TROY, Ala. -- Sun Belt play gets underway tonight for the Red Wolves, and with that, so will the Layne Hatcher era.
The latest victim in what's been a slew of injuries early in the season for Arkansas State University is at the most high-profile position. Junior starting quarterback Logan Bonner is done for the year, joining junior cornerback Jerry Jacobs and junior running back Ryan Graham as other Red Wolves who've been lost to season-ending injuries in the past two weeks.
At a glance
Arkansas State at Troy
WHEN 5 p.m. today
WHERE Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy, Ala.
RADIO KFIN-FM, 107.9, in northeast Arkansas; KHLR-FM, 106.7, in Little Rock
RECORDS ASU (2-2, 0-0 Sun Belt); Troy (2-1, 0-0 Sun Belt)
COACHES Blake Anderson (41-26 in six seasons at ASU); Chip Lindsey (2-1 in first season at Troy)
SERIES ASU leads 9-6 all time
LAST MEETING Troy defeated ASU 32-25 in Jonesboro on Dec. 2, 2017.
LAST WEEK ASU defeated Southern Illinois 41-28 in Jonesboro. Troy defeated Akron 35-7 in Akron, Ohio.
NOTEWORTHY ASU Coach Blake Anderson is 4-1 in Sun Belt openers in his career. … Troy is a 7-point favorite over ASU. … Sophomore running back Marcel Murray (ankle) is questionable to play, according to Anderson. Senior defensive tackle Kevin Thurmon underwent surgery for a broken hand on Thursday and is out 4-6 weeks. … Redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher will make the first start of his career after junior Logan Bonner underwent season-ending thumb surgery on his throwing hand on Wednesday. … ASU is averaging 28.5 points and 401.5 yards per game, while allowing an average of 34.3 points and 497.5 yards per game. … Troy ranks third in the Sun Belt in scoring offense (40 ppg), third in scoring defense (22.7 ppg), second in total offense (513.3 ypg) and second in total defense (337 ypg). Troy also leads the league in rush defense, letting up an average of 67 yards per game. … Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker is averaging a league-best 333.3 passing yards per game to go along with 9 touchdowns, 1 interception and a 67.9 percent completion rate.
Bonner, who'd been off to a strong start through four games after sitting behind Justice Hansen the past three years, underwent season-ending thumb surgery on his throwing hand in Memphis on Wednesday. Bonner first injured his thumb in the season opener against SMU, but the injury progressively worsened over the past few weeks to the point of requiring surgery.
So now it's Hatcher's turn at quarterback, but it's yet to be seen whether ASU (2-2) can be a Sun Belt championship contender with him. Hatcher, a redshirt freshman who transferred from Alabama, will make his first start in tonight's 5 p.m. kickoff at Troy (2-1).
ASU Coach Blake Anderson this week didn't seem concerned about moving forward with Hatcher as the starter. Hatcher, who's listed at 6-0, 210 pounds, has been a workhorse ever since he arrived at ASU and has earned the respect of the locker room, according to Anderson.
"From day one that he got here, he's been in the building as often as you can possibly be, watching film, throwing extra, preparing, studying," Anderson said. "Beyond that, you've got the physical skills. ... But ultimately he's got to go out, just like Bonner, he's got to go out and actually do it in a live setting.
"As confident as I was in Logan, until he went out and did it physically in a live setting, it was still a lot of guessing. We prepared Layne, and he's prepared the right way, and he has all the tools to go out and perform."
Hatcher saw his first action two weeks ago late in ASU's 55-0 loss at No. 3 Georgia, completing 3 of 5 passes for 53 yards and an interception.
He needs no introduction around these parts.
The former Pulaski Academy star is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Arkansas high school football history. He holds state records for passing yards and touchdowns. He was 41-1 as a starter in three seasons, winning three state championships. He was named the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette All-Arkansas Preps Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. He also won three state titles in wrestling.
Hatcher originally had signed to play at ASU, but he decommitted from the Red Wolves in May 2018, went to Alabama and sat on the bench all season. In April, Hatcher entered the transfer portal and ended up leaving Tuscaloosa for the school he initially chose.
With Hatcher now starting at quarterback for ASU, the explosiveness of the Red Wolves' offense will be a major question. Through four games, ASU is averaging 28.5 points and 401.5 yards per game. Five of Bonner's 10 touchdown passes this season had been of 34 yards or more, including two that went for 89 and 71.
Anderson said the game plan won't change much with Hatcher under center.
"All in all, we're gonna continue to play ball and continue to use our weapons and continue to be balanced," Anderson said. "I think any quarterback that you put in, it changes your personality a little bit, but we're not gonna have a wholesale change, and we're definitely not gonna hold back. He's doing the right things to prepare. We'll find things that fit him and lean on those things."
Senior Kirk Merritt is coming off a 10-catch, 131-yard, 2-touchdown performance last Saturday against Southern Illinois. Senior Omar Bayless has been one of the most productive wideouts in the country, tying for second nationally in receiving touchdowns (six) and is third in yards (476).
Like Anderson, Bayless isn't wavering on Hatcher.
"He's made to pick up where Logan left off at," Bayless said. "He's always a guy that always wanted to get better. He always wants to get extra passes after practice. For him to just to step up in that role, to play that role, it's great. I got a lot of trust in him."
Troy, led by senior quarterback Kaleb Barker, has one of the top offenses in the Sun Belt and is averaging 40 points and more than 500 yards per game. Hatcher and ASU's offense will be pushed to keep up.
It may be the opening game of Sun Belt play, but it's already gut-check time in the season for ASU.
"We got to find a way to get it done with the guys that are healthy," Anderson said, "and it would be a huge step to win on the road to begin the conference season against a good team, too. We got to go find a way to win."
Sports on 09/28/2019
Print Headline: Wolves put faith in Hatcher at QB