JONESBORO — Those familiar with Sun Belt Conference football already knew what Jonathan Adams Jr. can do.
Others were introduced to Arkansas State’s top wide receiver on Saturday, and the senior from Jonesboro High School made quite a first impression.
Adams seized the spotlight as the Red Wolves upset Kansas State 35-31 in a game nationally televised by Fox Sports. He caught eight passes for 98 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 38 seconds remaining to give ASU its first victory over a Power Five conference opponent since 2008.
Accolades rolled in Monday for the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, who was named Offensive Player of the Week in the Sun Belt and Offensive Player of the Week nationally by Athlon Sports. He was also recognized as the Senior Bowl’s Senior of the Week on offense.
ASU offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said he wasn’t surprised by the difficult receptions Adams made against the Wildcats, adding that in some ways he has come to expect them.
“You see it in practice. Our defensive guys will tell you the same thing, they see it all the time,” Heckendorf said. “We get to that first week of games and they’re sick of going against him because of those plays.”
Adams nearly made a highlight-reel touchdown catch Saturday while drawing a pass interference penalty in the first quarter, but the one-handed grab was ruled incomplete because he briefly lost control of the ball when falling out of bounds. ASU went back to Adams on the next play for a 2-yard touchdown pass.
In the fourth quarter, with ASU on the K-State 5, Adams made a one-handed touchdown catch against tight coverage to give the Red Wolves a 28-21 lead.
Heckendorf said ASU (1-1) wanted to get the ball to Adams on its final drive. The Red Wolves found an opportunity to go Adams’ way on second down from the 17-yard line and he got inside position on defensive back AJ Parker in the end zone to pull in Layne Hatcher’s pass for a touchdown.
“You get into those situations in games and you want to get the ball in your best player’s hands. That was our thought process,” Heckendorf said. “There’s a trust there that he has built up at what he does every day in practice. We had complete confidence, I had complete confidence. We weren’t going to play for the tie in that situation. We were going to put it in his hands and obviously he has proven that time and time again. It was awesome to see that opportunity and that moment for him.”
While Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt rolled up the biggest statistics in ASU’s passing game last year as seniors, Adams was third-team All-Sun Belt with 62 receptions for 851 yards and five touchdowns.
Hatcher was also recognized Monday as one of eight Manning Award “Stars of the Week” at his position. Sharing time with Logan Bonner, Hatcher threw two second-half touchdown passes.
Heckendorf and defensive coordinator David Duggan faced more questions Monday than usual at ASU’s weekly press conference. Head coach Blake Anderson was absent because of sickness that is not related to COVID-19, associate athletic director for media relations Jerry Scott said.
ASU, which hosts Central Arkansas on Saturday, beat Kansas State without several players for undisclosed reasons.
The Red Wolves played without nine players who were listed as starters and 13 total who were first or second team on the depth chart. Scott said the ASU athletic department does not publicly disclose names or numbers in regard to COVID-19 test results.
“Sometimes you get forced into situations where you’re pretty uncomfortable going in, but then it’s kind of a blessing on the other side,” Duggan said. “You have some guys who stepped up in roles where we had to count on them and now they have to play, and now you’re saying, ‘This guy really is ready.’ I think that will help our depth going down the road when we start to get some of these guys back.”
ASU was one of three Sun Belt teams to make waves Saturday by beating a Big 12 Conference opponent.
Louisiana-Lafayette routed then-No. 23 Iowa State 31-14, a victory that propelled the Ragin’ Cajuns into the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 19. Coastal Carolina routed Kansas 38-23.
The Sun Belt has two teams in the AP Top 25 this week with Appalachian State also in the rankings at No. 24.
“It was great for our kids and for the other teams in the Sun Belt to have that opportunity on the national stage to be seen,” Heckendorf said. “I know there’s a lot of people across the country who know who Jay Adams is today who didn’t know who Jay Adams was on Friday. I think that’s awesome for him.”