JONESBORO — Head coach Butch Jones took note of what he described as a lackluster Tuesday practice as Arkansas State prepared to play Memphis.
Then the Red Wolves missed numerous tackles Saturday in their 55-50 loss to the Tigers, who scored six of their eight touchdowns on plays that covered 40 or more yards.
“We always talk about your practice habits turning into game day realities. We did not have a good practice last Tuesday,” Jones said Tuesday. “We didn’t tackle very well, we didn’t run to the ball very well, and what I’m hoping is in the course of the evolution of a team, there is always one defining moment that you can grow from and get better, and you can always lean back on that moment. That’s what I’m hoping, that was a moment where OK, we got it.
“We talk about pride in preparation, and we didn’t have great preparation. We really didn’t invest in victory on Tuesday; it was more survival than it was getting better. … I’m hoping for our football team in all three phases, it was a great learning experience we never have to go through again.”
Jones said most of the Tigers’ big plays were a byproduct of missed tackles, players who weren’t in the proper gaps and a lack of discipline in execution.
Memphis had touchdown runs of 70 and 75 yards along with a 4-yard plunge. The Tigers completed touchdown passes of 55, 40, 50 and 75 yards, plus another from 17 yards.
Jones, whose team travels to Washington this week, said Saturday’s defensive issues against the run began with eye discipline.
“We were gapped out, we had no gap integrity, so you don’t even have a chance to get the ball down. That’s the thing. You can give up a couple of explosive runs, 12 to 15 yards, you get the ball down and you live another down,” Jones said. “We didn’t even have the opportunity to live another down. They were in the end zone. That’s the thing that was disappointing, that we have to get corrected in a hurry.
“We’re responsible for what we create. Our identity is on video now. Everyone around the country has our video and until we prove we can stop it and get it corrected, we’re going to see it over and over and over again.”
ASU (1-1) yielded more than seven yards per carry as the Tigers finished with 263 rushing yards. Averaging 19 yards per completion, Memphis passed for 417 yards and finished with 680 total.
Tackling was an issue in the secondary as well as the defensive front.
“I believe we had five 5-yard completions that turned into explosive plays and touchdowns, which is unacceptable,” Jones said, “and those are catastrophic plays from a momentum standpoint.”
The Red Wolves fared better defensively in their opening victory over Central Arkansas, holding the Bears to 42 net rushing yards and 338 total.
“We have a really good defensive staff. I believe in them 100 percent. What we do has proven it works. There’s fact checks involved, it’s proven its worth over time,” Jones said. “They know what they’re doing and we have players who want to do it. …. It’s teaching them the discipline, the accountability and all that. When you have that, you’re going to get it rectified. I can promise you that. We’re going to do everything we can to get it rectified.”
ASU finished with 680 total yards as Layne Hatcher and James Blackman combined to pass for a school-record 582 yards. After relieving Hatcher late in the third quarter, Blackman passed for 308 yards and four touchdowns to lead a late rally that fell just short.
A week earlier, Hatcher posted more impressive statistics in relief of Blackman, passing for 150 yards and four touchdowns.
Jones said those statistics speak volumes for the quarterbacks and for the way they are prepared in practice.
“They get the same amount of reps, so they’re being prepared as though they’re the No. 1 quarterback and they get the same amount of reps with the ones and the twos,” Jones said. “You learn through reps and they’ve been able to do that, but really it’s a tribute to their preparation and staying on task and being a team player.”
Jones described ASU’s offense as inefficient in the first half, especially running the football. The Red Wolves finished with 98 rushing yards.
“When you look at the video, it’s kind of the same adage, nine guys doing their job and one or two individuals not executing their assignment, and what could be an explosive play for us turns into a 2-yard run play,” Jones said. “I think it’s just continuing to improve and get better with those things, but we thought we left a lot of plays out there.”
ASU is preparing for its first road game of the season, Saturday’s trip to Washington (0-2). The game will be the Red Wolves’ third ever against a Pac-12 opponent after losses to Oregon in 2012 and Southern California in 2015.
Kickoff is set for 3:15 p.m. (CDT) in Seattle.