JONESBORO — Arkansas State can’t slip again and avoid a losing season.
The Red Wolves have to win each of their last three games to break even in 2020. They get to play all three at home, starting Saturday against South Alabama in a game where both teams hope to stop a four-game losing streak.
“I’m glad we get to play at home, it seems like it’s been forever since we have,” ASU head coach Blake Anderson said. “The challenge for us right now is just getting a complete game put together as a football team and see if we can get through the first one. We’ll worry about the next two after that.”
Kickoff Saturday at Centennial Bank Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.
ASU (3-6, 1-5 Sun Belt) hasn’t suffered a losing season since 2010. To avoid that fate this fall, the Red Wolves have to beat South Alabama (3-6, 2-4 SBC) on Saturday, Louisiana-Monroe (0-8, 0-5 SBC) on Dec. 5 and FCS member Incarnate Word on Dec. 12.
“We’ve been battling hard for a win for a while and just trying to get through this season with some positives,” said Anderson, whose team hasn’t won since beating Georgia State on Oct. 15.
The Red Wolves watched their last two games slip away in the closing minutes. Louisiana-Lafayette scored a late touchdown to beat ASU 27-20 and Texas State scored in the final minute last week to earn a 47-45 victory over the Red Wolves.
ASU lost last week despite amassing 654 yards in its best offensive showing since the Georgia State game.
“How they practiced, how they prepared, how they played, the energy and everything about it, it gave us a chance to win,” offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said. “I’m proud of them for that, but disappointed for them at the same time because they did enough at times that we could have won.
“To see the disappointment in the locker room, to see the tears and the crying and the hurt, that part hurts as a coach because you want to put them in a position where they can be successful, you want to put them in a position where they can have those smiles in that locker room. That’s been the frustration, but a new opportunity this week and a new challenge.”
While South Alabama has been stingier than Texas State over the course of the season, the Jaguars gave up 556 yards in last week’s 31-14 home loss to Georgia State. The Panthers scored the game’s final 24 points after trailing 14-7 in the third quarter.
The Jaguars also watched a fourth-quarter lead slip away in a 24-17 loss at Georgia Southern and, early in the season, couldn’t hold an 18-point lead in a 27-24 loss to Tulane.
Anderson said South Alabama coach Steve Campbell has a unique ability to get his team to be physical on both sides of the football, as the Red Wolves learned in last year’s 34-30 loss to the Jaguars.
“If you think back to last year, they just physically manhandled us on both fronts. We were beat up at the time, but they just picked the spots and areas that they knew they could attack, and they owned the front,” Anderson said. “I know we made a game of it, actually took the lead there, but going into that game, they had not shown really the ability to do that, and for him to be able to rally them and get that done, that says a lot about him, especially with the season they had. This year, I see the same thing. When they’ve played well, it’s because they’ve been really physical up front.”
ASU has been able to run the ball effectively recently, gaining 199 rushing yards against UL Lafayette and 192 against Texas State. The Red Wolves got their passing game going again last week as Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher combined to throw for 462 yards.
South Alabama averages only 20.1 points and 357.7 yards per game, ranking 11th in the Sun Belt in both categories. Jaguar quarterbacks have been sacked 33 times, the most in the Sun Belt.
“At the end of the day, they want to run the ball. They’re going to run the ball, they’re going to max up protection, they’re going to take shots, especially after seeing what happened against us last week,” ASU interim defensive coordinator Nick Paremski said. “They’re going to max up and say, ‘Can they cover us on the outside?’”
The Red Wolves gave up 443 yards passing and five touchdowns at Texas State. They rank last among Sun Belt teams in pass defense and are giving up a league-high 39.6 points per game.
Jaguar quarterback Desmond Trotter enjoyed a big day against ASU last season, throwing for 279 yards and four touchdowns. Trotter has passed for 1,531 yards and nine touchdowns this season, with three interceptions.
Carlos Davis, a 5-10, 205-pound sophomore, is South Alabama’s leading rusher with 642 yards and three touchdowns.
“It will look different. You take a wide-open spread offensive team that you see in Texas State and we know that’s not South Al’s personality,” Anderson said. “They’re going to come downhill at you. They’re big, physical, that’s just kind of the brand of ball they play. It’s going to be a change of scenery for us defensively.
“Offensively we’ve got to take the next step and show we can do that two weeks in a row, and hopefully we can.”