A-State coaches see progress from Murray

Arkansas State’s Marcel Murray tries to elude a defender during a game last month against Central Arkansas.

JONESBORO — Whether Marcel Murray is ready to be part of Arkansas State’s backfield rotation this week remains to be decided, but head coach Blake Anderson and offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said they saw good signs from the junior running back when the Red Wolves practiced Sunday.

Murray has played in only two games because of injuries, including an ankle injury that has kept him out of the last four games. After running for 1,680 yards in his first two seasons at ASU, he has just 63 yards on 10 carries this fall.

Heckendorf said Murray probably looked the best he has all season when the Red Wolves practiced Sunday in preparation for this week’s game at Texas State.

“You go back to last year’s game against Texas State and some of the runs he had in that game, he looked like the back we anticipated having,” Heckendorf said Monday during ASU’s weekly football press conference. “He looked like that game-changing running back that can break tackles, can make people miss. That guy, I’m starting to see glimpses of that again.”

Murray, who missed the first two games after suffering a groin injury in fall camp, had four carries for 11 yards at Coastal Carolina in a game where ASU had the ball less than 19 minutes. He produced 52 yards on six carries against Central Arkansas.

When asked how the Red Wolves would mix in Murray with freshman Lincoln Pare having taking on a lead role in the backfield, Anderson said it depends on Murray’s health.

“Is he truly 100 percent or is he playing through some discomfort? He looked better (Sunday),” Anderson said. “I don’t know that if we would have played (Sunday) that he would have been ready to go like we want him to.

“At that point, I think they kind of become a 1-2 punch, which is what we expected them to be earlier in the year. Marcel’s (injury) has just lingered and lingered. I don’t want to get too excited about it until he gets tackled a few times and you know he’s going to be able to get through it without aggravating the injury, to be honest with you.”

Senior Jamal Jones started the first seven games at running back. Pare made his first start against Louisiana-Lafayette, running for 121 yards on 22 carries, and leads the Red Wolves with 436 yards on 69 carries.

Heckendorf said running backs coach Desmond Lindsey will put the players on the field who give ASU the best chance to be successful. Adding a healthy Murray to Pare and Jones would be an added benefit, he said.

“Three guys, I’ll take it every time. We can do some things with possibly having two of those guys out there at the same time,” Heckendorf said. “We haven’t really had that luxury this season yet just because of some of the injuries we’ve had at that position, but getting (Murray) on the field would be an added benefit to our offense. He makes us a better football team. We will try to in every way, shape or form get him involved.”

Anderson described Murray as day to day along with other Red Wolves who received unexpected time off to heal last week when ASU’s game against Louisiana-Monroe was postponed because of the Warhawks’ COVID-19 issues.

ASU’s game against ULM was postponed until Dec. 12. The Warhawks will be off again this week after cancelling Saturday’s game against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La., because of COVID-19 concerns.

Anderson said the Red Wolves tried to use last week to recover after a tough stretch. After watching Sunday’s practice, he felt that approach helped.

“We had a good tempo practice, guys bouncing around. It sounds like guys are feeling a little bit better,” Anderson said. “Hopefully that’s going to carry us through the stretch. We dug ourselves a hole, we need to dig ourselves out of it. We want to maintain the winning season streak, the bowl streak. That means we have to win games to do that and we need healthy guys on the field to get that done.”

ASU (3-5, 1-4 Sun Belt) plays its final road game of the season Saturday at Texas State (1-9, 1-5). Kickoff in San Marcos, Texas, is scheduled for 2 p.m.