JONESBORO — Butch Jones and Jake Spavital are still looking for their respective football teams to play a complete game this fall.
One more opportunity remains for both squads.
Arkansas State and Texas State will close the season when they meet Saturday afternoon at Centennial Bank Stadium. Both teams are coming off road losses to two of the Sun Belt Conference’s four bowl-eligible teams as ASU fell 28-20 at Georgia State and Texas State tumbled 35-21 at Coastal Carolina.
Jones, who is concluding his first season as ASU’s head coach, said he saw progress defensively, but the Red Wolves (2-9, 1-6 Sun Belt) continued to struggle offensively with negative plays that put them in long-yardage situations.
“We have to be able to play our best football game. We have not yet as a team, in terms of complementary football, played all three phases, playing together, for 60 minutes. I’ve seen it at times,” Jones said. “Our players have worked hard. We have to continue to teach them and we have one more opportunity with this football team together. The one thing I can tell you is they’ve been very consistent and they’ve worked very hard.”
ASU’s defensive numbers have improved over the last month. After a six-game stretch where the Red Wolves allowed 47.8 points and 618.7 yards per game, they have limited opponents to 32.8 points and 422 yards per game over the last four games.
Offensively, the Red Wolves are averaging just 72.3 rushing yards per game after finishing with minus-3 against Georgia State. The Red Wolves have allowed 43 sacks and 91 tackles for loss according to NCAA statistics, numbers that rank among the bottom five in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Georgia State finished with six sacks and 15 tackles for loss, contributing to ASU finishing 5-of-19 on third and fourth down combined.
“From an offensive standpoint, it’s kind of been the storyline pretty much the entire season, first down efficiency. We were very poor,” Jones said. “It’s really hard to move the ball effectively when you give up tackles for loss and sacks, and you can’t mount any type of run game. We have to continue to get better. We have one week left. It’s very important for our seniors and every player in our program.”
Texas State (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt) was tied at 21 with Coastal Carolina late in the third quarter before the Chanticleers pulled away on a couple of Grayson McCall touchdown passes.
Spavital is 8-27 in his third season as head coach at Texas State, which hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2014. He was proud of the way his team fought on the Chanticleers’ senior day.
“I always take a lot of pride in that because a lot of teams will quit in these moments, and we didn’t back down,” Spavital said during Monday’s Sun Belt teleconference. “We’ve got one more opportunity versus Arkansas State this weekend and hopefully we can put up the same effort, the same fight, play clean football and put four quarters together, make some plays and try to play a complete game, which we’ve yet to do this year. I think our kids are excited to get out there, one more opportunity, and have some fun with this game.”
Texas State played turnover-free football and had only one penalty last weekend.
The Bobcats ran for 188 yards against the Chanticleers and finished with 301 total yards. Their most recent victory was a 27-19 decision against Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 6, a game in which running back Jahmyl Jeter ran for 95 yards and three touchdowns.
Finishing with a victory would be big for Texas State, Spavital said.
“This school, if you come out with four wins, which is not saying much, it would be the most that they’ve won since 2014 here,” Spavital said. “I think we’ve been more competitive than what we’ve ever been and our kids sense that we’re close if we keep working on ourselves. I think that would be a big game to end with a victory and get some momentum going into the offseason.”
Jones described this as the last opportunity for everyone in his program to put their football identity on video, not only Saturday but through the week.
Freshmen such as offensive lineman Makilan Thomas, who saw extended playing time at guard against Georgia State, and wide receiver Omari Walker, who had his first career reception last week, figure to see more action.
Thursday’s plans include a scrimmage for the Red Wolves who won’t see playing time against the Bobcats.
“We’re going to have our first annual Turkey Bowl, or Thanksgiving Day scrimmage, of players who are redshirting, or the players who won’t be competing on Saturday,” Jones said. “When the season concludes, we will have video on everyone in our program, so everyone has had ample opportunities to really put or showcase themselves on video.”