By Jeff Greenberg
Arkansas State went on the road to face a tough American Conference foe in Tulsa. The Red Wolves came out of there victorious, ending a ten-year winless drought in out-of-conference road games. Following this big win on the road, here is the next installment of our season series with head coach Blake Anderson.
- 1st Quarter: There were a few different moments in this game where the momentum went back and forth. Which moment stood out to you as the turning point in the game? – “You’re right. I thought this was a hard-fought game on both sides. For us, when we created a turnover and were able to turn it into points to take the lead, I thought that really swung the momentum in our favor. You need those types of plays when you’re on the road and the opponent’s offense was having some success early. That was a moment that really solidified things for us. We had some big drives and then some big defensive plays leading up to that point. After that you could see our defense really settle in and the pressure on the quarterback increased and we were able to be aggressive against the run too. I think we got a handle on the tempo of the game at that point and felt like it was our game to control and win.”
- 2nd Quarter: On the offensive side, Justice Hansen has received a lot of attention for his passing ability coming into the season. But in this game it was the running game, including Justice that really stood out in the win. Was that emphasis on the running game and the way the ball was distributed among the backs a focus going into this game? – “It’s a combination of things with this game. First of all, it was Tulsa’s scheme. When a team is running a 3-3-5, you’ve got to be able to run the ball to win the game. They had five deep defenders trying to keep everything in front of the defense, which is why we weren’t able to really push the ball over the top. Everything had to be in between and in the seams. So if you’re not running the ball well, you’re playing right into their hands. So to be able to run the ball effectively at 4-5 yards a carry was huge for us in this game. It’s what helped move the chains and especially move the chains on third down. I think the distribution of the carries was great because we’re getting quality reps out of all three of the running backs you saw. They all ran hard and saw the field well. They’re getting better as a group every time we go out there. Then you add in Justice running for 80 yards and it really gave us a great attack on the ground. And I can’t say enough about the offensive line. They’re growing up every day right in front of us. Three of those guys didn’t really play last year. It’s still a group that’s coming together. They’re getting better on every snap. Those last 7-8 minutes is a testament to that improvement. To be able to run the ball 10 plays in a row to close the game was incredible. The defense knows you’re going to run the ball, you know you’re going to run the ball and you’re still able to keep our defense off the field. Hats off to those guys up front.”
- 3rd Quarter: The defense had one of those games that your team has been known for in recent years in terms of creating turnovers, sacks and tackles-for-loss. How did you think this group’s development helped to win this game? – “I think they were hungry for this game. They were coming off a tough week against possibly the best offense in the country. I think they felt like they were challenged all week by some comments coming from Tulsa’s players and their fans. Our guys didn’t think the opponent had a lot of respect for our defense. So they responded by preparing really hard all week. Taking care of the little details and watching the film all week. Then they went out and played with tremendous effort all the way through to the end. I mean, they scored the last 9 points of the game for us in getting the pick-six and the safety. They won the game for us in the end. I think we’re seeing a lot of growth with the young guys on that side of the ball. I think a performance like this is a great teaching moment for them in terms of seeing what happens when great preparation meets great effort. It will definitely be something that they can grow from heading into this week.”
- 4th Quarter: Who were some of the players that stuck out to you in terms of having a breakout performance for the team in this game? – “Well, I know I mentioned the offensive line and the backs, but when you look at the defense, those guys really stepped up to the challenge. Demari Medley played every single snap at safety and he played lights out football. He’s a guy that was filling in for BJ Edmonds this week in terms of having to play every snap for us and ends up making a big play with the pick-six. I thought Forrest Merrill played a phenomenal game for us. Kevin Thurman had a huge game for us all night long. I mean he was getting pressures, sacks, tackles, the safety, you name it, and he did it. Darreon Jackson was huge in this game for us and he did it playing through an injury. Jerry Jacobs and Brandon Byner played great against the deep ball which was big because we put them in a lot of one-on-one matchups. And finally, I really feel like Tajhea Chambers is getting more and more comfortable in being the leader of the defense and playing great at Mike linebacker for us.”
- 5th Quarter: Midway through the third quarter and into the early fourth quarter, when the momentum was possibly shifting away from your team, what was the chatter like between the players, and also between coaches on the headsets? – “Well, between the coaches we were diagnosing what was happening. Where they were winning in some spots and then we were talking about two things. What adjustments to make at the time, and then how to keep the guys intensity level high enough to overcome their run. It was a hot and humid night and guys were playing at a high tempo for a ton of snaps so it was going to come down to who wanted it more. We told our guys to keep playing and keep pushing. We knew that they could score fast if we let up. What I liked was the attitudes on our sideline. Nobody let up and everybody was there to pick each other up. Even when the offense got backed up deep and had some tough drives, the defense was there to encourage them and let them know they had their backs. All of the conversations back and forth between players and coaches were positive and nobody was letting the intensity wane one bit. Everybody was in it together and you could tell everybody felt like somebody would make the plays we needed to close it out. And that’s what happened. It was great to see that on the road, against a good opponent. We will need that all season long no matter who we’re playing or where the game is being played.”
- Overtime: Were some of the players and their families affected by Hurricane Florence back on the east coast? – “Yes. We had several players have families that were or currently are displaced from their homes at the moment. I’d ask for people to pray with us for them and be ready to help when the time comes. Right now we’re letting the experts and the first responders on the scene do their jobs to help those affected by the storm. When the time comes where we can be a part of that help we’ll be ready to do anything we can to help them. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by the storm.”
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.