Summer Vacation: The Arkansas State Red Wolves and the Most Interesting Coach in the World

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

His name is Freeze.

He was Michael Oher's high school coach.

After Oher's recruitment, he became position coach and recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss under head coach Ed Orgeron.

He spent two years as head coach of the NAIA's Lambuth University, going 20-5 (12-1 in his second year).

He took over as Arkansas State offensive coordinator in 2010, and the Red Wolves' Off. S&P+ ranking immediately improved from 105th to 81st.  When the team went 4-8 anyway and their head coach left, he got the call to become the replacement.

New Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze's resume is almost as interesting as the company he has kept ... and with some of the imports he's brought to Jonesboro, it seems the company is going to stay rather interesting.  I get the distinct impression that the Most Interesting (new) (mid-major) Coach in the World is going to either be a colossal success at ASU ... or a colossal failure.  Either Gus Malzahn or Todd Dodge.  Honestly, anything else would be somewhat disappointing.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk**: 70
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep at Auburn 26-52 L 20.2 - 35.4 L
11-Sep at UL-Lafayette 24-31 L 21.7 - 37.3 L
18-Sep UL-Monroe 34-20 W 31.2 - 39.1 L
25-Sep at Troy 28-35 L 25.2 - 30.6 L
2-Oct Louisville 24-34 L 36.2 - 34.7 W
9-Oct at North Texas 24-19 W 24.0 - 26.0 L
16-Oct at Indiana 34-36 L 26.1 - 32.8 L
23-Oct Florida Atlantic 37-16 W 25.1 - 27.5 L
2-Nov Middle Tennessee 51-24 W 49.4 - 20.2 W
13-Nov Western Kentucky 35-36 L 31.0 - 30.6 W
20-Nov at Navy 19-35 L 27.3 - 34.0 L
27-Nov at Florida International 24-31 L 24.8 - 30.5 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 30.0 42 30.8 91
Adj. Points Per Game 28.5 51 31.6 99

In his eight previous years in Jonesboro, Steve Roberts had put a consistently decent-not-great product on the field, and it was more of the same in 2010 ... but with added "Oh, what could have been" value.  As you'll see below, this was Roberts' best team on paper, due in part to Freeze's offensive tweaks, but the Red Wolves went 1-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less; if they finish just .500 in those games, they end up bowl eligible for the fourth time in seven seasons, and I doubt Roberts ends up resigning.  Alas.  Close doesn't really matter in the black-and-white world of college football, and now we've got Coach Freeze to enjoy.  Hopefully he schedules a Names As Active Verbs Bowl matchup with Minnesota and Jerry Kill soon.

In all, the ASU offense's Adj. Point totals were consistently decent in 2010; after the first two weeks of the season, they "gained" at least 24.0 Adj. Points in the last ten games of the season.  But while the defense trended toward slight improvement, it still held ASU back.  Will that change with an offense-minded coach like Freeze in charge?

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 81 57 86
RUSHING 72 46 88 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 82 65 92 72
Standard Downs 88 72 90 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 42 32 50 49
Redzone 54 59 53
Q1 Rk 91 1st Down Rk 95
Q2 Rk 78 2nd Down Rk 19
Q3 Rk 90 3rd Down Rk 96
Q4 Rk 30

In their first season with Freeze running the offense, Arkansas State showed most of the stereotypical characteristics we've come to expect from the spread.

Pass-heavy?  Check.  ASU ranked 89th in run-pass ratio on standard downs, 99th on passing downs.  (Interesting considering Lambuth was somewhat run-heavy in Freeze's final year there.)

High pace?  Check.  The Red Wolves ran plays at the 29th-fastest clip in the country.

Semi-low variability?  Check, somewhat.  ASU's variability rating of 45.5% was very much not the lowest in the country, but it was lower than the national average.

Passing downs capabilities?  Check.  Quarterback Ryan Aplin engineered a solid 0.848 raw S&P on standard downs (49th in the country), but he led them to a stronger (in ranking) 0.703 S&P (33rd) on passing downs.  In terms of S&P+ ratings, the difference was even more stark.  ASU ranked 88th in Standard Downs S&P+, 42nd on Passing Downs.

Long games?  CHECK.  Try three and a half hours per contest.  Second-longest in the country.  And that's WITHOUT the burden of televised games and extra-long timeouts.  The Arkansas State official website damn near bragged about this in one of last year's releases.

If one question mark is addressed, the machine should run even more smoothly than it did last year, when the Red Wolves improved considerably.  That question mark: the offensive line.  Of the 12 linemen listed on the two-deep at the end of last season, eight were seniors.  Yikes.  There are some juniors and seniors in the mix this season -- they're not exactly starting four true freshmen alongside sixth-year center Tom Castilaw -- but still ... this is clearly a concern.

Other tidbits:

  • If the line is addressed, look out.  First of all, Aplin returns after a stellar sophomore season.  He passed for 2,939 yards (7.2/pass, 61.5% completion rate), 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  Plus, as you'll see in an upcoming Varsity Numbers this week, he was also the ninth-best quarterback in the country when it comes to Adj. POE (Points Over Expected), FO's primary college rushing stat.  He rushed for 477 yards overall.  This offense fits the 6'1, 205-pounder from Tampa like a glove.
  • The skill positions are deep.  Hometown boy Derek Lawson and Jermaine Robertson combined for 848 yards (4.9/carry), nine touchdowns, and a decent +3.9 Adj. POE.  Plus, three interesting receiving options return -- 5'9 Dwayne Frampton (738 yards, 10.7/catch, 6 TD), 6'4 Allen Muse (635 yards, 15.1/catch, 5 TD) and 6'4 Taylor Stockemer (560 yards, 16.5/catch, 5 TD).  They lose one of their primary underneath options, which could result in a lower completion rate for Aplin, but this is still a dangerous group for a Sun Belt receiving corps, especially if former OU recruit and two-time team dismissee Josh Jarboe is able to keep his head on straight.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 79 85 81
RUSHING 89 107 65 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 78 35 101 102
Standard Downs 101 91 94 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 66 73 58 43
Redzone 19 23 16
Q1 Rk 63 1st Down Rk 106
Q2 Rk 107 2nd Down Rk 53
Q3 Rk 74 3rd Down Rk 67
Q4 Rk 73

Explain Arkansas State's 2010 defensive performance to me.  How can a team rank 107th in Rushing Success Rate+ and 35th in Passing Success Rate+?  How does the same defense rank 65th in Rushing PPP+ and 101st in Passing PPP+?  94th in Standard Downs PPP+ and 58th in Passing Downs PPP+?  102nd in Adj. Line Yards and 43rd in Adj. Sack Rate?  The run defense bent, bent, bent, and usually broke (except when they didn't -- they were great in the red zone); the pass defense, meanwhile, went for broke.

ASU blitzed reasonably well and got to the passer, but when they didn't, it was trouble.  It could be even more trouble without play-making safety M.D. Jennings (61.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 2 FR, 4 PBU).  Cornerback Darron Edwards (10 PBU) returns, but I honestly can't tell from the stats what made ASU so efficient and incredibly hit-or-miss.

The defensive line and its size was a microcosm of ASU's Cadbury Egg defense as a whole -- tough to crack on the outside, soft and full of nougat in the middle.  The good news, if you could call it that, is that four of five primary statistical contributors return on the line.  Undersized nose guard Dorvus Woods (6'3, 265; 34.0 tackles, 9.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR), as is tackle Amos Draper (6'3, 270; 27.5 tackles, 7.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF).  A solid trio of 250-pound ends join the mix as well -- Brandon Joiner (25.5 tackles, 5.5 TFL/sacks), Justin Robertson (27.5 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks) and Jeremy Gibson (16.0 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks) all showed potential.

Other tidbits:

  • ASU had the second-best mid-major defense in the country in the red zone, and that's only if you still count Boise State as "mid-major."  So they've got that going for them.
  • For whatever it's worth to you, the defense has been ahead of the offense this spring.  Which ... well, if the offense is indeed solid, then this can't be a bad thing, I guess.
  • Nathan Herrold and Demario Davis are interesting all-around linebackers.  They combined for 106.5 tackles, 7.0 TFL/sacks, 2 INT and 3 FF, making fewer tackles than departed senior Javon McKinnon but perhaps making more pure plays.
  • New defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has a solid background, with two years of coordinator experience at Georgia Tech and position coach experience everywhere from Southern Miss, to South Carolina, to Arkansas, to UNLV, to good old Bemidji State.

Arkansas State's 2010 Season Set to Music

Somehow there is only one song on my iPod with the word "freeze" in it, so it gets the nod.  It is, of course, "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out."  Google Maps tells me there's no 10th Avenue in Jonesboro, but there is a 10th Division Circuit Court.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Biggest Difference Between Overall Def. S&P+ and Def. Redzone S&P+ (Redzone > Overall), 2005-10
1. 2006 Maryland (69 spots -- 89th overall, 20th redzone)
2. 2009 Kent State (66 spots -- 83rd overall, 17th redzone)
3. 2008 Minnesota (66 spots -- 73rd overall, seventh redzone)
4. 2010 Idaho (63 spots -- 84th overall, 21st redzone)
5. 2010 Arkansas State (60 spots -- 79th overall, 19th redzone)
6. 2007 North Carolina (59 spots -- 83rd overall, 24th redzone)
7. 2006 UNLV (57 spots -- 97th overall, 40th redzone)
8. 2010 Florida Atlantic (53 spots -- 91st overall, 38th redzone)
9. 2010 Temple (53 spots -- 77th overall, 24th redzone)
10. 2007 Utah State (52 spots -- 109th overall, 57th redzone)

Combined record of these ten teams: 51-72. Combined bowl bids: two.  Better to be good before you let the team in the redzone, kids.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 92
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 94
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** +1 / -0.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin***** -0.8

Steve Roberts left Hugh Freeze with quite a few interesting pieces.  Arkansas State has been trending upward for a number of seasons, even if their record did not really shot it.  With skill position players and interesting components of an odd defense returning, Freeze could hit the ground running with a nice first season.  With likely conference favorites Troy and Florida International both coming to Jonesboro (FIU on ESPN2!), the Red Wolves could be a couple of upsets away from a semi-unexpected conference title run.  Or, with another handful of tight losses, they could squander the same type of golden opportunity that they let slip away last season.  One thing is certain: they, like their coach, should be interesting.

 

 

---

* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

***** Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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