By Jeff Greenberg
College football is back and Week 1 proved to be an exciting one around the country. One team that has high expectations this season is the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Led by Head Coach Blake Anderson, the Red Wolves have been picked by some to finish in the Top 25 and are one of the favorites to win the Sun Belt Conference.
Week 1 brought Southeast Missouri State to Jonesboro to face the Red Wolves. After a back-and-forth first half, Arkansas State’s talent took over and they cruised to a 48-21 win at home.
Each week we will talk with Coach Anderson about how their game went and dig a little deeper than the typical press conference. The series is called “The 5th Quarter with Coach Anderson” and here is the first installment of the 2018 season.
1st Quarter: After the game Saturday night, what was on your mind most on the drive home from the stadium? – “The first thing I did was take a deep breath and remind myself that you cannot ever take a win for granted. Period. It may have been a frustrating game to coach at times and there were things that really upset me in the game with the mistakes we made. But I reminded myself that I was still getting to go to bed at 1-0. Half the teams in the country wished they were in the position Saturday night that we found ourselves in. We’ve been there before too where we’ve played well and lost and we were staring at 0-1. I prefer the 1-0 scenario any way you cut it. Winning isn’t easy and you can’t take your wins for granted. Each week you work to win that week. Now, there were eye-opening mistakes we made but we know what they are and we can correct them in practice this week. But let’s stop and think about this for a second. Where have we come to at this point where there’s disappointment in a 48-21 win? Life’s too short. You have to enjoy every win. Now I think part of it is the expectations we have for our team. I think the fans have high expectations for this team. We all have high expectations for this program as a whole. But we can have high expectations and still enjoy the journey along the way. So I think I just reflected a bit on where we’re at and reminded myself to enjoy being 1-0. Sunday morning I can wake up and worry about being frustrated with our mistakes.”
2nd Quarter: What did the conversation sound like between you and Justice Hansen in the quarterback meeting room on Sunday? – “You know what? It’s a conversation that has really evolved since he took over at QB for us. He’s great to work with and his understanding for our offense is in a strong place right now. The thing bothering him the most was the one that got away. He felt like he let it float on him too much. But overall I think he feels good with how comfortable he felt during the game. He was confident in where he went with the ball and that showed in the confidence you could see in his throws. The way we talk about QB play has to do with problems you encounter with each coverage or scheme a defense throws at you. As the QB, you have to diagnose what is happening rapidly and then come up with the answer to the problem. Justice was feeling good because he knew what he was seeing and what his answers were throughout the game. I thought he played sound football at high level all night long.”
3rd Quarter: With regards to the defense, that’s where a ton of new faces were in the game. How would you rate the defense’s performance? – “I think when you see the point spread you may think they had a great game. I think they had a good game, and were great at times. The thing you have to remember is that Joe Cauthen has really established a high standard here for the defense. I think he would tell you the same thing I just said about their performance. First, we didn’t create any turnovers, which was disappointing. That’s something that we pride ourselves on and have been really good at in the past. We’re going to have to be a team that creates turnovers in order to be as dynamic on that side of the ball as we need and want to be this season. We gave up some big plays that were based on our own mistakes. One had to do with missed tackles. One had to do with a busted coverage. And one had to do to poor eye discipline on the backend. We had a chance to get a dominant outcome in this game on defense. Don’t get me wrong, there were good things we did as well, like our third down play in particular. We just need to clean up some things that we can’t repeat in order to win some of the close games we will be in this season. Some of that is just growing up as we go and gaining experience at certain spots.”
4th Quarter: You were able to play a lot of young guys in this game. Which guys surprised or impressed you most with their first live action in a college football game? – “I think everybody saw what Marcel Murray could do, but we weren’t surprised by what he did. But it’s nice to see him respond to his first college game the way that he did. It’s not just freshmen though. I think Jonathan Adams is playing at a really high level and he’s just a sophomore. Guys like Javonis Isaac, Reed Tyler and Andre Harris had great games up front. On the defense, I thought Nathan Page and Jerry Jacobs played well at corner. Jeremy Smith hasn’t played very much but ended up playing a ton of downs and played well in my opinion. Plus a ton of guys that played key roles on special teams performed well in their first live action. We’re talented at a lot of spots but we’re still young and inexperienced in some of those spots and nothing is going to simulate game speed so when the lights came on it was great to see guys step up and play well.”
5th Quarter: Have you ever played or coached against the #1 team in the country, and how do you balance the focus of your players on what they need to do to win against the tendency to let your focus drift to the magnitude of the stage they’ll be playing on at Alabama? – “I don’t think I have to be honest with you. We’ve been in games against teams that are ranked really high, but I don’t think I’ve ever faced the #1 team in the country. It’s obviously a unique opportunity in front of us. There’s no way to ignore the fact that you’re going to be on that big stage on Saturday. You’re going to walk into a huge, sold out stadium in a football environment that is just unbelievable. You’re going feed off of it and be aware of it so the first thing that we have to focus on with our guys is maintaining their composure. Don’t let your adrenalin overwhelm you to the point where you forget your assignment or you try to do something more other than just doing your job. Being successful in a game like this, against an opponent like this one, will come down to the taking care of all of the little details and playing as close to perfect football as we can. You have to play mistake-free and then jump at the chances you get when they make a mistake. So you can’t ignore the stage you’re on. Embrace it, enjoy it and channel the hype into your role and responsibility on each play. All we can do in a game like this is try and control what we can control. Don’t beat yourself and be ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself.”
Come back each week to see what Coach Anderson has to say about his team’s performance. You can follow Coach Anderson on Twitter at @CHbanderson and Arkansas State Football at @AStateFB.