By Jeff Greenberg
The Arkansas State Red Wolves completed their non-conference schedule with a hard-fought win at home against UNLV, 27-20. The win leaves the Red Wolves with a 3-1 record heading into conference play for the first time in 23 years. They begin the Sun Belt Conference season this week on the road against Georgia Southern.
We caught up with the Red Wolves’ head coach, Blake Anderson, for the next installment of our weekly series, The 5th Quarter.
- 1st Quarter: You came into this game hoping to run your offense and spread the ball around through the air, while also preparing to stop a team built to run the ball. What was going through your mind with regards to the game plan when you realized this game was going to be played in a driving rain storm? – “We were holding out hope that the storm would blow through by kickoff and all we would have to deal with is a wet field. It obviously didn’t work out that way. So the advantages we thought we had were going to be affected greatly by the weather. We even tried to stick the game plan initially with the thought that if we could keep the ball dry we could still throw the ball around efficiently and attack them. Well, there was no such thing as a dry ball in this game. It just wasn’t going to be possible. We just made the adjustments and then adopted the mentality that we were going to have to run the ball more and take shots when you thought they would be there. So we adapted the game plan to what was happening at the moment. I give a lot of credit to our guys because you practice a certain game plan all week. You don’t have time to practice multiple game plans. In this game we had to really adapt what we were doing drive by drive. And our guys handled it well and didn’t let that disrupt their effort and their aggressiveness in this game. I’m proud of how our guys handled that and their ability to find a way to win.”
- 2nd Quarter: Finding a way to win seems to be a strength for your team this season. In your three wins you’ve had to find different ways to win on both offense and defense when certain parts of those units weren’t clicking. How does that serve you as you enter the conference season? – “I really think it helps you gain experience, but at the same time gain confidence in that experience. We really did face four different looks in our first four games. We played the best team in the country and at times played well against them. We’ve played a team that was solely based around stopping the run, and then one team based on stopping the throw game. Then the environment with the rain is what you had to battle against in this last game. I think it does two things. It gives the players the different experiences and looks that we will face in the conference. So they can gain confidence in knowing they’ve seen it and beaten it before. As a coach it gives you the confidence in knowing that your guys can adapt and won’t freak out on you when adversity hits. You know now that they can listen and make adjustments immediately in a game atmosphere. I think it also helps your game plan open up more because you can lean on certain concepts to get you through a game and win that game, but adapt where needed during the game. We will have to do that again in the games ahead of us in this conference.”
- 3rd Quarter: Coming into this season your defensive coordinator, Joe Cauthen, stated that this team had to be better against the run to reach the goals this team has this season. How big was it for this defense to help secure a win against a run-heavy team like UNLV? – “I think it was huge in a sense that having new guys on the field on defense, an area where we had the least experience coming back, be thrown into a physical game like this one, and it served as an important test for where we are with our physicality. UNLV had a lot of yards but it was a bend-don’t-break attitude this week. Keep them out of the end zone as much as possible. I think are guys did that and really made it difficult for them to do what they wanted to do. We made them earn everything they got. Kept the big plays down to a minimum. The key was the fact that we kept getting a lot of hats to the ball all night long. That was critical and it’s an emphasis for our defense this season. We had to stop two great running backs and a quarterback that was really big and a great athlete too. Their quarterback was really beat up and after the game their coaches said that’s the most physical game their QB has had to endure. That’s what we want to hear because we’re going to need that physicality this week again against Georgia Southern. And we’ll need it every week, particularly on the road against teams we will face in this conference. So I think it helped our guys grow up quickly and see and feel what it means to win a physical game.”
- 4th Quarter: What will be the focus for your offense and where you need to improve as you head into conference play? – “The details. We have to keep getting better at the details. You can see we’re getting the big things right. You can tell the guys have bought in and know the scheme well. We’ve thrown the stats out the window and are just finding different ways to move the chains and win. We’re in good shape in general. Physically were stronger and bigger than we’ve been in the past. But it’s the little things now. It’s the hand placement. It’s the angles you’re taking. It’s where you put the ball and then catching that ball. The true details that can take you to the next level and put games away. We had a chance to do that in this game and some of those details got in the way. Consistency in the details is what can take a good team, where we are right now, and turn you into a great team. We’re going to have to make that jump if we want to win what I think is the most competitive Sun Belt Conference we’ve seen since we’ve been here.”
- 5th Quarter: There have been some neat “firsts” for you during your time as head coach at Arkansas State. Last week was the first out-of-conference road win in ten years. This week’s win gave your program its first 3-1 out-of-conference record in 23 years. Do you let your guys enjoy that and acknowledge those accomplishments, and what did you allow yourself to think or feel about that on your way home from the stadium? – “I do want them to stop and celebrate what they’re doing. I want them to see their part in building this program to where we want it to be every year. It’s what gets them to realize that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. But then we follow that with refocusing our minds around the fact that those wins were just small stepping stones to getting to where we want to be at the end of this season. I can appreciate that we got the job done in the first part of our season. It’s sets us up for a chance to be in a conversation we haven’t been in before at the end of the season. We did what we needed to do so far, but now it’s back to getting to 1-0 in this conference. What I was thinking about is that seeing our guys, their response and their body language, tells me they’re seeing the bigger picture as well, and that going 1-0 is what we control each week. You know what else I thought about? Our fans. The weather was awful Saturday night. Just awful. And I had a lot on my mind during the day and didn’t think about how that would hurt the attendance. But I thought to myself at the start of the game, “Man, we’ve got a pretty good sized group here tonight in this mess.” But then later in the game you couldn’t help but notice the crowd. We were trying to stop them and finish the game. We had a 4th-and-2 we were trying to convert, and it got loud. To the point where it made me pause and peak around a bit. We really fed off of that energy. I can’t thank those fans enough for what they meant to winning this game and staying to the very end. This is a special place that never ceases to amaze me.”
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.