JONESBORO — A last-minute touchdown pass lifted Arkansas State to a one-point victory over Coastal Carolina when the Chanticleers last visited Centennial Bank Stadium in November 2019.
So much has changed since that day.
After losing at Louisiana-Monroe the following week, the Chanticleers started the 10-game Sun Belt Conference winning streak they will bring into tonight’s 6:30 kickoff in Jonesboro. Coastal Carolina (5-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) is ranked 15th nationally and heavily favored to beat ASU in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.
The Red Wolves, who saw a nine-year run of bowl appearances end in 2020, are trying to find their way after losing 11 of their last 16 games. First-year ASU coach Butch Jones said there are no quick fixes in building a program.
“I know everyone wants instant results,” Jones said. “Nobody wants it more than myself, but in order to build a culture, to build everything in a program, your principles, your values, what you’re going to stand for, your competitive grit, your competitive character, your toughness mentally and physically, it takes time to build a program.
“You build it through recruiting high school (players), by developing your players and then supplementing your roster. If there’s ever a blueprint for you, you have to look at Coastal Carolina.”
ASU (1-4, 0-1 Sun Belt) ranks last nationally in total defense after giving up 500-plus yards in each of its last four games, all losses. Offensively the Red Wolves remain among the national leaders in passing, but they have struggled to run the ball and give up an average of four sacks per game.
When asked during Monday’s Sun Belt media teleconference what difference he sees between the Red Wolves now and when the Chanticleers entered the league in 2017, Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell said ASU still has good players and a good system in place.
“I think any time you transition to a new coach – I went through this – when you’re trying to put your culture in, there’s a change there sometimes,” said Chadwell, whose team has won 17 of its last 18 games. “Sometimes there’s growing pains with that and I’m sure with Coach Jones, they’re going through a little bit of that, just trying to make sure they establish what he wants, but when I turn the video on, I still see good players.
“I still see a team playing hard, playing with effort and wanting to win and expecting to win. I think that’s how it’s been there for a long time.”
Coastal Carolina features the national leader in passing efficiency in sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall, who has passed for 1,113 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Chanticleers have scored 241 points, the most in the Sun Belt, and they’ve yielded only 70, the fewest in the league.
Preparing for Coastal Carolina’s offense is difficult in a short week, Jones said, saying the Chanticleers essentially use three schemes. Coastal Carolina kept the ball more than 41 minutes in walloping ASU 52-23 last season.
“They’ve always been a good team. I know they’re ranked 15th in the country now,” ASU senior linebacker Caleb Bonner said. “They’ve got very talented guys in the quarterback, running backs and receivers. We just have to be disciplined in our reads and our fits.”
ASU gave up 503 rushing yards last weekend in a 59-33 loss at Georgia Southern. Big plays continue to haunt the Red Wolves, who have given up 14 scoring plays of 40 yards or more.
James Blackman, who has started the last three games at quarterback, has passed for 1,264 yards and eight touchdowns, with four interceptions. Only Mississippi State, New Mexico State and Fresno State have thrown more passes than the Red Wolves, who are averaging more than 50 attempts per game.
Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, is the only team in FBS that has yet to allow a touchdown pass this season. ASU second-year freshman wide receiver Corey Rucker, the Sun Belt leader with six touchdown receptions, is looking forward to the matchup with the Chanticleer secondary.
“They’ve got some good DBs and I think it will be a good opportunity for me to show the nation again that I’m one of the best in the country,” said Rucker, who has caught 28 passes for 458 yards. “We’ve got some other receivers who are ready to step up and make plays, and I’m really excited for the opportunity.”
ASU is making two appearances on ESPNU this month. The Red Wolves will play another Thursday night home game in two weeks against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Jones said a national television appearance is a privilege.
“I think that’s also the respect that this program has, the respect for what’s going on and the expectations,” Jones said.
“Any time you play on national television, that’s a four-hour commercial for your student body, for your campus environment, for Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas. Recruits around the country get to watch us. Obviously we need to perform, but it’s an opportunity and a privilege.”