About seven to eight weeks ago the Arkansas State Red Wolves had just completed a brutal non-conference schedule and were standing at 1-3. The bandwagon got lighter as people doubted the team and doubted the coaches. When Head Coach Blake Anderson walked into the football building that Monday morning you didn't see a guy with his head down. He smiled and told everybody, “Our season starts today, and we’re going to go out there and win the Sun Belt Conference Championship.” And he was right.
While many of us were relaxing in our post-turkey hangover, Coach Anderson and his team traveled out west and dominated a hot New Mexico State team on the road, 52-28. It was yet again a total team effort as the offense racked up 605 yards and one big play after another. On the other side of the ball the defense continued its tear through the conference by forcing 4 more turnovers, 3 sacks, and they added another defensive touchdown. With the victory the Red Wolves secured a share of their 4th Sun Belt title in 5 years, with a chance to win it outright this Saturday with a win over Texas State.
AStateNation is happy to bring you the next installment of the 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson as they prepare for Senior Day this weekend against Texas State.
5th Quarter with Coach Anderson – Part 8
1st Quarter: Senior day is coming up this Saturday. This class has a chance to go undefeated in the conference, win their 4th conference title, and go out as the winningest senior class in the FBS era. What do these seniors mean to you personally? – “Man, I love these guys to death. They've been such a great group of kids to get to know. They have a wide range of personalities from one spectrum to the other(laughing), which keeps things fun. They can be temperamental at times, but in a good way because they're such a hard-working group. Just some really unique relationships that I will cherish forever and maintain for years to come. I'm just so proud of what they've overcome and how much they've been willing to do when this staff has asked them to do it. It has not all been perfect but every time I have asked them to respond, even when it was hard and not fun, they stepped up and did it. They've always come through for us. We could not have had the success we've had without these guys. Their leadership was the kind of leadership we needed to win when we got here. They could have fought us every step of the way and they never did. And I like the fact that they're a fun group who can relax and be fun to be around, but when they need to buckle down and get after it they're ready from the word go. It’s just a special group of guys that mean the world to this program and they mean the world to me.”
2nd Quarter: You've clinched a share of the Sun Belt Championship and you can win it outright this weekend. Do fans and media really know how hard it is to go undefeated in your conference in the FBS? – “If you've never done it there really is no way for me to explain to you just how hard that is to do. To be able to bring it every Saturday for 7-8 weeks in a row is not easy. To go on the road, sometimes in toxic environments with no energy in the stadium and be able to get your energy and emotions to the level needed to win every week is not easy. We had some tough road trips and had to work on short weeks like the App St game but the kids delivered. We've overcome injuries, bad calls, and bad bounces. And don't forget, when you're sitting there at 1-3 after a tough non-conference slate, and people are giving up on you, it's not easy. Some teams would give up right then and there. But our guys responded and they believed in their teammates. They believed in their coaches. I don't take it for granted because it's a huge achievement and we want to finish it this weekend.”
3rd Quarter: The defense has made a huge impact in its turnaround this season. Coach Joe Cauthen was nominated for the Broyles’ Award as the nation’s top assistant. Explain why he deserves to be in that conversation. – “Number 1, I never doubted that he was the guy for the job. I know he wasn’t well-known at the time, but I knew him 20 years ago. I knew he was a hard-working guy who was meticulous in every detail. He puts his whole heart and soul into this job. I knew that I would get the very best out of him every day. In reality, we just didn't have the personnel to do the things we needed to do on defense last year due the nature of transition, injuries, and attrition. He did the best he could with that group. Then in the offseason we addressed those issues with the guys we brought in and Matt Shadeed did a great job with them and the guys that came back. He did exactly what I expected him and his staff to do this season which is find the holes and correct them and create a culture of confidence on that side of the ball. Those guys are playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and it's contagious in they way they're making game changing plays every week. They believe in their coaches and they believe in their teammates and they're a big reason we're undefeated in the conference. They're one of the best defenses in the nation. What Coach Cauthen has done is just prove me right in what I knew he would do when I brought him here.”
4th Quarter: When you go into the locker room right now, what type of team do you see? – “I don't see a team, I see a family. I see a group of dudes that really love each other and respect each other. You don't always get along but that's part of being a family. My brother and I fought all the time but I love him to death and I see that in these guys. They care about each other and about the staff. I think they'd do anything for us and I'd do anything for them. These guys genuinely love playing this game for each other. They're tired and beat up and sore right now but when the whistle blows they're there to play hard for each other. You just don't get that in every locker room. That comes from great attitudes, hard work, and an environment that's intentional. You know, I remember having a conversation with Gris after the Toledo game. I asked him about the morale of the team and the feeling in the locker room. He said “Coach, we’re fine. We believe in what we’re doing. We will keep fighting. And you know we’re always going to play hard for you.” I asked him why and he said, “Coach, nobody wants to show up on that big screen when you put them on blast for not playing hard. Nobody wants to be on that screen(laughing)!” Everybody knows that we’re going to treat them the same because we’re all accountable to each other in that locker room. That's what family is all about.”
OT: What's your favorite Thanksgiving dish? – “I love the dressing that my wife and her Mom make. It's a sweet cornbread dressing that's really good and fattening too. Speaking of fattening, my Mom’s chess pie is one of the greatest things on earth. I probably ate half of one pie myself. There's nothing healthy about it at all and it's off the charts good. But I have to admit that this year I strayed off the beaten path a bit. My Mom and Dad brought 4lbs of chopped beef brisket from Kirby’s Barbeque in Texas. I had 3 brisket sandwiches for lunch on Thanksgiving before eating the turkey dinner and the dressing that evening. I ate 3 of them bad boys. So I was not shy on this Thanksgiving.”