A-State staying with two-QB approach

Arkansas State quarterback Logan Bonner hands off to running back Ryan Graham during Saturday night’s game at Memphis.

JONESBORO — Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher posted similar statistics Saturday night in Arkansas State’s 37-24 loss at Memphis.

The two quarterbacks also received similar grades when ASU coaches evaluated video of the season opener, head coach Blake Anderson and offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said Monday, and figure to play in a similar rotation Saturday when the Red Wolves visit Kansas State.

Bonner was the starter against Memphis, while Hatcher played every third series. Anderson said the Red Wolves will continue to play both quarterbacks against the Wildcats.

“We’re not trying to count plays. If they’re going out in their series and the ball gets moved, then they’re out there longer than if it doesn’t,” Anderson said during his weekly press conference. “We’re happy with it. They both responded really, really well to it. I think they see the benefit in both of them staying fresh and ready to go.

“It’s a little unique obviously, but times are unique, so we’re trying to be prepared for what may happen. If one was playing significantly better than the other, it would be different. If the team responded differently to one versus the other, it would be different, but they don’t. They’ve handled it very, very well.”

Bonner, who started the first four games last season, was Saturday’s starter. He completed 14 of 23 pass attempts for 133 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions.

Hatcher, who was named Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year last season after becoming the starter in the fifth game, was 13-of-20 for 166 yards.

“I thought they both played really well,” Heckendorf said. “Grade-wise, they both graded out very similar, within a couple of percentage points of each other, which is obviously good to see. Logan, it was the best he’s graded out in the five games that I’ve had him and Layne graded out one of his highest.

“That, to me, goes back to the preparation they both put into it. You could tell they knew what to do and where to go with the ball, and I thought they did a really good job identifying looks, especially some things we hadn’t seen.”

Both quarterbacks led touchdown drives in the first quarter. Bonner led another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, finishing with a 1-yard touchdown pass to TW Ayers, and Hatcher moved the Red Wolves to Memphis’ 11-yard line in the final period before the Tigers held on downs.

Anderson said Bonner made a bad choice with a pass over the middle that was intercepted in the second quarter, but made good decisions otherwise, as did Hatcher. Bonner’s second interception came in the third quarter on a deep pass against one-on-one coverage.

“Both graded out in terms of decision making really well. They both moved in the pocket well and our team responds to both, so we’re fortunate in that sense,” Anderson said. “I think any time you throw the ball to an opponent, you want that one back, but the deep ball, I wasn’t concerned about it. We were taking a shot.”

Anderson said the Red Wolves didn’t play their best football against Memphis, last year’s American Athletic Conference champion.

Offensive miscues included dropped passes and problems picking up twists by the Tiger defensive front. ASU’s defense yielded 502 total yards, including 275 passing yards and four touchdowns to Memphis quarterback Brady White.

“Defensively there are a lot of guys playing out there who have not played very much before and that’s probably where the most glaring issues were,” Anderson said. “Miscommunication, misalignment, missed assignments. You’re playing a very good Memphis offense to start with, with a veteran quarterback, and we did not give ourselves a chance to be really, really competitive. That’s a place where we have to grow up quickly.”

ASU kicker Blake Grupe earned Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week honors after making all three extra points and a 28-yard field goal.

Saturday’s game in Manhattan, Kan., will be the season opener for Kansas State. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on FS1.

The Wildcats upset eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma on their way to an 8-5 finish last season.

“I think the only thing we have going in our favor is they’re going to have a lot of new people. They’ve got three new starters on the defensive front, four new starters on the offensive front, lost some running backs,” Anderson said. “I’m hoping we catch them still trying to figure out a little bit who they are and maybe that plays to our favor. Beyond that, they’re going to run well, they’re going to play aggressive ball defensively and it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.

“But our guys, I’ll tell you, even last night coming off the Memphis loss, they took ownership and they are excited about the opportunity.”