JONESBORO — The ground game hasn’t been Arkansas State’s game most of the season.
ASU went into last weekend’s game at Louisiana-Lafayette averaging only 105.7 rushing yards per game. In the three games leading up to their matchup with the Ragin’ Cajuns, the Red Wolves averaged less than 80 rushing yards.
They beat those numbers by quite a bit Saturday, though they fell short on the scoreboard as the Cajuns prevailed 27-20 on a touchdown in the last two minutes.
ASU (3-5, 1-4 Sun Belt) finished with 199 yards rushing on 44 attempts, both season highs. Head coach Blake Anderson said the ability to run the football helped the Red Wolves find rhythm that was missing in the previous week’s 38-10 loss to Troy.
“Getting the running game on track helps a lot. We always talk about even though we’re a spread team and love to throw the ball, when you run the ball effectively, it makes everything work better,” Anderson said during Monday’s weekly press conference. “The threat of the run and that it can hurt you, I think we’re starting to get back to establish that.
“That’s one of the best things about the Kansas State game. When you go back and look at our biggest win of the year, we were super balanced. The run game bailed us out a lot throughout the day. It did that this week, we just missed the key opportunities we had to score.”
The Red Wolves had 159 yards on 33 carries in their 35-31 upset of Kansas State. They also had 181 yards on 36 carries in a 50-27 victory over Central Arkansas, but struggled against Georgia State and Appalachian State, then ran the ball only 27 times against Troy.
Offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said he couldn’t have been more proud of the line and running backs against UL Lafayette. Senior Nour-Eddine Seidnaly made his first start of the season in place of injured junior left tackle Jarrett Horst, while junior left guard Andre Harris Jr. returned to the lineup after missing the previous four games with an injury.
Making his first start, freshman running back Lincoln Pare picked up 121 yards on 22 carries.
“When you get a guy like Lincoln in the backfield and what he’s able to bring, you can feel the difference,” Heckendorf said. “He runs hard and he’s got something special about him. We can definitely build off of that.
“We knew going into this game last week we were going to need that run game to step up and I’ll be honest, if you had told me we going to outrush them in the game, I would have told you we were going to win. We’re frustrated that we didn’t win, because we felt like we left some points out there, but what we were able to do in the run game, what we were able to establish, opened some things up in the throw game as that game went.”
Senior Jamal Jones added 76 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Quarterbacks Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher combined to pass for 224 yards against the 25th-ranked Cajuns, who are giving up only 187.1 passing yards per game.
Anderson lamented missed opportunities in a first half that ended with ASU leading 6-0. The Red Wolves settled for two field goals and missed a third in a half where they drove inside the 10-yard line twice and inside the 20 on another occasion.
“I thought we had several opportunities in the first half that could have gotten the ball in the end zone. A couple of timing plays on offense were a little bit off,” Anderson said. “I thought we had Brandon Bowling a couple of times where we could have gotten him in the end zone and we were a little bit off. We had first and goal at the 4 and we lost yards on the first play on a run play that technically we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”
ASU played without senior Dahu Green, its second-leading receiver with 32 receptions for 542 yards and five touchdowns. Anderson said Green had been playing through a knee problem and is unlikely to play the rest of the season, though he is expected to return in 2021.
Junior Roshauud Paul started in place of Green on Saturday. Heckendorf said he’s confident Paul and sophomore Jefferson Foreman can help take defensive attention off senior Jonathan Adams Jr., the Red Wolves’ top receiver.
“They’ll go out there and do a great job. They’ll force people to cover them and not give Jay double-coverage attention,” Heckendorf said.
ASU hosts Louisiana-Monroe (0-8, 0-5) on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
The Warhawks lost 52-34 at Georgia State last Saturday. The Monroe News-Star reported that ULM suspended all football-related activities Monday because of positive coronavirus cases among athletic department staff. The Warhawks hope to resume football activities as early as today, the report said.