Every head coach in college football hopes that as the season progresses, his team continues to get better every week and peaks during the stretch run in November. It’s safe to say that the Arkansas State Red Wolves are one of the teams peaking at the right time as they hit their stride this month in search of a Sun Belt Conference Championship. Following a 59-21 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, the Red Wolves find themselves now receiving votes in both the coaches’ poll and the AP poll.
The Red Wolves now head into an open week before closing their regular season with games against New Mexico State and Texas State. They are in control of their own destiny, but the key to reaching those goals could be how they handle their own attitudes and energy during the next couple of weeks. Head Coach Blake Anderson has this team playing its best football in all three phases of the game and looks to keep building during the open week.
AStateNation sat down with Coach Anderson to discuss the win and is happy to bring you the next installment of “The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson.”
The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson – Part 7:
1st Quarter: Your team will be favored to win its final two games. Is the mental focus going to be the toughest challenge as you try and close out the season with two wins? – “Well, I think the next game will tough on the road because the environment will be challenging. They’ve had a tough season and their stadium won’t be like what we’ve played in so far this season. Up to this point we’ve played in front of big crowds with a lot of energy and hype. This last week the stadium wasn’t like that and it took some time before our guys found the energy and attitude to get up and start making plays. Our next game will have a similar environment and we need to know that from the start and play with that energy to win from the first whistle. I think our last game at home on December 5th will be different. I think our fans have been great this year at home and that will be Senior Night for our guys so I think the energy for that game will be great in Jonesboro. There could be a lot on the line that night so I don’t think we will have to do much to get our guys focused on getting up to make plays. For those seniors it will be their last chance to play in front of our home crowd and all of their dreams could be riding on that game. Energy and attitude may be a challenge, but it’s one I feel confident we will meet and we will be ready to play on November 28th.”
2nd Quarter: The defense is leading the country in interceptions and touchdowns, and also leads the Sun Belt in sacks. How has the defense been able to make these game changing plays week in and week out? – “I think it’s just been a culture that’s been created on the defense with what Coach Cauthen and his staff have done since we got here. We talk about plays they can make that will impact a game like controlling explosive plays and creating turnovers. Those are the two most critical things we want them to focus on in every game. It’s not yardage or even third downs. The guys have bought into it and we’ve been able to accomplish it by having 11 guys flying to the ball and being in position to make these plays. Now I think it’s just really become a contagious thing. Our guys are expecting to make those plays now. I mean we’ve had 13-14 guys involved in making turnovers this season. That’s unbelievable. That is what tells me it’s contagious and ingrained in their DNA right now.”
3rd Quarter: Where do you think this team can get better in the home stretch? – “I think we are still fighting for consistency. We’re fighting to eliminate the ups and downs and trying to have great play throughout the game. And that’s in all 3 phases. We’ve been dealing with some inexperience at times that is starting to work its way out. Guys are getting better as they get more game reps. Our team is getting better every week and we need to continue that and I think we can get better. Then there are times like this week where the environment isn’t what you’re used to and you start out slow. But I think our guys responded really well and had a great second half. They came out and showed how well they could play and control the game. We need to control a whole game like we controlled the second half in that game, and really the second half the week before too. Our team is capable of this and I think we have a chance to show it in the last two games.”
4th Quarter: What’s your favorite part of coaching this team right now? – “I just love this environment and the relationships on this team and in this program right now. We’re having fun right now and seeing guys that haven’t played much yet making plays now is what makes it fun. Joking with guys like Mondie when he comes off the field after falling on a fumble. Watching these guys get excited about getting better and get excited with the success they’re having is what it’s all about. The relationships with the people you work with everyday make it all worth it. You experience tough times together and right now we’re getting to celebrate a great run and having fun going out on that field every day. And I love seeing our guys and our coaches get recognized for their hard work. We got some votes in the polls this week and that’s a cool thing to see because it means all of the hard work is paying off. These relationships are really the reason you stay in coaching.”
OT: Speaking of coaching, it is not an easy career. How does it affect you when a peer like Coach Berry(ULM) is let go, in this case, within hours after you shook hands with him after the game? – “Your heart just goes out to him. You hate this side of the sport and the profession. But you also know it’s inevitable. Most of the time you don’t get to dictate the terms of when any one job ends for you. And it’s not just you, it’s your family. So it’s hard and you feel for the guy. In this case I hate it for a guy I think is one of the good guys and a guy that did a good job there. Todd is classy guy that I think has done a lot for our conference and his school. He and his wife have represented Monroe and the Sun Belt really well for a long period time. What’s hard too is that you know it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not he is a capable coach because he is; and I have no doubt he’ll end up somewhere quickly. He has done well in his career to get to that point and he will do well again somewhere in this profession.”