STATESBORO, Ga. — The issues that surfaced during Arkansas State's non-conference schedule followed the Red Wolves into Sun Belt Conference play Saturday afternoon.
Georgia Southern took advantage of the Red Wolves' defensive deficiencies and made them one-dimensional on offense during a 59-33 rout of ASU at Paulson Stadium. The Eagles rushed for 503 yards, two yards shy of the all-time ASU opponent record, and held the Red Wolves to 91 on the ground.
All but five of ASU's net rushing yards came in the fourth quarter after Georgia Southern (2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt) had the game in hand.
Head coach Butch Jones described the Red Wolves' performance as unacceptable.
"We made way too many mistakes. Everyone wants to point to the second half, but really those mistakes, they become magnified, and they started in the first half," Jones said. "We had an opportunity to seize momentum. We knew we had to seize momentum and we drop a touchdown pass, we miss a field goal. Then we give up a third-down conversion and then we give up an explosive play, and it kind of snowballed there.
"Then in the second half they dominated the line of scrimmage and it's really hard to do anything when that happens. It's not going to be accepted in our football program."
ASU (1-4, 0-1 Sun Belt) has given up 500-plus total yards in each game of its four-game losing streak, with Georgia Southern finishing at 540.
All seven of Georgia Southern's offensive touchdowns came on the ground, including scoring runs of 59, 41, 59 and 47 yards. The Red Wolves have given up seven touchdown runs of 40 or more yards in five games.
Fourteen of the 29 touchdowns given up by ASU's defense have come on plays covering 40 yards or more. The average scoring play against the Red Wolves' defense in the first five games covered 36.4 yards.
ASU passed for 443 yards on Saturday. James Blackman complete 28 of 43 passes for 292 yards and two scores, while Layne Hatcher completed 8 of 18 for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Blackman was sacked six times and threw three interceptions, while Hatcher threw one interception. Georgia Southern, which didn't force a turnover in its first four games, scored 13 points off Saturday's takeaways.
ASU shuffled its offensive line during the game, inserting Jacob Still at center. Ethan Miner moved from center to left guard as Ivory Scott shifted to right guard.
"The quarterback situation, whether it's James or Layne, is the furthest thing from our issues right now. We have to start playing winning football up front, first and foremost," Jones said. "I did think we ran the football a little bit more effectively at the end of the game, but it's the same deal as last week. It's a line of scrimmage game and you have to be able to stop the run, and you have to be able to run the ball, but you also have to be able to protect the quarterback."
Corey Rucker led 12 different ASU pass-catchers with seven catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
Logan Wright led the Eagles’ rushing attack with 208 yards on 10 carries, while Jalen White added 157 yards on 14 attempts.
Georgia Southern's rushing total fell just short of the all-time ASU opponent record. Austin College was credited with 505 rushing yards against ASU in 1954.
The Eagles became the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to rush for 500 yards in a game this season.
Georgia Southern opened the scoring with a 59-yard rushing score by Wright before ASU got on the board via a 31-yard field goal by Blake Grupe. The Eagles led 10-3 after the first quarter, with Alex Raynor drilling a 25-yard kick with just over a minute left in the period.
ASU tied it at 10 when Blackman found Rucker for a 2-yard touchdown pass, but the Eagles found the end zone on the next drive on a 23-yard scamper by Gerald Green. On Georgia Southern’s next possession, the Red Wolves’ defense forced a punt from the back of the end zone. Kivon Bennett blocked the kick, resulting in a safety to make it 17-12.
The Red Wolves reclaimed a 19-17 lead on another Blackman-to-Rucker connection, this time for 19 yards. Georgia Southern scored 14 unanswered to end the half, as Wright and J.D. King scored from 41 and 5 yards, respectively, giving the Eagles a 31-19 lead at the half.
Georgia Southern continued to score in the second half with rushing scores by Justin Tomlin (6 yards) and White (59 yards) and a pick-six by Quin Williams to lead 52-19 early in the fourth. Hatcher found Dahu Green (16 yards) and Lincoln Pare (13 yards) for a pair of scores to cut it to 52-33, but a 47-yard score by White closed things out for the Eagles.
A-State returns home for a nationally televised contest Thursday against 16th-ranked Coastal Carolina. Kickoff from Centennial Bank Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
"If you're a competitor, you're obviously very disappointed and embarrassed at this performance, and you can't play soon enough," Jones said. "I know I'm looking forward to it and I hope our players are looking forward to a great venue to play in at Centennial Bank Stadium, to finally get back at home in front of our great fan base.
"You're playing a Top 25 opponent and they're not going to feel sorry for us, and we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to have great preparation starting when we get back to Jonesboro."