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ASU's Anderson puts focus on morale of Wolves

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Photographs by John Sykes Jr.

Arkansas State football coach Blake Anderson is shown in this file photo speaking at the Little Rock Touchdown Club.

JONESBORO -- The issues that surfaced Tuesday night revealed Arkansas State University is troubled beyond a 35-9 loss to Appalachian State at Centennial Bank Stadium.

Two consecutive Sun Belt Conference losses into 2018, and the Red Wolves (3-3, 0-2 Sun Belt) have descended into a rut.

Without much time to decompress after Tuesday's 26-point loss, ASU Coach Blake Anderson was asked what is his primary concern is about the 2018 Red Wolves.

"That's a huge question," Anderson said. He then replied, "Morale."

"Just finding confidence," Anderson said. "Just believing that it's possible. Believing that we can correct the problems. Believing that we can go on a run.

"We're capable of it. We can be 9-3 at the end of the year if we just right the ship, relax and play ball the way we're capable of playing. I've seen that happen before. I've been a part of that before. Can this team do that?"

Limited team depth and an offense lacking confidence contributed to the first pair of consecutive conference losses since 2014.

A reinvention of the offense is unlikely, but a change in the personality of the program is on the table.

"I don't know. It's possible," Anderson said. "I really don't know. I know we've taken the smallest game plan two weeks in a row to try to build confidence and find a way. Obviously, that has not been the answer.

"As a coach, to be good at your job, you've got to self-assess -- from play-calling, to design, to scheme, to all of the above to make sure that we're giving this group of guys the best opportunity. And I don't know what that looks like yet. I don't think you know that until you go dissect every aspect of it.

"That's how I'm built, that's what I'm going to do. I'm not trying to blame anybody else. It's my job. That's where it's got to start."

The Red Wolves, who have not scored a touchdown in six of their past eight quarters, entered the losses to Georgia Southern and Appalachian State with smaller game plans -- ones intended to make life easier for the inexperienced players.

Tuesday, ASU lived on short-to-intermediate passes, and 37 of 82 total plays were rushes, a plan to keep Appalachian State's explosive offense sidelined.

Sixteen of ASU's 25 completions from senior quarterback Justice Hansen were for less than 10 yards. The offense did produce three field goals in the first half, but none of ASU's 16 drives produced a touchdown.

"That's what we saw on film and stuff," ASU junior receiver Kirk Merritt said. "We were trying to attack that more. But we lost the game, obviously, so we've got to keep working."

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Arkansas State wide receiver Kirk Merritt (front) is tackled by Appalachian State linebacker Jordan Fehr during the third quarter of the Red Wolves’ 35-9 loss in Jonesboro on Tuesday. ASU lived on sho...

Another possible reason for ASU's short-passing plan was to rely less on its offensive line, which allowed a season-high six sacks Sept. 29 at Georgia Southern and has three first-year, full-time starters. Quicker passes also can provide more receptions and give confidence to an offense in desperate need of some.

Yet, the season is fully fixable.

A crisp offensive drive (or two) accented with a touchdown could spark enough life to restore order to ASU's offense. Fifty-one days is plenty of time to right a ship that began course as the league's preseason favorite to claim a sixth Sun Belt title in eight years.

"Knowing that there were tremendously high expectations at the beginning of the year, you don't want to let everybody down," Anderson said. "I know there will be a bunch of people that jump off the bandwagon -- that's fine. The people that stay, hopefully they'll stick through it with us, and we'll find a way to start playing better ball. That's the goal. We're going to keep working."

Up next

GEORGIA STATE AT ARKANSAS STATE

WHEN 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18

WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro

TV ESPNU

Sports on 10/11/2018

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