JONESBORO — Arkansas State’s modern history with opponents from college football’s elite leagues began with Saturday’s foe.
ASU did not play teams from the conferences now known as the Power Five from 1962-79. That changed in 1980 with a trip to Kansas State, where ASU lost 31-7, and the Red Wolves have played at least one and as many as three teams from the sport’s power conferences in every season since.
That streak was in jeopardy when this year’s game at Michigan was canceled in July, but vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics Terry Mohajir replaced the Wolverines with Kansas State on ASU’s schedule about a month later.
ASU head coach Blake Anderson said it never crossed his mind that the Red Wolves might not play a Power Five opponent this season.
“I just wanted to make sure we got a good schedule,” Anderson said. “I like that we filled Kansas State in the gap for Michigan. I felt really comfortable that Terry would find a good, solid game to play. At one point, we thought we might have seven home games. You never knew what was going to happen.”
The Red Wolves and Wildcats are scheduled to play Saturday in Manhattan, Kan., at 11 a.m. Kickoff was moved to late morning earlier this week to accommodate the Fox national telecast (available on cable channel 13 locally).
ASU (0-1) was one of just 14 Football Bowl Subdivision teams to play last weekend. The Red Wolves played Memphis on even terms most of the first half before falling 17 points behind in the third quarter on the way to a 37-24 loss.
Anderson was pleased with the way the Red Wolves ran the ball against Memphis, last season’s American Athletic Conference champion. ASU finished with 125 net rushing yards after subtracting 32 yards lost on negative plays, mostly on three sacks of quarterbacks Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher.
“Offensively we ran the ball better than we have in a while. That’s something we’ve improved upon,” Anderson said. “Against a good defensive front, I felt like we ran the ball well, and defensively, the challenge of coming out in the third quarter and getting a stop to get the turnover, those are things to build on.
“But in terms of the drops, the turnovers, the penalties offensively, having to settle for a field goal in the red zone, those are things that frustrate you. Defensively we just didn’t tackle real well and assignment football, we struggled in a lot of areas. We were worried going in that might be the case.”
A defense with seven new starters yielded 502 yards in the season opener. Memphis ballcarriers averaged 4.7 yards per carry and quarterback Brady White completed 72 percent of his pass attempts for 275 yards.
Offensively the Red Wolves are expected to play both Bonner and Hatcher again this week after they combined for 299 yards passing last Saturday.
Kansas State is opening its second season under coach Chris Klieman, who led North Dakota State to four FCS national championships in five seasons before taking over the Wildcats last year. K-State finished 8-5 a year ago with a victory over eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma and a Liberty Bowl loss to Navy.
Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson, who accounted for more than 2,700 yards of total offense last year, has made 27 career starts and the Wildcats return seven of their top nine receivers, although their offensive line is new.
“What I’ve seen so far is they’re a big run team. They just want to run down your throat and get you over the top with shots,” said linebacker Justin Rice, a Fresno State transfer who had four tackles in his ASU debut. “They’re just going to try to pound you, pound you, lull you to sleep, get your safeties coming up in the box and then they’re just going to try to hit the big ball on you.”
All-Big 12 defensive end Wyatt Hubert anchors Kansas State’s defensive front and the Wildcats have experience in the secondary as well.
Anderson said he hopes the Red Wolves will catch the Wildcats still getting to know each other in their opener, but added that it will matter only if ASU improves in several areas.
“It’s only a factor if we take care of us. That’s the challenge this week,” Anderson said. “They’re going to be plenty good enough. We’ve got matchup issues all across the field. We also have some matchups that are in our favor, but we’ve got to go out and play clean football and we just didn’t do that (last) Saturday. We don’t want to do that two Saturdays in a row.”
ASU will receive a $550,000 guarantee for Saturday’s game. The Red Wolves were to receive $1.8 million from Michigan and future game guarantees against Washington (2021) and Ohio State (2022) are comparable.
Anderson said ASU has a great opportunity along with a great challenge against Kansas State.
“We’ve got to improve to have a chance to win it, but if we do improve, we absolutely have a chance to win it,” he said. “That’s the mindset going in, to go find a way to get a win and make them earn everything they get.”