr. 
RT   54   Kimani Jones   Sr.  
TE  55  Mike Brooks  Jr. 
QB   12   Elliot Jacobs   Jr.  
FB  48  Oren O'Neal  So. 
RB  42  Antonio Warren  Jr. 
Defense (9)
DE   48   Zach Grigsby   Sr.  
DT   91   Jon Bradley   Sr.  
NT   99   Corey Williams   Sr.  
DE   19   Courtney Todd   Jr.  
MLB   15   Steven Tookes   Jr.  
WLB   5   Les Echols   Sr.  
CB   17   Lamar Lee   Sr.  
CB   23   Jonathan Burke   Sr.  
WS  24  LeKeith Grace  Sr. 
FS   4   Alex Peoples   Jr.  
SS  30  Chris Littleton  So. 
Special Teams
88  Eric Neihouse  So. 
88  Eric Neihouse  So. 
KR  10  Jerome Stegall  Jr. 
PR  17  Lamar Lee  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  at Texas A&M 
Sept. 6  Tennessee-Martin 
Sept. 13  SE Missouri State 
Sept. 20  at Tulsa 
Sept. 27  at Memphis 
Oct. 4  #Louisiana-Monroe 
Oct. 11  at Ole Miss 
Oct. 25  at Utah State 
Nov. 1  at New Mexico State 
Nov. 8  Idaho 
Nov. 15  at North Texas 
Nov. 22  Middle Tennessee 
   #Little Rock, Ark. 
They were 11 points short of Bourbon Street -- three plays away from a 9-4 season and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl.

The same Arkansas State program that had totaled three wins in the previous two seasons doubled that number during the first year of Steve Roberts' tenure. Now the Indians want more. It's all part of the "I Will" philosophy that Roberts has brought to Jonesboro. "We've come to understand as a football team that wanting to be successful is totally different than actually being successful," he said.

To be successful in 2003, the Indians are going to have to find an offense to match their stifling defense. Replacing running back Danny Smith, who set ASU's single-season rushing record with 1,390 yards last year, and three starters on the offensive line, including a pair of four-year starters, will be quite a chore.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Run-oriented football teams generally don't survive without a productive tailback and a sturdy offensive line to run behind. The Indians had both last year and not only survived, but thrived. Now will they be able to survive the loss of Smith and the four key offensive linemen who paved the way?

Of the five candidates looking to replace Smith, a healthy Antonio Warren would have to be considered the favorite. He was the starter in 2002 before cracking two ribs midway through what was up to then a productive season. He will be pushed by Clinton Roy and intriguing juco transfer Shermar Bracey, who's only played one season of football since the start of high school, but who coaches say has a rare blend of size and speed.

Lack of depth on the offensive line is clearly a big concern, and one that can't be good for the Indians' plans to throw the ball more downfield. The battle between last year's starting quarterback, the extremely accurate Elliot Jacobs , and this year's challenger, the strong-armed Reid McKinney, should be fun to watch.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The improvement of this unit last year was remarkable. With the arrival of Roberts, the interception total went from five to 16 and the sack total went from eight to 47. The yards yielded went down 61 per game.

Here's some news for Sun Belt offensive coordinators -- all but two starters return for the Indians. The 4-2-5 defense is directed up front by a pair of first-team all-conference tackles, seniors Corey Williams (nine sacks) and Jon Bradley (six sacks).

Everyone in the four-man linebacker rotation returns, led by last season's leading tackler, Les Echols (107 tackles). In addition, the secondary looks strong again. The unit that helped ASU finish 16th nationally in pass defense last season has no shortage of playmakers.

The competition at the safety positions is shaping into quite a battle. Keep an eye on junior college All-American LeUndo Adams, the newcomer who some recruiting services rated as the top safety prospect coming out of junior college. Lamar Lee, who has moved from safety to cornerback, and Jonathan Burke, the 2002 Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year, will be starting at the corners.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Sophomore Eric Neihouse has a strong leg but must improve his accuracy (10-of-22 FGs last season). It looks as if the Indians will look to Neihouse to punt as well. Standout return man James Hickenbotham will be tough to replace. Lamar Lee will most likely return punts, while a host of receivers try their hand at kickoff returns.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

While the Indians won six games and were very close to winning three others in 2002, Roberts is the first one to point out that the Indians weren't that far from a 4-9 season. The defense is stout, but major holes have to be filled at running back and on the offensive line. With four non-conference road games -- starting with Texas A&M -- and one fewer games to work with, expecting another six-win season might be a bit unrealistic. With Roberts around, though, it would be foolish to expect the Indians to fall back into college football purgatory.

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