Blake Anderson discusses the NMSU game.

Coach Anderson goes in-depth on the NMSU game.

The Arkansas State Red Wolves entered Senior Day in Jonesboro this past Saturday on a winning streak and undefeated in the Sun Belt Conference.  They came out of the game with another win added to that streak and they put themselves in a position to play for the outright lead this week against Troy.  Troy defeated App State and that leaves the Red Wolves and the Trojans as the only undefeated teams left in the conference.

The Red Wolves scored in a variety of ways and excited the crowd with some of the explosive plays they’ve become accustomed to seeing from Head Coach Blake Anderson’s squads.  Coach Anderson sat down with AStateNation to discuss the win and the big week sitting in front of his team in this week’s “5th Quarter with Coach Anderson.”

The 5th Quarter: New Mexico State

As their coach, what is Senior Day like for you with these guys who have been with you now for a few years? – “You know, it was little different this year because we still have 3 to 4 games left in the season after this weekend.  So I knew going in that I wasn’t saying goodbye to them just yet.  But it’s just been such a great group of guys.  Half of them were here when we arrived and half of them we recruited.  They’ve been through so much adversity and I couldn’t be prouder to be their coach.  I just wanted to them to have a great day and a great experience for their senior day.  It’s a day they’ll never forget and honestly, I just wanted to focus on making sure we got them a win to remember when they think about their senior day.  You could tell the guys were emotional and excited about it and I am an emotional guy so it was just an all-around gratifying experience.”

The way the game went, you were able to score in many different ways.  Do you see something building with regards to that capability that can carry you over the next few weeks? – “I just think we’ve been able to find different ways to win over the last 5 to 6 weeks.  I really don’t think we’ve been the same team two weeks in a row at any point this season.  Our coaches have done a great job each week in finding out what we can do against that specific team to win.  That’s it.  Just find what we’re good at to win that particular game each and every week.  I think that’s actually what it means to be a balanced and savvy team when you can adapt your style of play to what it takes to win against different opponents.  We’re going to have to do that this week too.  The keys to winning this week may be completely different than the week before or the week before that so with a short turnaround we’re going to need our guys to have a tight focus on what we’re doing this week.”

What were the main themes in the coaches’ meeting during film review? – “We didn’t have much time to talk because we had to turn the page quickly to Troy.  But looking back I felt like we accomplished the goals we set forth as our keys to victory.  We wanted to get our skill guys involved in different ways on the offense and avoid settling for field goals.  We wanted to put the ball in the end zone early and often.  On defense we wanted to bend but not break in terms of limiting the scoring even if they gained yards.  I think we did all of that.  So what we talked about is what we need to do to carry some of that into this week but adjust it to what we will be facing against Troy.  It will be a different challenge that requires some different keys to winning the game.”

Your team is on a great streak right now.  In your eyes, what is it about this team that has gotten it back into contention and in the position you’re sitting right now? – “It’s simple.  It begins with hard work by some guys that never gave up and never gave in to pressure.  We challenged them and their resolve and they have responded every single time.  Basically it boils down to out-hitting and out-working the opponent.  That’s it.  Nothing fancy or special.  Just plain old football.  We feel like the most physical and well-conditioned team has the best chance to win.  If you can be that team and then execute in the game you’ll always be in position to give yourself a chance to win.  We’ve had our most physical practices over the last month.  We’ve hit each other, we’ve run and worked extremely hard to dig out of the hole we dug for ourselves.  We’ve never stopped competing and that’s what these players have done to get here now.”

That position you’re in is now a nationally televised game on the road against #25 ranked Troy for the Sun Belt lead.  What was your discussion like with the team and how did they react? – “This is what you play for right here.  You work and battle to get to a game like this.  The two undefeated teams in the league and somebody is going to leave this game in the driver’s seat for an outright conference championship.  There’s work to do after, but you can’t do it unless you win this game.  We have to be the most physical team, make some explosive plays and stop them from making explosive plays.  Our kids are excited.  You can feel the energy in the building already.  I didn’t have to say anything to get their minds right for this week.”

This game seems similar to the App State last year.  Thursday night on the road, on ESPN as the underdogs for the right to win the lead in the conference.  What are your thoughts on that? – “It is similar in terms of what’s at stake and some of the dynamics around the game with regards to expectations from the outside.  We’re familiar with this position but we’re a different team than we were last year.  Troy is different team than App State was last year.  So while we can draw on that experience, this team, not last year’s team, has to focus now on what they can do to make more plays than Troy does on Thursday night.  What won’t change is being more physical and being in better shape so that we can be there at the end of the game with the chance to win it.”