By Jeff Greenberg
The Arkansas State Red Wolves went on the road to take on Coastal Carolina. Head Coach Blake Anderson and his crew came home with a resounding 44-16 victory. All phases of the game were clicking for the Red Wolves as they put together one of their more complete games of the season. We caught up with Coach Anderson to discuss this win and more in this week’s edition of The 5th Quarter.
- 1st Quarter: In the locker room after the game the main thing you told your team is that you were proud of the way they improved once again from week to week. What areas were you most proud of with their improvement? – “First, I was most proud of their focus during the week and then the focus they showed after we left Jonesboro. They had a great week of practice. But you could see it in them from the time we boarded the plane, in the hotel, at meals and in their meetings. The guys were dialed in. They have listened to us about shutting out the outside noise. Ignoring the voices outside of this locker room. You can’t win on the road if you’re distracted. Trust me, there’s plenty to distract them too. Guys are banged up and doing everything they can to be ready to go when the ball is kicked off. It may have looked like we had some guys back, and we did, but that doesn’t mean they’re at 100%. So that could have been a distraction, but it wasn’t. We had guys who had never set foot on a beach before, so the travel aspect could have been a distraction, but it wasn’t. They could have taken this team lightly after seeing we were favored, but they didn’t. Our guys took care of the little things on our road trip. They were on time. They knew their assignments before we even had to remind them. They took the field with a purpose from the moment they stepped off of the bus. I could list some more areas I was proud of but really, all of that is due to everything I just explained in terms of focus and maturity. That’s why we won this game.”
- 2nd Quarter: You mentioned the fact that it looked like you had a full complement of players for this game, but in reality looks may be deceiving. What did you mean by that? – “Well, yes, we had some guys back in this game, which was great to see. But it goes back to the old “hurt vs injured” mindset. We have guys that were able to return to the lineup but that doesn’t mean they’re at 100%. I don’t think any team is totally healthy at this point in the season. I feel like every week we have somebody go down for good or will be very limited for a week or two. But our guys keep battling through pain and battling through discomfort to get the job done. It really is a credit to their toughness. Some have to manage their week of practice just to make it to Saturday. Some can give us a certain amount of plays, but they’re willing to do whatever they can to help the team. Other guys we have to just shut them down from game to game because we won’t put anybody in harm’s way unless they’re cleared by our medical staff. All I can say is that it says a lot about the culture of our program and the mindset our players have to want to do anything they can to be on that field. It takes a special group of players to battle the way our guys are battling right now. That’s why we’re fired up to get to work every day with this group. When you see what they’re doing to play, how can you not want to match that dedication?”
- 3rd Quarter: Your offense seemed to be able to do whatever they wanted in this game. What’s it feel like during a game when you realize the game plan you developed was the exact right plan and you see it playing out that way in front of you on the field? – “That’s hard to put into words. Obviously it’s very satisfying when a plan comes together and the guys are out there executing it at a high level. When everybody is on the same page and the game plan is working it’s just a ton of fun. It makes for a fun night. Not just because of how you feel, but when you see it on the faces of your players, that’s the best feeling. When you can see their confidence building and they get that look like they can accomplish anything you ask them to do on the field, it’s just an awesome feeling. What it also did was allow us to get more guys into the game and get some experience. At the same time, that allowed us to get some guys out of the game early and get them the rest they needed. But it all starts on Sunday and then builds each day up until kickoff. To be able to do it on the road makes it sweeter because it’s hard to win on the road. I thought our guys believed in the plan and that’s when you know you have a chance. When everybody is ready and everybody believes in what they’re about to do.”
- 4th Quarter: A big takeaway from the Louisiana game was the need for the defense to have better gap-responsibility and prevent the big play. This is two games in a row now where the defense seems to be doing exactly that. How do you think they’ve responded since that Louisiana game? – “I think the first thing they did was come back into work with accountability for their play. Nobody was pointing fingers at anybody. They came back in and owned up to where each man needed to be better. Each day they paid attention to what the coaches were explaining to them in their meetings and on the field in practice. I think you saw it play out last week, but especially in this game against Coastal. Guys were where they needed to be and we were getting a ton of hats to the ball on every play. Even when a guy would break through the line we were getting them to the ground before they could turn it into something bigger. That’s the key too. Guys are going to break containment but then it comes down to getting guys to the ground before they turn it into an explosive play. Get the guy down and reset for the next play. I think our guys get that and that was one of their keys to this game and will be for every game moving forward. We need to build on two solid weeks of defense and turn that into three solid weeks of defense. The challenge will be there this week and we need to rise to that challenge.”
- 5th Quarter: College athletics can be life-changing for players. This past week you guys traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and for some guys it was their first time seeing a beach. What’s it like for you to see the impact of what playing college football can have on a kid? – “It’s special man. And you’re right. When the guys got off of the bus I heard a coach ask some guys when the last time was that they saw the beach. Some guys responded, “Coach, I’ve never been to a beach.” So you had guys out there running around on the sand like little kids in a candy store. It’s really gratifying to see how guys’ lives can be changed by playing college football. You’ll have guys that have never left the state they were raised in or have never been on an airplane until they fly to their first road game. Beyond the success on the field, it’s about making these guys successful off of the field. I’m proud to be coaching for a university that values that to the point where we guarantee your job placement after you graduate. Where we offer opportunities to experience things you can’t get anywhere else. We have guys studying in Europe and having the opportunity to do things you can’t do at other places. We’re a family here. It’s part of how we approach everything we do here. Changing lives is what we’re all about and it’s one of the best parts of my job. I love it all.”
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.