It was by no means pretty and some of the same issues that have plagued Arkansas State (2-3, 1-0) in the first quarter of the season are still there but the Red Wolves did prevail 49-35 over Idaho.
While the penalties (15 for 169 yards) and turnovers (a lost fumble and an interception that was returned for a touchdown) did not disappear the Red Wolves were able to overcome in the Sun Belt opener.
The big turning point was a running game that did not appear in the three loses and took the pressure of redshirt freshman quarterback James Tabary.
Led by a career night from Michael Gordon – 26 carries for 222 yards and three touchdowns – the Red Wolves finished with 333 yards on 53 carries, an average of 6.3 yards per carry. Warren Wand had 6 carries for 70, including a 50-yard run, and Johnston White had 56 yards on 12 carries and two touchdown. White and Wand also both had fumbles, but just White’s was recovered by the Vandals.
Tabary settled in and finished 16 of 25 for 188 yards with a touchdown (20 yards to Tres Houston) and an interception (retuned 20 yards for a touchdown). He was 6 of 7 in the second half for 78 yards.
The defense, aside from a couple of big plays, took out the Vandals’ big weapon, receiver Dezmon Epps, who came in averaging 154.7 yards per game but was held to 64 yards on 9 catches. He only had 24 yards after three quarters.
Next up is South Alabama (3-2, 1-0) in Mobile on Oct. 13. That game will be on ESPN2. The Jaguars defeated Troy 24-18 on Saturday.
THIRD DOWNS: After the first quarter Idaho was 4 of 6 on third downs and 2 of 6 the rest of the game. A-State was 1 of 2 after the first quarter and 7 of 11 by the end of the game.
“Offensively third down was huge and being able to run the ball was huge,’’ said Anderson.
THE FLAGS: Idaho has seven first downs by penalty. The Red Wolves had one player, Chris Odom, ejected for targeting. Four of the calls were for offside or procedure and there were seven called in the fourth quarter, 10 in the second half. There were six 15-yard penalties.
MR. 264 AND CLIMBING: Senior wide receiver J.D. McKissic is the record holder for Sun Belt career receptions now with 264 and he still seven games to play this season. He finished with 4 receptions in the game for 40 yards and also one rush for 9 yards.
THE LONG ROAD: The Red Wolves pulled off the longest drive (91 yards) of Blake Anderson’s tenure with the scoring drive in the second quarter that made it a 28-14 game at halftime.
“That was like three yards a cloud of dust,’’ said Anderson. “But it was nice to see and I enjoyed running time off the clock.”
DEFENSIVE NUMBERS: Cody Brown led the tackle chart with seven stops and he also had an interception and a tackle for loss. Khari Lain and Ja'Von Rolland-Jones had 6 each. Jones had a half-sack and two other tackles for loss. Rocky Hayes had three tackles and 2 interceptions. Hayes had a key role in limiting Epps.
“We really tried to get a jam on him at the line of scrimmage,’’ said Hayes. “We thought a lot of people weren’t doing that. A lot of people were giving him free access up the line of scrimmage. He has speed so when you do something like that it’s usually going to be hard to stop anybody. We got our nickel to get his hands on him a lot so that really disrupted their timing.”