JONESBORO — Blake Anderson believes Arkansas State is better than its sub-.500 record suggests. He holds the same opinion of this week’s opponent.
Texas State has lost nine of 10 games, including its last seven, but the Bobcats have been agonizingly close to victory on multiple occasions. Four of their losses have been decided by a combined 15 points, including last weekend’s 40-38 loss at Georgia Southern.
The Bobcats opened the season with a seven-point loss to SMU. They lost to Texas-San Antonio and Boston College by three points apiece, the former in double overtime after missing an extra point late in regulation and the latter after leading by 14 points in the third quarter.
“To me, there are tons of challenges. I think we’re a better team than our record indicates and I think they are, too,” said Anderson, the Red Wolves’ head coach. “This year, who knows? With COVID, who’s in and who’s out, who’s recovered and who’s not, man, some of the records, I’ve never seen them look quite like they look with really good football teams. That’s just the nature of the season. We have to play them, we can’t worry about the record, and going down there is always a challenge anyway.”
The Red Wolves and Bobcats kick off Saturday in San Marcos, Texas, at 11 a.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
ASU (3-5, 1-4 Sun Belt) is looking to stop a three-game losing streak. Before having last weekend’s game against Louisiana-Monroe postponed because of the Warhawks’ COVID-19 concerns, the Red Wolves felt they missed opportunities in a 27-20 loss at West Division winner Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 7.
“We had opportunities to win against Lafayette, just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. Dropped balls, kind of off here or there, give up an easy one, and we can’t afford to do that,” Anderson said. “We need to win out to put ourselves in the best bowl picture possible and secure a winning season, and that’s going to be a huge challenge when you consider how well they move the ball and their ability to score points.”
ASU still ranks last among Sun Belt teams in scoring defense (38.6 points per game) and total defense (482.1 yards per game) despite some recent improvement under interim defensive coordinator Nick Paremski.
The Red Wolves gave up one offensive touchdown in the second half of their 38-10 loss to Troy and held UL Lafayette scoreless in the first half.
“We’re definitely trying to change the culture, trying to understand that we should be able to win if the offense only scores three points,” senior linebacker Justin Rice said. “That’s kind of been our mindset. We’ve been definitely getting more disciplined and executing a lot better, and it’s proven to be working for us so far.”
While the Lincoln Pare-powered ground game produced a season-high 199 rushing yards against UL Lafayette, the Red Wolves didn’t reach the end zone until the fourth quarter. ASU continues to lead the Sun Belt in pass offense, averaging 338.9 yards despite recent struggles.
“We’ve missed too many opportunities in the last two weeks, just a little bit off here and there,” Anderson said. “I’m encouraged that we ran the ball better. That would be huge if we could establish the run and get it going early, but when you get guys open, you call the right play at the right time and get guys open, we have to connect.”
Texas State (1-9, 1-5 Sun Belt) is scoring more points and also giving up more in Jake Spavital’s second season as head coach. The Bobcats have used two quarterbacks, with sophomore Brady McBride finishing the Georgia Southern game after junior Tyler Vitt suffered a wrist injury.
McBride has passed for 1,280 yards and 11 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, and is also capable of making plays outside the pocket, ASU coaches said. The Bobcats have six receivers with 18 or more receptions, led by junior Marcell Barbee with 32 receptions for 464 yards and a Sun Belt-high nine touchdowns.
Paremski said the Red Wolves have to be sound in pass coverage, avoiding the breakdowns Georgia Southern had on a couple of big touchdown passes Texas State completed last week.
“You can’t give guys layups. That’s how teams get beat,” Rice said. “If you make a team earn it, it’s really hard for a team to earn it against a team that’s as talented as us. As long as we make teams earn it, it’s going to be real tough to score against us.”
Junior safety Antonio Fletcher said the Red Wolves need to pick up where they left off against the Cajuns.
“I think this game, this week, we just have to come out with that same energy that we left Lafayette with and we’ll be just fine,” Fletcher said. “We’ve got the offense’s back just like they’ve got ours, so we’ll be fine.”