The Red Wolves traveled out west to face a good Utah State team this past Friday. It’s no secret that the beginning of the game did not go as planned, and they dug themselves a hole too big to dig out of in the second half. As frustrating as the first quarter was, it was the way the team responded after that point that should be the key takeaway from Utah. The last two-and-a-half quarters of play were a snapshot of what this team can be moving forward into this week’s game and the Sun Belt Conference season. Head Coach Blake Anderson sat down with AStateNation for this week’s “The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson” to discuss his thoughts on the game and the focus heading into next this week’s game against Central Arkansas.
The 5th Quarter – Utah State
1st Quarter: When you met with the team today(Sunday), what was your message to them heading into this week? – “First of all, I let them know how impressed and proud I was with their attitudes and the way they responded in this game. Things went so poorly in the first quarter that things could have gone off the rails. But their attitudes at halftime and in the second half were outstanding. Pulling each other up, having each other’s back and just refusing to give up. The offense was encouraging the defense and vice versa. When we made the change at quarterback, Chad couldn’t have done more to encourage Justice and support him the rest of the game. It was good to see and we made some great strides in trying to rebound and win that game. We came close to doing it too. But we also focused today on controlling what we can control. Playing with discipline. Not playing beyond the whistle or allowing ourselves to react to situations when things get chippy. We got taken out of our game a bit and lost our discipline, and that can’t happen. We need to play like we did when we calmed down and started to take the action to them.”
2nd Quarter: What were the key differences to how the defense played in the second half compared to how things went in the first quarter? – “Well, in the first half we let a couple things that we hadn’t seen before get away from us. But honestly, nothing huge was changed at half time. We started gaining some confidence on that side of the ball as the first half ended. Early on we were backed up deep in our own territory, but as the game progressed we started to push back and gain the physical edge. At half time I think they realized more than anything they could stop those guys and take control. It was more them challenging themselves than the coaches having to fire them up. They got each other up and demanded more from themselves at that point. They came out and played hard. We started getting pressure on the quarterback, tackling better and reducing any yards after contact. It really was more of a shift in attitude than a shift in tactics. I really think early in this season our guys have played with the mindset of being afraid to make a mistake. You can’t play like that and put so much pressure on yourself. You’ll become paralyzed. We just want them to play hard and rely on your teammates to pick you up when you get into trouble out on the field. I think we started to finally see that in the second half.”
3rd Quarter: Looking at the offense, particularly on the line, what kind of discussions were had a half time or today at practice about how they need to play and what they can do to move this offense forward like it did in the second half? – “At half time we were trying to just get them calmed down and stop them from jumping offsides. Those guys were doing a lot to simulate our snap count and shifting on every snap and we just needed to calm down and focus. We told them to settle down and come out with a mindset to take things one play at a time, one drive at a time and then see where we end up. Our offense finally got to take advantage of some matchup advantages we felt we had on the outside because we had better protection in the second half. We started to move the ball and play the best football we have played at this point in the season. Still had some mistakes but put us in a position to win this game in the fourth quarter. The guys believed they could do it and a few bounces different ways and we could have left there with a win. Our guys started playing with the emotion and the confidence we got used to seeing a year ago and that has to continue now from this point on.”
4th Quarter: What was going through your mind at the end of the first quarter? – “I was thinking about how that quarter could have gone a lot differently. A few things here and there it may have been different, but unfortunately those few things added up against us and we had our backs against the wall in a big way. So I was sitting there thinking about how our guys would respond for the rest of the game. Would they respond? We’re out west on the road in a tough environment. A lot of folks have jumped ship on us, to be honest with you, and don’t expect much from us. I wanted to see how they would respond. Am I satisfied with the outcome? No way. But I’m excited about the character in our guys that showed in how they responded at that moment. They have each other’s back and that is what we need moving into next week. And I think they reminded themselves of what they can be when they play with confidence and play that brand of football. It’s like being on the golf course when you hit that one great shot. You take so many swings and finally hit that one great shot and that’s what keeps you coming back and that’s what you work hard to recreate. That’s what this second half was for our team. Now we have to work our tails off to recreate it, bottle it up and make that the standard we will play at for the rest of this season.”
Overtime: “What does playing an interstate game against Central Arkansas mean in this state and for your team moving forward? – “Well, for us it’s an opportunity to get back out there and play and try and get a win. We need a win. We were in this position last year and want to head into conference play playing better football. It’s at home and we’re home now for a few weeks. I expect a great crowd because we love playing at home. It’s an instate game, which isn’t easy to come by in this state. I felt like it’s a game we needed to play even though it’s a dangerous game for us. But I think it’s the right thing to do for the state and it’s the right thing to do for the fans. They’re a good football team and they’re plenty good enough to beat us. FCS teams have beaten FBS teams more than a few times this season alone. I’m ready to get back out on that field after watching the second half again. I’m ready to see our guys play with that confidence from the kickoff and fight for a win. It can’t get here soon enough.”
AStateNation would like to thank Coach Anderson for his time. Look for the next edition of “The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson” next week after the Central Arkansas game.