JONESBORO — Whatever happens next in what senior linebacker Justin Rice called “the COVID year,” Arkansas State’s football team probably won’t be surprised.
The Red Wolves have postponed two games this season because their own COVID-19 issues. They saw a game pushed back last week because of an opponent’s COVID-19 concerns. They’ve seen opponents drop off the schedule, opponents added to the schedule and kickoff times change.
Just this week, ASU announced a new opponent (Incarnate Word) for Dec. 12 and a new date (Dec. 5) for last week’s postponed game against Louisiana-Monroe, which has canceled a game against Louisiana Tech this week as well. The Red Wolves learned Wednesday that the starting time for Saturday’s game at Texas State has been moved to 11 a.m. to accommodate an ESPNU telecast.
“We just take it day by day and whatever happens, we just have to understand this is the COVID year,” said Rice, who transferred from Fresno State to ASU this year. “Whatever happens, we’re just happy to be playing 12 games and if they need us to play at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, we’ll be there and we’ll play. We’re just kind of taking it in stride.”
ASU (3-5, 1-4 Sun Belt) is on track to play a full 12-game schedule with Tuesday’s addition of Incarnate Word, a Football Championship Subdivision team from the Southland Conference. The Cardinals were scheduled in place of Tulsa, which was set to visit ASU in September before the Red Wolves postponed the game.
Saturday’s game at Texas State (1-9, 1-5) was initially the 11th on ASU’s schedule. After playing the Bobcats, the Red Wolves finish with home games against South Alabama, ULM and Incarnate Word.
ASU head coach Blake Anderson said the Red Wolves were preparing last week for ULM until midway through Tuesday’s practice. Telling the team that the game was off was just another conversation at that point, he said.
“They appreciated a couple of days, I think, to work on their bodies,” Anderson said. “I think if you tell them we have canceled a game, that’s different, but to know we’re still going to play the game, they handled it really, really well. I don’t think it surprised anybody at this point with all we’ve been through.”
Junior quarterback Logan Bonner said the unplanned open week gave the Red Wolves time to get their bodies right and get a head start in preparing for Texas State.
“It’s kind of weird to say that it’s pretty normal this year, games getting canceled, but we got kind of a tip that they canceled their operations a day before, so we knew that was a possibility,” Bonner said. “But we know that’s a possibility for every week. Anything can happen between now and Saturday for this game. We all know the aspects of this year and how different it is. I think the people who don’t blink and take it as they go benefit the best.”
Junior safety Antonio Fletcher said the Red Wolves simply have to be ready to play when it’s time.
“We don’t let it beat us up or anything that we can’t play our game, if we have to switch,” Fletcher said. “We were supposed to play ULM, we were game-planning on ULM, and we just had to switch to Texas State. I don’t think it affected the whole team at all, really, because our mindset is that we have to play the next opponent no matter who it is.”
With teams around the country starting their seasons at different times and games being canceled or postponed on a weekly basis, the Red Wolves have received plenty of national television exposure.
Saturday’s game at Texas State will be ASU’s seventh national television appearance of the season. The Red Wolves played on Fox against Kansas State; on ESPN against Memphis, Georgia State and Appalachian State; on ESPN2 against Coastal Carolina; and on ESPNU against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“We knew coming in that we would have a lot more games this year nationally televised,” Bonner said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for us every week that we get those games and show out for our brand as a program.”