The UL-Monroe game Saturday in Jonesboro marks a stretch where Arkansas State plays four games in 20 days, all of the key Sun Belt games.
But a bizarre schedule is nothing new to the Red Wolves, who have been very successful in midweek games.
“Health is always an issues,’’ said coach Blake Anderson. “We are not deep enough to sustain a lot of key injuries. Traveling on a Thursday game is always a challenge. It always has been. We are fortunate to play home games before so we dont have awful travel getting back home. A year ago we traveled back from Mobile then had a short week and didn't get back until 3 in the morning. At least here we will be able to get some sleep and it won't be quite as bad.”
On Tuesday the Red Wolves visit Georgia State in a game set for ESPNU. A Saturday home game follows (11.12) against New Mexico State and the final game in the cluster is Nov. 17 at Troy, which is also on ESPNU.
“Thursday games on the road are always a big challenge not to mention both of those teams are playing well,’’ said Anderson. “It is a lot of football in a short period of time. And for us it is like the playoffs. Every game is really important. There is No luxury of taking any of them lightly; no luxury of looking past anybody. We put ourselves in a position in conf play where it is like playoffs every week for us. We have got to make sure we are at our best. We have got to stay focused is huge and staying healthy is huge.
Anderson says he sees the benefit of midweek national TV broadcasts but “there are a lot of times you are scratching your head and wishing it was a Saturday kickoff at 6 p.m.
“We have found a way to overcome that in the past. One of our best games was on the road last year at App on a short week.
Cardio and conditioning is good “and I think that benefits you in a short week. .. We are going to cling to those things and continue to build on that foundation.”
Also helping is the Red Wolves are heading into the gauntlet with consecutive wins.
“It gives you a lift in terms of energy when you go out and get a couple of wins. It is kinda a breath of fresh air. … Just the energy you carry over from a win and knowing there are only 3 undefeated teams in the conference play and we control our own destiny if we continue to win. It really doesn't matter what happen those first four games. I think it has kinda fueled the fire … Positive breds more positive.”
All the players who had been out benefited from the off week. Offensive linemen Jamar Clark and Colton Jackson should be back in the line up.
He (Clark) played through the injury,’’ said Anderson. “We've rested him most of the week and he's actually looked athletic. I think it is a combination of 2 things. He is starting to get confidence in the knee that he had surgery on and obviously the ankle is starting to get better. if we can keep anything else from happening like the fact he will look a lot more athletic going down the stretch.”
Jackson, who was out with a concussion, has been cleared.
“We will have an approach with him and one without him. We did not want to rush it because of the open week and it took a little longer until he was without symptoms.”
Freshman Troy Elliott picked up his first start vs. South Alabama.
“(The offensive line) Not typically a place where you do a lot of rotation. At the same time he's (Elliott) played well and he's looked good in practice. We would not rotate just to rotate but it all comes back down to where is Colton at and how comfortable he is at what we are doing. And how many practice reps did he get through the course of the week.”
Receiver Chris Murray should also return to action after a high ankle sprain.
“He's looked fine and the doctors have cleared him to play. It comes down to how comfortable is he. It is a pain tolerance. He is not ever going to feel really good but he is not going to make it any worse..
Buster Faulkner on Justice Hansen
“He has got to do some things better, some of those are in crucial situations. Seems to be all of them happen around the 25 yard line going in. And those have got to stop. He’s got to be better, we've got to be better when we get to the plus side of the field, taking care of the ball. We just can't take those things. When he understands you will see a lot more consistent play.”
The offensive coordinator said a smaller field could play a factor.
“You get in the tighter spaces which makes you have to understand and anticipate windows a little different.”
Faulkner on the improved play of the OL
“I think a lot of it is more continuity together,’’ he said. “The O-Line, I know they have played a bunch of ball together, but they were banged up here and there. We had a lot of shuffle going on early in the year. We narrowed it down a lot, it is the same thing we have been doing we just
cut out some other turns and just focused on a few runs.”