Energy was high and focus was there for the Red Wolves as they finished getting ready for their Conference opener at Western Kentucky this weekend. Despite some injury issues, coach Hugh Freeze said he feels good about where the team is at.
"I think our kids understand what our plan is and hopefully can execute it Saturday. I feel good about where we're at," Freeze said. "I wish we were a little healthier, but other than that I feel good."
Freeze tends to demand a pretty high energy level from his players at all times — a level he admittedly says can be a bit unrealistic at times. He said last week's preparation for UCA was flat at times after coming off an emotional loss at Virginia Tech, but that the team's energy has been great this week.
"It's unrealistic to think they're gonna be an emotional fever pitch every week, and I probably expect more than is really realistic in that arena, but I do think the energy has been good this week for the conference opener," Freeze said.
There are still a few players out for the Red Wolves as they head into Sun Belt play this weekend. Defensive back Taushaun Holmes is still unable to play, as he is recovering from wrist surgery. We're told it will be a week-to-week decision on him, depending on his progress.
Wide receiver Josh Jarboe has been dealing with a nagging stone bruise on his foot for several weeks now, but seems to be moving better now that he's wearing a different kind of shoe. Freeze answered jokingly to Jarboe's progress, "I think he just wants some attention — he's alright."
KEYS TO SATURDAY'S GAME:
Offensively Arkansas State could very well be without Frankie Jackson, but Freeze said he has faith in the rest of the running backs to make up for what the team will miss in Frankie.
"I have great confidence in Jermaine Robertson and Derek Lawson and Sirgregory," Freeze said. "I mean we obviously lose something in Frankie, he's a different type of back, but I have great confidence in those other three."
Freeze said the success of the running game will play a big role in the overall success of the Arkansas State offense this weekend.
"I do think a key is us having success at running it. Obviously we don't mind throwing it, but when you can run the ball it certainly makes your passing game a lot better," Freeze said.
He said another key to the Red Wolves' success offensively his weekend will be to simply take care of the ball.
"We had almost 2,000 yards in four games, but we still don't take care of the ball as much as I'd like us to," Freeze said.
The Arkansas State defense has not yet given up 100 yards rushing to a single player this year. WKU's senior running back Bobby Rainey will enter the game with eight straight 100-yard games. Stopping him will be a key for ASU in winning on Saturday.
"You've gotta know where he is every play. They line him up everywhere, you've gotta know where he is," Freeze said.
A year ago Rainey finished third in the nation in rushing, averaging 137.4 yards per game. He was named Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and received honorable mention All-America honors from SI.com.
The Red Wolf defense has its work cut out for this weekend, and holding Rainey to under 100 yards will be huge for the success of the Arkansas State football team.
"They want to give him 40 touches a game, and you know the guy's one of the best running backs in the nation, so we've got to tackle and tackle well with limited yards after contact," Freeze said.
AStateNation will be on site for the Conference opener, keeping you updated live via Twitter and Facebook. The game kicks off in Bowling Green at 3 p.m.