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Early Sun Belt foes test ASU's tackling

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Photographs by AP/Nati Harnik

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen (15) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.

JONESBORO -- After missed tackles plagued Arkansas State University's football team during a 1-2 nonconference run, defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen said the two run-heavy Sun Belt teams next on the schedule would force his defense to improve.

The first team, Georgia Southern, recorded 333 rushing yards in ASU's 43-25 victory last week, but Cauthen on Monday said he thought the tackling improved.

Up next

ARKANSAS STATE VS.

COASTAL CAROLINA

WHEN Saturday, 6 p.m.

WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro

RECORDS Arkansas State 2-2, 1-0 Sun Belt Conference; Coastal Carolina 1-4, 0-2

INTERNET ESPN3

"They rushed the ball 63 times -- I've never seen that before," Cauthen said. "We missed 14 tackles, and three of those tackles I had to give to two guys, so when you cut that down, we missed 10 tackles in the game. I mean, that's pretty dadgum good compared to where we were."

The ASU defense missed 17 tackles that contributed 175 extra yards in the 43-36 loss to Nebraska in the season opener, and SMU rushed for 314 yards largely because of missed tackles in ASU's 44-21 loss.

As the Red Wolves prepare to host Coastal Carolina (1-4, 0-2 Sun Belt), which runs the Spread-Option like Georgia Southern, sophomore safety BJ Edmonds feels more confident about the defense's most fundamental skill.

"We got a lot of good tackling against a primarily run team," said Edmonds, who had 11 tackles against Georgia Southern before being ejected because of a targeting penalty with 16 seconds left in the first half. "We were facing a lot of pass teams with open-field tackles. And so, we really just focused on tackling. Practiced a lot of tackling during practice, going to the ground, and having the opportunity to face a run team like that, we got to tackle a lot and that helped us."

Cauthen said he watched the Georgia Southern tape twice and noticed the defense was doing a better job of "swarming to the ball."

Tackling became one of the main focuses in practice this week.

"Your guys have to be able to control their feet," Cauthen said. "We spend a lot of time being able to control our speed somewhere around 7 to 8 yards and then be able to control our feet around the hip point. These are all coaching things that we talk about. Coaching verbiage. Getting in the right body position, because if you're not, the tackle may appear to be a launch and you're not going to hit in the strike zone. It's a tough deal.

"You have to be perfect in every opportunity to tackle, or you're going to miss the tackle or you're going to get targeting. So it's a tough situation. You find yourself spending a lot of time on that. And if you don't, it's kind of like shaving, you know, it shows."

ASU Coach Blake Anderson said starting quarterback Justice Hansen is "completely healthy" and is "ready to go" for the Coastal Carolina game.

Hansen was knocked out of the SMU game with a lower back strain, and he returned to throw a career-high four interceptions against Georgia Southern. Anderson said Hansen was "85-90 percent" for that game.

"I'm a lot closer to 100 percent now than I was definitely last week," said Hansen, who is 11th in the nation in passing yards per game (325.3). "It's a little sore. But it's not affecting me at all ... I'm able to do everything I'm able to do."

Anderson also said the starting linebacker vacancy left by the injury to sophomore Tajhea Chambers -- who is out "a few weeks" with an ankle sprain -- will be filled by a committee of sophomore Trent Ellis-Brewer, redshirt junior Antwon Turnage and freshman Caleb Bonner.

"I don't think anybody's really prepared to play an entire game at the position yet," Anderson said Wednesday. "There's things that each of them do better than the other. So a lot of it may be personnel packages.

"It hurts to lose [Chambers] because he played at a real high level. He looked really good before the injury occurred."

"It's devastating, you know, 'cause it's a guy that's been injured since he got here," senior defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones said. "I pray for Tajhea. He's a strong guy. I feel like he'll get back sooner than we think, and the younger guys have been stepping up."

Rolland-Jones earned his first two sacks of the season against Georgia Southern, which ties him for 14th all-time on the NCAA career sack list with Myles Garrett of Texas A&M.

He started the season sackless through three games for the first time in his career.

"It opened up the floodgates, 'cause a lot of them are about to come," he said of his sacks. "A lot of them are about to come."

Sports on 10/12/2017

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