By Jeff Greenberg
The Arkansas State Red Wolves were in need of a win to turn their season back around after losing to Appalachian State. Head Coach Blake Anderson told his team that the focus needs to be on going 1-0 every week. First up was Georgia State. The Red Wolves jumped out fast to an early 34-7 lead and never looked back. It was just what the doctor ordered as they head into the second half of their season. Their goal of winning their division and playing in the first Sun Belt Championship game is still on the table. We caught up with Coach Anderson to talk about that win and look ahead to the next game against bitter rival, Louisiana.
- 1st Quarter: In the last game, your offense got back to rolling up over 500 yards, evenly split between the run and the pass. Was that the game plan going into that game in terms of having that balance? – “We went in with a balanced game plan, but really couldn’t tell you how that would shake out until we got into it and saw how they were going to play us. What I mean is that a lot of it was RPO stuff, so how much we run or pass depends on what the defense is showing Justice. In that game we were able to run the ball well with all three backs. They did a great job of extending plays for us by being physical and breaking tackles. Marcel had a few Sportscenter highlight runs and Warren did too. Then you add 75-80 yards rushing from your quarterback and you’re probably having a good night on offense. Any time that Justice has run the ball well we usually fair well in those games. I liked what Justice did with his decisions and that allowed us to not only gain a bunch of yards, but also get the ball in the end zone. Finishing drives is something we harped on all week, and really all game long in every single huddle we had on the sidelines. It was all about finishing drives, whether that was on the ground or through the air. Just get it done.”
- 2nd Quarter: Your ground game that you mentioned was strong in this last game, averaging over 7 yards-per-carry. How do you guys manage the distribution of carries between three guys that are running well for you this season? – “I think Norv does a great job of knowing the guys in his room and reading their body language and stamina. He’s done a great job of keeping them fresh and making sure that none of them get fatigued during the game. I think they’ve done a great job of feeding off of each other and pushing each other for those carries. They’re an unselfish group of guys. They want to win and they want their room to be part of what drives our success. This season is a little bit different because of Warren being a factor in the return game too, so he’s getting touches in other areas as well. They’re all handling their reps well and making the most of when they get into the game. Having three guys running the ball well is a great problem to have in a game.”
- 3rd Quarter: One of the things that had frustrated you coming into the last game was not getting off to a fast start in your games this season. Was that a point of emphasis as well with the game plan? – “Well, yes you love to jump out to a 34-7 lead. But I don’t think we emphasized a fast start as much as we just emphasized what I mentioned earlier with regards to finishing our drives and limiting points on opponents’ drives. If you do that then that lends itself to a fast start for your team. How do you do that? It starts up front. It starts with getting the chains moving and converting third downs on offense, and then getting off of the field on third downs on defense. Finish everything you do on every drive. That’s how you end up getting a fast start. Now, the energy and focus of our guys when that game started played a big role in that fast start. When you start noticing that your guys are finishing your sentences with regards to the keys to each drive, then you know they’re dialed in. It shows that they’ve been listening all week and that they’re ready for the moment.”
- 4th Quarter: Your defense had a big night early on, including turning a fumble recovery into a touchdown. But they also had 4 sacks and 8 TLFs, which puts you in the top third of the nation in those categories. How did the defensive line’s production play a role in the win? – “It was huge. They’ve been the heart and soul of this team since day one. We’ve leaned on them in every game. They’ve played really big in a lot of situations for us in every game. They can be a disruptive group and can be hard to block one-on-one. Opposing teams have to factor for all of them. They can’t just key on one or two guys; they have to account for all of them because all of them can make you pay. There’s enough weapons up there and great depth so they stay fresh. We built the team that way on purpose. We wanted to be deep at that position and felt like being strong at that position helps you when you’re developing at other spots. Those guys set the tempo for everything we’re doing on defense. Going into this next game, it will be the defensive line once again that will determine our success and most likely the outcome of the game. It’s going to be a physical game in a tough environment. I think our guys know that and are ready for that opportunity.”
- 5th Quarter: Looking at Louisiana on film, what do you think the keys will be for your team in this game? – “Well, they’re big in many spots. The battle will be in the trenches for sure. I think any time you get some new voices in a place it brings some energy to what you’re doing and you can tell those guys are playing hard for Billy. I think they’re playing their best ball right now. But the keys are going to center around us. We need more consistency. We have to carry over what went right in the last game and show we can do it again, particularly with finishing drives with points and limiting opposing drives to 3 or no points. Another factor for us will be turnovers. We didn’t turn the ball over in the last game, which was huge, and we were able to create turnovers. Finally, the explosive play ratio. We have to win that part of the game as well. You win in turnovers and you win in explosives, then you usually win on the scoreboard.”
- Overtime: You’ve been talking about going 1-0 every week and hitting the reset button after each game. How hard is it for you as the head coach to really get your guys to focus only on that game that week and not look ahead? – “You know what, it can be tough in certain situations. With the way social media is these days it’s hard not to get caught up in the big picture stuff and forget that none of that matters if you don’t focus on the game you’re playing that week. I think it’s something we’ve built into our mentality as a program. Every group is different but what isn’t different, in terms of what we’ve tried to establish, is the type of leadership we’re looking for from the veterans. It’s those guys that hold everybody accountable and they keep the team focused. It’s my job to help filter out all of the outside noise and keep everybody focused on what’s going on inside our building and at practice. It’s my job to get their eyes on 1-0 by reminding them about what we can control and what we can’t control. We control what we do in the game for that week. We don’t control other games and outcomes and we can’t win this week if our attention is on next week or even worse, last week. Be in the moment and seize that moment. That’s what we want them to do every day. Win that day.”
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.