Previewing Arkansas State with Arkansas State beat writer Mitchell Gladstone

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HATTIESBURG, MS – Southern Miss returns to The Rock for homecoming against the Arkansas State Red-Wolves after losing a matchup on the road last week against Troy. The Red-Wolves are 2-4 and are also coming off a loss to James Madison.

The Golden Eagles have not won a homecoming matchup since 2019 when they defeated North Texas. I sat down with Mitchell Gladstone from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to preview the Red-Wolves.

Here is an excerpt from that interview:

It seems to be two similar teams in Southern Miss – Arkansas State when they face each other this weekend. How would you compare both ball clubs?

Mitchell: “If you look at Southern Miss’s record, they’ve had some really good wins, and you know maybe some unexpected losses. I think Arkansas State is sort of the opposite of that. Arkansas State has sort of gone to script. I broke their schedule up into thirds, they have two games against the top 25 teams in Ohio State and James Madison, and neither of those games was Arkansas State expected to win. They were double-digit underdogs in both. Then they had two wins over Louisiana Monroe, who is one of the bottom teams in all of the FBS, and then Grambling State which went exactly as planned. Then you had those two in the middle road games, at Memphis and Old Dominion where Arkansas State had second-half leads but was not able to hold on. So, I think in a lot of ways they could be a 4-2 team versus a 2-4 team. But alas, they have been banged up and have had a lot of injuries and they are just still a very young team who is still trying to learn how to win games. Certainly, capable of more, the question is will they deliver at some point this season?”

 

How do Arkansas State fans view Southern Miss?

Mitchell: “You know, something that is interesting is that Southern Miss is the third of the four new teams in the Sun Belt that Arkansas State has played this year. And so, there’s still just a lot to figure out with those teams. I think it’s sort of an oldish rivalry being renewed, and I think people are excited about that. I think you do look at a Southern Miss team that has a win over Tulane which was obviously a very good Tulane team. I think people are certainly thinking less than they should about Southern Miss, same with Arkansas State. But in general, I think people are really still unsure what to expect with this team.”

 

Funny story, Southern Miss has faced QB James Blackman before in the 2017 Independence Bowl against Florida State. So that means a sixth-year quarterback.

Mitchell: “Yeah, he played four years at Florida State, he was a highly recruited kid out of South Florida, Palm Beach County. He went to Florida State, came in in the very first game his freshman year when Deondre Francois broke his leg, he played the rest of the year and then had four really up and down years at Florida State.”

 

What are some ways he can threaten the defense? USM head coach Will Hall said he was “scary”

Mitchell: “I think the big thing is James Blackman is a talented passer. I mean, obviously, he’s a highly recruited guy who went to Florida State with Jimbo Fisher. So, he’s clearly very well thought of as a quarterback and a passer of the football. He made some really, good throws and he got some help from what I think is probably an underrated receiving group, although it’s still coming together. Those guys have been banged up, guys have transferred in and there are still guys that are still developing. For example, Jack Foreman as a junior has really helped. Blackman has been helped by those guys but he’s an excellent passer. Arkansas State will go run a lot of shotguns and run a lot of what looks like option runs. I don’t think very much of it is really meant to be potentially option- I think they’re meant to be designed runs. So, I think in the ways that you know James Blackman certainly can run with the ball. But I don’t see him as a runner as people sort of look at him and think. But in a general reading of this team, he’s a very good leader.”

 

 

Southern Miss’s defense has kept them in the game in pretty much every game. How does Arkansas State match up with Southern Miss’s defense? Who are some players that USM fans will see be involved Saturday night?

Mitchell: “Arkansas State is going to get their number one running back Johnnie Lang back or at least expected to be back. He was banged up last week. He is number two in the nation in all-purpose yards, a good kick returner, but also very good in the backfield and a very good pass blocker. He and the combination of Austin Peay transfer Brian Snead, who was originally at Ohio State, was kicked out of school there for violating the Code of Conduct of charges for sexual assault. He’s been around for a little bit and is now at Arkansas State so the two of them give them a good backfield. On top of that, they have a pair of soft-core tight ends starting with Seydou Traore, who I think is one of the top ten in the country in receiving yards. SEC schools were almost getting on to him before Arkansas State got him. Arkansas State has three very good receivers with Te’Vailance Hunt, Jeff Foreman, and Champ Flemings. They’ve got a bunch of weapons, but the big deal is if the Arkansas State offensive linemen hold up either on the run blocking unit or pass blocking because they’ve got the weapons to put up points.”

 

 

Southern Miss has struggled on the offensive side of the ball lately. You could argue that it is because of the type of defenses they have played. How does Arkansas State’s defense matchup?

Mitchell: “You know, I think Arkansas State’s defensive front is actually pretty talented. They’ve got a bunch of guys- the headliner is Kivon Bennett, who started in Tennessee with Butch Jones and had been in Arkansas State the last two years. He was an All-Sun Belt player last year. That’s the game. He’s the centerpiece and they’ve got some other good defensive ends with younger guys and not too much time. But the big thing is the explosive plays. Their secondary is just really young. They brought in Eddie Smith, who was a was at Illinois last year and there was some hope that he was going to be able to stabilize things a little bit. It’s not as often I would say for sure. I mean, last year it felt like it was inevitable in a matter of time until the explosive play happened at 30, 40, or 50-yard flight, and then it would happen time and time again, not just once in a game, but multiple times. It hasn’t been so much of a problem over and over this year. It still happened at times during games last week- James Madison got seven. But that’s something James Madison is going to do [because] they’re excellent. The point is that Arkansas State’s back end is very lenient, so if teams are willing to challenge them, Southern Miss included, I think they’re going to find spaces down the field. That’s really my question. Southern Miss is going to have to challenge Arkansas State, but I think if they do challenge them, and they do trust their offensive line to hold up against Arkansas State’s defensive line, that has potential against the targets of the effective one that has some potential. If they do they will find success down the field because this is a group that has struggled, plain and simple.”

 

To listen to the full interview with Mitchell Gladstone, listen to The 4th Street Sports Show’s homecoming preview special episode on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Southern Miss takes on Arkansas State on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. on ESPN+.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/season-3-ep-17-the-state-of-football-team-headed/id1571075863?i=1000582648173