During each of the last two Tuesdays, all eyes in the college football world were watching Sun Belt football. To be more specific, all eyes were on the Arkansas State Red Wolves as they won two important conference games. Last week they pulled off a tremendous 4th quarter comeback on the road against South Alabama. This week they came into an intense rivalry game against Louisiana-Lafayette and opened some eyes with a dominant performance in the first half in route to a pivotal 37-27 win in Jonesboro. Many folks expected a knockdown, drag out contest that never really materialized as the Red Wolves came out and delivered some knock out blows that the Cajuns were unable to fully recover from. Much like last week’s win over South Alabama, both sides of the ball made huge plays throughout the game to help secure the win. As a result, The Red Wolves now sit at 3-0 in the Sun Belt and are in control of the own destiny moving forward.
AStateNation sat down with Coach Anderson to discuss the big win and is happy to bring you the next installment of “The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson.”
THE 5th QUARTER with COACH ANDERSON – Part 4:
1st Quarter: This offseason the defense went through a lot of changes in terms of personnel and positions. Looking back to August and sitting here now, did you expect them to have the strong start they’ve had up to this point? – “Optimistically I would say yes, but until you actually see them on the field and work as hard as they’ve worked you just never know. You never know how fast a unit will pull together and really gel when you’re adding a lot of new faces. I was confident that they prepared well in the off season. I was confident that we recruited the right guys and evaluated exactly what we needed to plug into the defense and produce the results we wanted on the field. But there’s always the uncertainty of how those pieces will click together in game situations. It’s been fun now to watch this defense get better each week, to see their confidence grow every game, and just pull together the way they have. You can see them playing with a lot of pride out there and I think they know they can be a great defense and they want that for each other. There’s no question the results of playing with confidence is why we’re off to a great start in this conference.”
2nd Quarter: What do you think the difference was between the 1st half and the 2nd half this week against UL-L? – “I think some of it was our inexperience in areas on the team. I think some guys let their focus relax a bit, not their effort level, but their focus. Part of it was being ahead by 3 or 4 scores and learning to deal with that in a game you thought would be much closer coming into it. Some of these young guys and new guys to our program are still learning how to react to different game situations. I think they played with great effort the whole game. But there was a period early in the 2nd half where they made some adjustments to attack what we were doing on defense and offense. You know on offense I always say that it only takes one guy to fall off a block to make the play fall apart and we had some of that. We knew they were going to have to make some drastic changes because of how the 1st half went, but once we grasped what adjustments they made we were able to make our own and counterpunch what they were trying to do. We talked about that period with guys as we reviewed the film. I told them to remember what it felt like during that period in the 3rd quarter where we got a little stagnant. When we’re in that position again we have to recognize it quicker and kick it back in to gear faster. Learning from it is key to moving forward and I’d much rather be learning from things in a win than in a loss.”
3rd Quarter: A few weeks back, you mentioned that the conference season is now starting and the goal of winning a championship was out there to take. You now sit at 3-0 in the Sun Belt and can control your own destiny. How are the players handling this opportunity? – “I think they’ve handled it exactly like we hoped that they would. They have focused on each opponent for that particular week and not looked ahead. They have already overcome some adversity and rough spots in situations like getting down at South Alabama. To be honest, right now we aren’t talking about the opponents as much as we are fixing what we need to fix to play like we’re capable of playing. To their credit the players are focusing on the rights things and doing exactly that, trying to get better in what we do. They have put a really tough non-conference season behind them, but did so by learning from those experiences and carrying over that learning process to getting better every day. It’s one week at a time and you can’t take the fact that you control your own destiny for granted. It’s exciting but with that excitement comes responsibility to stay grounded and I think our guys have done a great job of staying in the moment and taking care what you have to do today.”
4th Quarter: UL-L came in with a strong emphasis on the run. Moving forward in the conference, starting next week with Georgia State, you’ll face teams that like to pass a lot more. How will the early success in defending the pass and your strong play in defensive backfield play a role in winning these upcoming games? – “You know, the DBs are doing an outstanding job on the backend. But I think you have to look at the circumstances that have helped them make those plays too. The pressure being created up front is causing the quarterbacks to throw where they don’t want to or before they want to and you saw that in this game with Cody Brown’s big interception. We forced the QB to let that pass go a little quick and Cody made a great break on the ball. It really has been a total group effort. Our front is playing at a high level right now and two games in a row now you’ve seen them use pressure to force turnovers and even turn those into scores. We really upgraded athletically up front and in the back end and you’re seeing guys make plays. When the guys up front are crashing down like we are on the QB the DBs can have a field day. So what you like moving forward is that the whole unit is driving the production, not just a few guys or just the front, but it’s all working together. We will need that to continue that every week in this conference to win.”
OT: You guys only had 3 penalties in this game, none of which were drive killers or drive extenders. Did you acknowledge that with the team? – “You know, what we did acknowledge with them is the fact that for the second week in a row, we walked away from situations where we could have reacted in a bad way. In both games, when you go back and watch the film there were times when the other team went beyond the whistle or things got chippy and our guys walked away from the situation. And that’s what I’m proud of most is that our guys are keeping their heads and moving on to the next play. The ability to continue to do that in heated conference games is important for us.”