Whaley: QB battle, looking ahead to Arkansas State’s Sun Belt opener

Butch Jones leads the pack as Red Wolves football took the field September 9th in the home...
Butch Jones leads the pack as Red Wolves football took the field September 9th in the home opener.(Source: KAIT)
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 3:04 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Death, taxes, Arkansas State football already having a season full of headlines and we’re not even a month into the season.

This is the second installment of my column (but it’s not really a column, because you’re reading this online... I’m still workshopping what to call this, but in the meantime, if you want to relive the very painful first edition, check that out here).

Anyways, back to the first paragraph that is always meant to be the sentence to draw you into the story. The Red Wolves needed a spark in the worst way after being outscored 110-3 to start the season. They found it in a tune-up 31-7 victory over Stony Brook. So much so that there will be a three-way battle of who will be the QB1 for the Sun Belt opener against Southern Miss.

So, why not take a deep dive into all three QBs?

J.T. Shrout

Shrout’s stats this season (2 games): 24-51 passing (47.1%), 227 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 50.0 Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade

  • Shrout was the guy for Butch Jones over the offseason, landing J.T. after he transferred out of Colorado, though it is important to note that the team added Shrout just weeks after losing Will “Goose” Crowder, the West Virginia transfer who flipped his commitment from Arkansas State to Troy. Because of the late addition and the chaos that was the Colorado offseason once the team went to Coach Prime as head coach (the team added close to 50 transfers, including former A-State TE Seydou Traore, who’s now at Mississippi State. The transfer portal is chaos, I said!), Shrout didn’t have the benefit of a Spring camp to be around the team. And that makes an impact due to the stats you’re about to see.
  • Through 2 games, 7 of Shrout’s passes that were deemed catchable and on-target by Pro Football Focus have been dropped by receivers. That 22.6 percent rate is the highest among all FBS quarterbacks. More interesting than that, this stat is one Shrout led FBS in last season as well (at 19.5%). Last season, Shrout completed 44 percent of his passes with a 7 TD-8 INT ratio.
  • Shrout’s adjusted completion percentage, defined by PFF as the % of aimed passes thrown on target, is 63.3 percent. That’s 11th among Sun Belt quarterbacks. Which, admittedly, is still not great. But it’s certainly better than what meets the eye.
  • Just 1 of the 21 drives Arkansas State has had with Shrout under center resulted in points. That includes going 3 & out on 7 of those possessions (33%).

Jaxon Dailey

Dailey’s stats this season (3 games): 17-33 passing (51.5%), 137 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 53.8 PFF grade

  • Dailey, the QB who’s spent the most time in the Jones/Keith Heckendorf system, is the only QB to play in all 3 games this season. He entered in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma, completing one pass for 12 yards and added 11 yards rushing on the ground. He played the bulk of the second half against Memphis, going 9-15 for 63 yards.
  • The redshirt freshman got the start against Stony Brook, leading Arkansas State to three straight scoring drives (the first time under Butch Jones that has happened to start a game). While Butch Jones said there were plenty of good things to build on, Dailey did not account for a TD, finishing 7-17 for 62 yards. He accounted for 5 first downs.
  • “I thought Jaxon, making his first career start, did some good things to build upon, but we missed too much of easy throws, we still had too many dropped passes,” Jones said. “He’s got to do a better job of completing the routine pass, but I thought he did some good things.”

Jaylen Raynor

Raynor’s stats this season (vs. Stony Brook): 4-6 passing (66.7%), 78 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 57 rushing yards, 80.7 PFF grade

  • Ok, now the reason we’re even talking about a QB controversy. Raynor had about as brilliant of a debut as you can ask for. The true freshman played 4 drives, and Arkansas State scored touchdowns on each of the first 2.
  • When Raynor came in, I thought it was due to Zak Wallace getting injured the play before. The Red Wolves’ RB room other than Wallace and starter Ja’Quez Cross is Brian Snead (who has not played the past two games), Cedric Hawkins, and Mike Sharpe II. Hawkins and Sharpe didn’t play until the Stony Brook game. My thought was Raynor came in to give Cross a lighter load. Turns out, Jones had planned for Raynor to come in on the third down play regardless. Jones stuck with him the rest of the game.
  • Butch had nothing but positives to say about the true freshman, saying was “extremely poised” after the game. Have a listen yourself.
  • On 15 opportunities (pass attempts + rushing attempts), Raynor accounted for 135 total yards.
  • We didn’t see Jaylen take a deep shot (> 20 yards in the air), but his longest completion of the day went to Jeff Foreman, a 42-yard pass-and-catch.

How Jones has handled past QB situations

If you want a precedent for how Jones handles in-season QB battles, there’s some precedent but external factors caused a switch in starting QB more often than not.

2012 is the year to best compare it to. In Jones’ final year at Cincinnati, he tabbed junior quarterback Munchie Legaux (easily a member of the All-Name team) as the starter in a tight battle against Brendon Kay. Legaux threw nine interceptions in eight games (not that it mattered too much, the Bearcats were 6-2).

Jones decided to make the change to Kay, the redshirt senior, midseason. Cinci would win 4 of their final 5 games to finish with 10 wins and a Belk Bowl Title. Kay had 11 total TDs (9 passing, 1 rushing, 1 receiving) to 2 INTs, accounting for over 1,500 yards in that stretch.

Jones was hired at Tennessee in 2013. The Volunteers entered the season with junior Justin Worley as the starter. He was hurt during the Vols’ loss to Alabama. Jones gave the reigns to true freshman Josh Dobbs for the final four games. He completed 60 percent of his passes, tossing for 695 yards for 2 scores and 6 interceptions. He also added 189 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Jones returned to Worley in the 2014 season (including a start against the Red Wolves, feels like I’m obligated to mention that), but the senior was hurt again against Ole Miss. Jones opted against Dobbs, starting Nathan Peterman against Alabama, but he was replaced by Dobbs after just 2 drives. The aerospace engineer (it felt like every national Tennessee broadcast mentioned that fact) finished the season and never looked back.

Dobbs was the Tennessee starting quarterback from then until his graduation in 2016. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and is currently the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.

Tennessee entered Jones’ final season with Quinten Dormandy and Jarrett Guarantano as the top 2 QBs.

Dormandy, a pocket passing QB, didn’t play a ton in his first two years under Jones (attempted just 39 passes before 2017), but experience won him the job. Eventually, he was usurped by redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano after Dormandy underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. In 9 games, Guarantano was 3 yards shy of 1,000 yards passing and had 5 total TDs to 2 INT.

Oh, and not to mention his first season at A-State. I remember the James Blackman vs. Layne Hatcher debates. Jones rolled with the Florida State transfer week one, benched him at halftime as Hatcher shined in the second half. Then, the opposite happened week two and it was pretty much Blackman’s show for the rest of the time.

All this to say, Jones has a tendency to stick with ‘his guys,’ but it does seem like he’s not afraid to make a change when needed. That’s the question Jones will answer Saturday, if a longterm change is needed.

Southern Miss preview

Almost done, I promise haha. Here’s a quick snapshot preview of A-State’s next opponent, Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles return to Jonesboro for the first time since 2008. Both teams are 1-2. Southern Miss is coming off of back-to-back losses at Florida State and at home against Tulane.

  • Believe it or not, Southern Miss has a worse PFF-graded offense through three games (60.0) than Arkansas State (63.3)
  • Another advantage to Arkansas State in the trenches. Southern Miss is middle to bottom of the Sun Belt in pass blocking (10th) and run blocking (8th). Red Wolves expect DL Tim Hardiman and Micah Bland back Saturday as well.
  • You can’t mention Southern Miss without mentioning Frank Gore Jr. He’s looking to get going after recording just 77 yards on his first 30 carries. The Red Wolves have limited Memphis RB Blake Watson to 51 yards on 20 carries and Stony Brook RB Shakhi Carson to 45 yards on 12 attempts.
  • Former Clemson QB Billy Wiles in his first three games as Southern Miss’ starter: 51-98 (52%), 598 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT. Wiles tossed for 177 yards with 0 TD & 0 INT last week.

Other notes

  • Saturday saw the most rushing yards by Arkansas State since 2014 (New Mexico State, 469). Ja’Quez Cross had 164 rushing yards and 2 scores in the win. He’s the first A-State RB to eclipse 150 yards in a game since Marcel Murray (175 at ULM, 2019).
  • Javante Mackey is tied for 18th in all of FBS with 17 solo tackles. He and Gavin Potter are graded at #3 and #2 among all LBs in the Sun Belt in tackling. As overall defenders, both are ranked top 15 with the Kansas transfer, at #2.
  • As for the secondary, Butch Jones said Monday the group is still getting their feet underneath them. Eddie Smith and Taylon Doss played limited snaps Saturday. It seems like the pitch count is off for Justin Parks (played 56 snaps Saturday) and Justin Hodges (41 snaps). The group will be tested on Saturday, as Jones says Southern Miss is a team that tends to air it out deep.
  • A-State SID Mark Taylor pointed this out Monday, Arkansas State has used 31 different starters this season, and 31 different Red Wolves have debuted with A-State this season (15 transfers, 13 true freshmen, 3 redshirt freshmen).

If you have any questions, comments, feedback, concerns, or general musings, feel free to reach out to me at any time. My email is logan.whaley@kait8.com. I can also be found on Twitter/X @LoganWhaleyKAIT, my DMs are open!

Thanks for reading.