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Shrout at helm for A-State in opener

by Mike Harley | September 2, 2023 at 3:07 a.m.
Colorado transfer J.T. Shrout is set to start for Arkansas State in today’s season-opener against No. 20 Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. The Red Wolves, who went 3-9 last season, are looking to get above .500 for the first time since 2019. (AP file photo)

Arkansas State Coach Butch Jones made the decision earlier in the week as to who will start at quarterback, electing to start Colorado transfer J.T. Shrout when the Red Wolves kick off their season today against No. 20 Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.

"I think it was a little more consistency, some game experience, and just being able to do some different things with [Shrout] offensively that led us to this decision," Jones said. "It was as close of a competition as I've ever been a part of, and I've been in a lot of these quarterback battles."

While things have cleared up regarding the Arkansas State quarterback situation, Oklahoma enters the contest boosting a Heisman Trophy hopeful at quarterback in Dillon Gabriel, who returns after throwing for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2022.

"He's like an athletic coach on the field," Jones said of Gabriel. "He can make all the throws, but I think the other thing is if you don't have points of pressure when you rush the quarterback, and you have an open lane, he's going to beat you with his legs."

Gabriel is a threat on the ground as well, rushing for 315 yards and six touchdowns. The Sooners run an up-tempo style offense, predicated largely on catching the defense off guard and getting the ball to their playmakers in space. Their style of play will force the Red Wolves to match up athletically, but Jones also stresses the importance of playing fundamentally sound football in this type of game.

"The whole key first of all is being able to tackle," he said. "When you look at keys to winning football games, it's obviously what we call double positives.

"It's takeaways, it's explosive plays, it's the ability to tackle. They are going to challenge us to tackle in space. He [Gabriel] does a great job of getting the ball out there."

Oklahoma has been known for its offensive lineman for decades, and the 2023 team is not any different.

Anchored by right tackle Tyler Guyton, a 6-foot-7, physically imposing presence that is expected to be a high pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Sooners offensive line will create matchup problems for the Red Wolves front seven.

Arkansas State will have to find ways to offset the size advantage and give different pressure looks in order to not allow Gabriel to get comfortable.

"We work every single day to our full potential," Arkansas State starting defensive end Keyron Crawford said. "They are a good team. We're going to go out and attack our opponents the way we've studied. We'll be prepared."

One of the intriguing matchups to watch will be the experienced secondary of Arkansas State against the Oklahoma wide receivers that were not particularly effective in 2022.

Jalil Farooq and Drake Stoops both return for the Sooners at wideout, but neither player cracked 50 receptions or more than 500 yards receiving last year. Oklahoma did pick up a big transfer at that position in Andrel Anthony, who played his first two college seasons at Michigan and will be expected to make an immediate impact.

The Arkansas State secondary has a wealth of experience and brings back a tandem of safeties who are among the best in the Sun Belt in Trevian Thomas and Eddie Smith.

At the cornerback position, Central Florida transfer Justin Hodges gives the Red Wolves a true shutdown corner who is known for making big plays and is rarely caught out of position. Samy Johnson will play opposite of Hodges, he also has starting experience and has five career interceptions.

"When you play games like this, it challenges your depth as a program," Jones said. "Usually, when you get into games like this, it's never more evident than the special teams. We have to play winning football on special teams. We have to be able to control the vertical field position."

Not lost on Jones is the opportunity Arkansas State will have to showcase its program on national television on opening weekend against one of the most high-profile programs in the country.

"When you get an opportunity to play on national television, you take full advantage of that," he said. "The first game following 'College GameDay,' that's an honor and a privilege to play in games like this. It's what you do with that."

Today’s game


WHEN 11 a.m. Central

WHERE Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.

RECORDS Arkansas State 0-0; Oklahoma 0-0

COACHES Butch Jones (5-19 in third season at Arkansas State, 89-73 in 14th season overall); Brent Venables (6-7 in second season at Oklahoma and overall)


RADIO KFIN-FM, 107.9, in Jonesboro; KBZU-FM, 106.7, Little Rock

NOTEWORTHY Arkansas State plays against a Big 12 opponent for the first time since it defeated Kansas State 35-31 on Sept. 12, 2020. … This will be the fourth time Arkansas State has played Oklahoma, with the Red Wolves losing all of the previous three matchups. Oklahoma won the last meeting 45-7 in 2000. The Sooners would go on to win the national championship that season. … Arkansas State and Oklahoma are the only two FBS teams that have recorded at least one game scoring 50 points or more in each of the past 15 seasons.

  photo  Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who threw for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2022, returns to lead the Sooners in today’s season-opener against Arkansas State. (AP file photo)

Print Headline: Shrout at helm for A-State in opener


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