By Jeff Greenberg
The Arkansas State Red Wolves had a tough game against a strong Appalachian State team last Tuesday. The loss leaves Blake Anderson’s crew at 0-2 in the Sun Belt Conference and their backs against the wall. The Red Wolves can still win their division and earn a possible rematch against the Mountaineers. In this week’s 5th Quarter Coach Anderson discusses the frustrations in last week’s loss and what needs to happen moving forward for his team to get going in the right direction.
- 1st Quarter: If a stranger were to walk into the locker room or a team meeting right now, what would that atmosphere look or feel like? – “Obviously after last week’s game you’d see and feel the frustration and disappointment we were all feeling after the game. We didn’t think we’d find ourselves sitting in this position right now. And that’s to be expected considering the expectations we have for ourselves and the team we know we are capable of being this season. But you’d also see a group that is close and sticking together. A group that wants to play for each other. Nobody wants to let their teammates down. We’re a family and we win and lose together, and it hurts when you let your brothers down. That desire to win for the guy next to you also breeds hunger. I think you’d find a group of guys that is hungry to prove they are better than what they’ve shown so far. They are hungry to prove what they’re worth. They are hungry to get back out onto the field and fight to win. The mentality our guys have right now is to bite down on that mouthpiece and step back into the fight and be ready to take another punch and then counterpunch. That’s our challenge. I thought the body language, the eye contact and the comments I’ve been getting from different groups and one-on-one meetings with our players have been what we need to step back into that fight. They’re asking what they can do to get this thing back on track, they’re all in and they’re ready to do whatever it takes to do that. We’ve been in worse positions before that have turned out well. I’ve been in those situations where you right the ship and turn it around. That’s where we stand right now. You can’t panic. You have to go back to work and do whatever it takes.”
- 2nd Quarter: Who is stepping up in the locker room to help lead the guys back to where they want to be? – “A ton of guys have really taken it upon themselves to pick this team up. It’s not just one or two dudes. Its guys on both sides of the ball that are being positive influences on their teammates and picking them up. But it’s also them who are holding the locker room accountable. Reminding their teammates that we’ve built a standard we want to live up to and if we’re not there yet, it will take everybody to get there. Life isn’t fair and the game doesn’t always go the way you want it to go. But there are things we can do to control our fate. Our guys have to own that and attack that opportunity. Our leaders believe in what we’re doing because they’ve seen the success. Now it’s the younger guys that have to follow their lead and push harder than they ever have before. When you have a group of guys that believe in one another and they believe in their coaches and their leaders, then you can put together something great. That’s our goal right now is to make the next 6 games great, starting this week against Georgia State.”
- 3rd Quarter: How would you describe where Justice’s mind and confidence was at after the game last week and where is it now? – “Well, he was extremely frustrated and takes everything on his shoulders. Puts a lot on himself and that’s what we talked about the day after the game. Yes, take ownership of the things you did wrong and the areas you can get better in. But you can’t carry the burden of other guys and their mistakes. You can’t carry the burden of things that are outside of your control. It was an important meeting to identify what he can get better at and correct, but it was also important to show him what was out of his control. Release him from the stress of trying to control what everybody is doing on the field. He needs to focus on controlling what he can do and focus on being the best at those things on every play. I think he took on a lot of the pressure of the preseason expectations, both for the team and for himself. He tried to do everything for everybody. When you try to do everything, then sometimes the specific things you’re supposed to do can suffer. So it was all about getting back to doing what he does well and just concentrating on his role in each play. I think he understood that and you can see it in the way he responded and has taken ownership of it since then.”
- 4th Quarter: What did you mean about possibly “revamping the whole thing” with regards to the offense, and have you have had to do that before midseason? – “The main thing we have to do is execute our jobs and play cleaner football in all eleven spots on the field, on every single play. In terms of revamping, you have to be able to make adjustments that fit the guys in your locker room at that moment. You have to identify guys that are playing well and put them in more situations that can leverage what they do well. You have to identify guys that are struggling and figure out what they do well and shift them into more positions to do those things. Right now that goes back to our mentality and finding our confidence again on offense. When I say revamp I’m not talking about a wholesale change in what we do. We’re not going to come out tomorrow and start running the triple option. We’re going to assess what I mentioned earlier and build our game plans around the strengths of what these guys do. We need to break some of the tendencies we’ve seen in these games and start creating some advantages for our guys. It’s about changing the process and adapting to what this team can do. It doesn’t matter what we did with last year’s group or the year before that. What matters is what this year’s team likes to do. We have to hang our hat on that and do it to the best of our ability.”
- 5th Quarter: The defense showed speed to the ball and played with the physicality you wanted. What did you see on film that led to the explosive plays against Appalachian State? – “That’s a conversation Joe(Cauthen) and I have all the time. To play as dominantly as we do up front and create the pressure we did against their run game, it requires and aggressive approach. And at times, when you play aggressively, it makes you vulnerable. What we have to do is tackle better when we find ourselves in those one-on-one situations. We have to get the guy on the ground and live to play another down. We need to force them to kick a field goal and keep them out of the end zone. When the ball crosses midfield it’s time to buckle up and do everything you can to force a field goal. That’s where we need to get better. You can’t play 95% of the game well, but give up touchdowns in that other 5% instead of field goals. I told the defense the offense needs to score more points and help them out, but if we’re going to be perfectionists, then we need to find a way to make them kick the ball more. If they can do that, they will be one of the Top 10 defenses in the country.”
- Overtime: What did your staff meeting look and sound like after last week’s game? – “Same as the players. Frustrated and disappointed about the opportunities we missed. But also not ready to panic. When we looked at everything you realize it’s not as bad as you thought. We’ve all been in situations before like this when you get off track and you’re trying to get things turned around. Except, in some of those situations when you started looking around to see who would help get things turned around, you didn’t see the talent on the field that you needed to get things turned around. That’s not the situation here. We have the talent to turn it around. My staff believes in what we’re doing and more importantly, they believe in the players we have and their ability to get this done. They’re working their tails off to make the adjustments we need to make and put our guys in a position to win.
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.