Gearing up for their last regular season game that will hopefully clench an outright Sun Belt Championship, the Red Wolves are working on stopping Troy's offense in the air, but having a little fun and celebrating a great season at the same time. Wednesday's practice was a cold and dreary one, but the mood was anything but dull.
"We're trying to enjoy the last week of the regular season, they've earned it," said head coach Hugh Freeze. "I just think they've earned the right to be trusted, so I try to have some enjoyment with them and trust them that they're gonna show up and play Saturday, I think they know what's on the line."
What's on the line is the right to call themselves the only Sun Belt Conference Champion, and not have to share the title with Western Kentucky, who the Red Wolves beat on the road in their first conference game back in October.
STOPPING THE PASS GAME
Freeze said the biggest thing they're concerned with is stopping Troy's strong passing game, led by sophomore quarterback Corey Robinson. Robinson threw for over 300 yards in Troy's last game against WKU.
"He's very talented and fits with what they do," Freeze said. "They threw for over 100 yards on Arkansas, one of the top 10 teams in the nation, so it's the scariest team to play."
Freeze said the key to stopping Robinson and the Troy offense is just to do what they've been doing all year.
"Dave's got a plan — to confuse him a bit, put pressure on him, hit him — same things we've been effective at all year hopefully we can do one more day," he said.
CELEBRATING WITH CAUTION
With a 9-2 record, a share of the Conference title and a bowl bid, the Red Wolves have all they've sought out for all season at the tip of their fingers — now it's just a matter of bringing it home.
All season long, Freeze has been cautious to be too satisfied with the Red Wolves' success. He's called it "guarded optimism" and said that while they're excited about where they've been, there is still one more step to finishing what they started.
"I'm a little nervous because it's almost like with the way our season shaped up, when we went to Middle, got the win, won our share, got the bowl invitation, got the long break - it was almost the feeling of it's over," Freeze said. "So I'm a little nervous, I just hope we show up and know that the season has one more little step to it. So I am still cautiously optimistic."
Freeze is in some ways celebrating the success of this season, though, and said that one of the things he's seen improve the most this season is the offensive line.
"At the beginning of the year that was the biggest question mark, and now we're leading the league in rushing," he said.
HONORING THE SENIORS
Saturday's game is also Senior Day, and Arkansas State will honor its graduating players. Freeze called the group of seniors a special one, that they came in this year and really stepped into leadership to change the mindset of this team and their destiny this year.
"I'd hate to point too many of them out, but I mean DeMario Davis and Tom Castilaw, Kelsey McCray, Brandon Joiner, and that group. Neely Sullivent too, I know his role is somewhat in people's eyes minimal but his leadership on this team is not," Freeze said. "I think they just made a decision back in spring ball of 'lets do something different.'"
He said the seniors this year have led their team through high waters, and have given their community and fan base something special to believe in.
"Every time we faced some adversity, they would be the ones that led us through it," Freeze said. "So I think they've certainly given the people of Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas a great ride, and deserve to go out with a bang Saturday."