Wolves' passing game hits big plays


Photographs by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo

Blake Anderson watched his team scrimmage Saturday. The Red Wolves open the season Sept. 2 at Nebraska.

JONESBORO -- Armond Weh-Weh ran his receiving route toward the sideline and looked into the open field at Centennial Bank Stadium.

" 'Gosh, I'm so open,' " the senior running back recalled thinking, moments after Arkansas State University's final scrimmage of fall football practice.

Normally, Weh-Weh said, the play -- which wheels the running back down the sideline toward the end zone -- doesn't even unfold during practice; the quarterback always gets sacked before he can get a pass off.

"This time he threw it, perfect ball, and I caught it," Weh-Weh said.

The 30-yard touchdown was one of many long-distance touchdown receptions highlighting the Red Wolves scrimmage Saturday afternoon. The performance backs up senior wideout Dijon Paschal's statement at the team's media day July 28 that the offense would be "taking more shots down the field" this season.

The score also highlighted Weh-Weh's first game-style action since he missed most of the 2016 season with an ACL injury. Weh-Weh tweaked his ankle during practice a week ago and missed the Aug. 5 scrimmage.

"I'm just taking it day by day and being patient," said Weh-Weh, who said he's confident enough in his left knee that he's "not even wearing my knee brace on it anymore."

Weh-Weh worked in repetitions with a running back group led by 5-5, 179-pound junior Warren Wand, who had a 39-yard run on the first drive of the scrimmage.

"I think this group is going to do some special things this year," Weh-Weh said. "We got a group of guys that can all go. It's definitely exciting."

Freshman backup quarterback Logan Bonner connected with Weh-Weh on the touchdown, and junior starter Justice Hansen led off the scrimmage with two of his own -- both to senior tight end Blake Mack.

Hansen completed a 37-yard pass deep to the left sideline to senior slot receiver Chris Murray, who had caught the ball looking almost directly above him as he slid safely to the sideline.

ASU Coach Blake Anderson moved Murray from outside receiver to inside receiver at the start of fall camp because Anderson believed Murray could be a threat on the inside.

"We figured out it was the right move Day One," Anderson said. "It gave us size on the outside; it gives us speed on the inside. And what we're doing up front creates some problems. Puts him in space that he's not normally been in, and I think he's really liking what we're doing with him."

Junior defensive back Justin Clifton "was a little upset" seeing the multiple shots completed downfield and receiving touchdowns.

"[The receivers] have a lot of height," Clifton said. "It's a good threat deep for us. Those guys come out here and ball out every day just as we do. So it's great competition for us for what we might see during the season."

Clifton and the ASU defense had 10 sacks during the scrimmage, revealing issues on an offensive line that does not have a returning starter. Sophomore guard Troy Elliott, who started two games last season, did not play in the scrimmage and was wearing a boot on his left foot. Anderson said last week that he had a minor ankle injury and should be back soon.

"The five [offensive linemen] that we're going to play with at no point were out there together," Anderson said. "I thought we lost some continuity and some communication, and we had some young guys who were out of position. We have to get them healthy and working together."

Senior defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones and senior defensive lineman Dee Liner were both held out of the scrimmage, but they were not nursing major injuries.

There is still a competition for the starting positions at placekicker and punter. Sophomore kicker Sawyer Williams and freshman Blake Grupe book-ended the scrimmage by both making a 35-yard and 42-yard field goal but missing a 47-yard field goal.

Sophomore punter Damon Foncham kicked a 47-yard punt that landed on the defense's 6, and sophomore punter Cody Grace kicked a 36-yard punt to the defense's 7.

"I like the competition we have in those positions," Anderson said.

ASU opens the regular season at Nebraska on Sept. 2.

Sports on 08/13/2017

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