Anderson says ASU secondary dealing with several issues

Arkansas State’s Jamal Jones eludes a defender during last Saturday’s game at Texas State. The Red Wolves host South Alabama on Saturday.

JONESBORO — Problems with pass defense showed up again in Arkansas State’s sixth loss of the season.

Texas State quarterback Brady McBride earned Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors at ASU’s expense. McBride completed 32-of-45 passes for 443 yards and five touchdowns as the Bobcats edged the Red Wolves 47-45 Saturday in San Marcos, Texas.

“We could not create pressure and just did not play well in coverage,” ASU head coach Blake Anderson said Monday during the Red Wolves’ weekly football press conference.

While ASU (3-6, 1-5 Sun Belt) ranks sixth among conference teams in rushing defense after limiting Texas State to 62 yards, the Red Wolves are last among the 10 teams in pass defense while allowing 317.1 yards per game. They’ve given up a league-high 28 touchdown passes, including three or more in six different games.

ASU was unable to pressure McBride, sacking him only once, and did not force a turnover. Anderson gave McBride credit for a flawless performance, but said several issues have impacted the back end of the Red Wolves’ defense.

“I think experience is an issue. Obviously we knew that going in, not growing up quite like we want to there,” Anderson said. “I think confusion, I think at times we either carry too much or just really with the inexperience, don’t really understand exactly what we’re wanting to get done there.

“I think those have been factors. … I would say inexperience and confusion and just miscommunication at times are plaguing us over there, and there’s a physical factor. Obviously we’ve been dealing with it all year. We won’t really get our true legs back until we get in the offseason, so we’re trying to manage and play at a high level, having gone through a whole lot. I think you just combine all those things together and at times we’re kind of our own worst enemy over there.”

Twelve different players have started in ASU’s secondary, where junior strong safety Antonio Fletcher is the only player who has started every game. Six different players have started at cornerback, including a couple of freshmen.

Anderson said ASU, which is giving up a Sun Belt-high 39.6 points per game, has not established an identity defensively.

“You go from offensive style to offensive style to offensive style. What we felt like would give us a chance to compete against Lafayette looked a little different from (Texas State) this week,” Anderson said. “I think the transition from one week to the next, really we didn’t do a great job of that. We had a lot of mistakes. We obviously played fairly competitively against Lafayette, a big, physical team, but we didn’t transition over this week very well. I think that is where the inexperience comes in. I don’t know exactly what our identity is there. We have to find it, haven’t found it yet.”

The Red Wolves finish with three consecutive home games, including Saturday’s game against South Alabama (3-6, 2-4 Sun Belt). Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.

ASU finished the Texas State game with a season-high 654 total yards. Quarterbacks Layne Hatcher and Logan Bonner combined to complete 27-of-48 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns.

While freshman running back Lincoln Pare suffered a dislocated elbow and is out for the rest of the season, Anderson said, the Red Wolves still finished with 192 yards rushing. Senior running back Jamal Jones had his first career 100-yard game, finishing with 106 yards on 16 carries.

“I really felt like we probably played our most complete game offensively in terms of combining the run game and the passing game, but the reality of it is we came up a play short,” offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said. “There’s plenty of plays in that game where you could change the result of one play and you’ve got a different result in that ballgame. You can do everything right in terms of your preparation, you can do everything right throughout the week, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything. But that’s life.”

Anderson said he was encouraged by the offense’s performance and frustrated with the outcome.

“We have not been able to for quite a while, honestly probably since Kansas State to be truthful when you look at the season,” Anderson said, “to get both sides of the ball to play really, really competitively at their best in the same game.”