The mantra around the Red Wolves’ locker room is “1-0.” The intent is to focus on the next game and winning that game. Well, after the two conference the games, the Red Wolves now sit at 2-0 in the Sun Belt. More importantly, they’re starting to show signs of the potential everybody thought they had coming into this season. The defense looked particularly dominant in their win over South Alabama, a team that had knocked off Mississippi State and 19th-ranked San Diego State. The offense has now showed they can win in different ways, and if it continues to show improvement this team can make a run at the conference title. The Red Wolves now head into a much-needed open week where they can focus on getting guys healed up and ready for the stretch run. 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 the open week.
THE 5th QUARTER – South Alabama
1st Quarter: South Alabama beat an SEC opponent and a ranked San Diego State team. They came into Jonesboro with the top-ranked defense in the Sun Belt Conference. How significant was this win? – “I don’t know if people realize how big of a win this really was to be honest. We anticipated a defensive battle and that’s what we got. That’s a solid team with some serious play makers at different spots. They may not have won a conference game yet but I know they will and I’m glad it wasn’t against us. They’ve had those big wins out of conference so it’s kind of a weird deal to try and figure out. At this point I’d rather be in our shoes than theirs. I’m glad we’re in the position we are in the conference right now. We’re getting better and learning more about ourselves. I think our early schedule taught us some things about this team and where we needed to make changes and that’s helped win these first two conference games. At this point we have to keep looking forward to the next game. It’s the only thing we control right now. We did that against South Al and now we need to do it against Monroe.”
2nd Quarter: The defense has really started to look like the dominant squad of 2015. What adjustments has Joe Cauthen made to ignite his unit? – “It has all started with his game plans for the last two games. He’s done a great job of getting his guys to focus on the game in front of them and not the missed opportunities behind them. I’ve said before, and he agreed, that our guys on defense needed to stop playing with the fear of making a mistake. Doing that holds you back. They needed to just loosen up, stop over-thinking things, and just go play ball. Think fast, play fast and know that you’re teammates are there if you do make a mistake. I think you’ve seen that now in the way guys are flying around the ball again. This last game I felt like all 11 guys were swarming their guys in the run and the pass. Our pass rush in this game was closer to where I thought it would be when the season started. Guys were winning their individual battles and really disrupting what South Al was trying to do. So I think what Joe has done is really just change their mindset. It’s not a technique change, it’s a mentality change. And some of that really has to be attributed to the leaders on that side of the ball too like Cody, Jake, Chris, and Waylon. They’ve rallied their guys and have gotten people on the same page.”
3rd Quarter: After watching the film from Saturday, what player or players surprised you the most or really had a great breakout performance in the game? – “Wow, that’s a great question. Can I say all of the defense? But I wouldn’t say they came out of nowhere. They just finally arrived I would say the last two weeks and have started to control the game for us. Of course, the spark really was the turnover for the touchdown. We’ve struggled to get turnovers and after doing so much of that last season, we really needed that type of play to get our guys rolling again. The best part is that the play took the effort of multiple guys to make it happen. Blaise, Money, Chris and Cody all had a role in making the play happen. I think the defense rose to another level after the play too and made it tough for South Al to get anything going the rest of the game. It was eerily similar to last year’s play at their place. We were excited, but it was early in the game and there was a lot more to do to win that game.”
4th Quarter: You’ve talked a lot about getting the new players to gel on offense. However, you’ve had to get new coaches to gel with you as well. Do you think you as the head coach and the new coaches on offense have started to find a good game rhythm? – “Yeah, I think we have, but it takes a while. Particularly when you’re trying to do it with new players and new coaches. The challenges are different each week, especially when you’re playing a different line up on the offensive line every week. Each week may be different in what we need to do on offense to win that single game. This week we let the defense lead us and the offense needed to run the clock and possess the ball. Credit Buster for recognizing that and doing that. It’s not flashy and it’s not always pretty, but an ugly win always beats a pretty loss. I’ll take that every day and every game from here on out. Find a way to win the game in front of you in whatever way you need to play to win.”
Overtime: What will your focus be during the bye week? – “First thing we want to do is get healthy. We’ve got major pieces hurt and we want to do everything to get them back down the stretch. We’ll focus on building off of our momentum on defense. The offense will have some more time to work on what we can do best with our guys and how to maximize what they do well. We’ll continue to transform ourselves mentally for what lies ahead and the opportunity sitting in front of us. And then we’ll get a head start on Monroe at the end of this week. In terms of the coaches we’ll have guys hit the road to get our recruiting work in and maximize that time.”
2nd Overtime: How happy is your family when you win a game compared to having to deal with you after losing a game? – “You make it sound like I’m a bad dude to be around when we lose. Maybe I am. Wins make everything better. The emotions that carry over after a win in this business are hard to describe. It affects how you sleep, the conversations you have, just your overall temperament. There’s no other feeling quite like it. A loss just lingers too, but in all of the bad ways. If you work at a bank and have a bad day, you know you have the chance for a good day tomorrow. When you lose a football game it stays with you for a week until you have a chance to go win the next game. So I try to be ok at home after a loss, but I’m not sure I’m good at doing that. I know I am after a win. Everybody is in a good mood after a win.”