Call Me Cautiously Optimistic

Based on the texts, phone conversations and message board discussions this week, I believe that among Red Wolf fans the mood is ranging from sparking optimism to very guarded optimism about where the team stands after five games.

Despite the optimism at least one of four issues are going to pop-up in any serious discussion of where the Red Wolves are at this point in the season.

1. Turnovers. The Red Wolves have turned the ball over 12 times this season. After only three turnovers in the first two games, AState has averaged three turnovers a game the last three outings. Right now AState is tied for 99th in the country in turnovers lost.

2. Penalties. Like the turnover issue, Arkansas State started the season well with four penalties for 36 yards. Since then the fewest penalties in a game was 8 against Utah State and the worst was 11 against ULM. The Red Wolves have averaged 9.25 penalties per game since Montana State and is 106th in the nation in penalties per game with an average of 8.2. AState is 104th in penalty yards per game averaging 71.2 yards per game. After 62 yards against USU the Red Wolves were hit with 110 yards against ULM.

3. Deep ball. The defense has been digging AState out of holes but the pressure put up front creates vulnerability to big pass plays. The defense gave up a 55 yard pass against Montana State. Four Tennessee players had receptions of 20 or more yards with the longest being 56 yards. Miami scored on two passes of 63 yards and three players had receptions of 20 or more yards. Utah State scored on passes of 81 and 41 yards. ULM scored on passes of 59 and 41 yards. The Red Wolves have given up 113 points on the season and 42 of those points have come off pass plays of 20 or more yards, that’s just over 37% of all the points conceded and Miami had another TD pass of 19 yards not counted in that total.

4. Placekicking. Luke Ferguson hit three field goals against Montana State with a long of 41 yards. AState hasn’t made a field goal since then. No field goals were attempted against Tennessee but he missed one of his two PAT’s in the game. At Miami he went 2-3 on PATs and 0-2 on field goals. He was perfect on PATs against Utah State but missed a field goal. He was again perfect on PATs against ULM but missed his only field goal attempt. The miss against ULM may have been the most frustrating of all. Kicking field goals and extra points is very different from kicking off because of the added element of timing and the opponent attempting to block, the snap on that last attempt was poor, the last thing you need in trying to get a kicker out of a slump is shake his confidence that the snap and hold will be consistent.

While I don’t think there is a team left on the slate that the Red Wolves cannot beat and unless we have some stumbles, could very possibly end up being favored in Vegas in each of the remaining games, I’m trouble by an assumption present in the optimistic messages I hear.

It is the assumption that we will fix all or most of these problems.

Penalties are very fixable and maybe having an off date contributed to part of the very poor performance in penalties against Louisiana Monroe. You can’t chalk them up as fixed until they are fixed.

Turnovers aren’t just Fredi Knighten not taking care of the ball, the amount of protection afforded by the offensive line is a factor as well. I tend to think that if AState can grab an early lead it will help the turnover situation as well because it takes away some of the feeling that you have to press and force plays. Excluding the Montana State game, AState is 2-2 but in 240 minutes of regulation play in those four games the Red Wolves have led for 31:52. That means that AState has been tied or trailed for nearly 208 of the last 240 minutes of play. Grabbing an early lead and building on it may very well help treat the turnover problem.

Saturday the pressure will be on to stop the Georgia State passing game. The Panthers have score 152 points so far despite winning only one game. They’ve scored at least 31 points in all but one game. They have 8 passing TD’s and four of those were a deep ball. The key though to stopping the deep ball will be establishing enough pressure and run stopping ability up front to get some help back in the secondary instead of counting on them to add pressure or leaving them in man situations without nearby help.

As to the placekicking. AState has been trying out some walk-ons but unless one of them emerges as a serious contender, Ferguson is going to have to be placed in a situation to succeed with an easy try that is well executed in snap, hold and kick.

While I mostly agree with the recent optimism, my response to those brimming with optimism is until we stop doing the bad things, we are a team that does those bad things and there are limits to just how much the coaches can do to fix some of these problems. Get them fixed and we get bonus football in December or January.