JONESBORO -- There's been a noticeable difference in the identity of Arkansas State University's offense the past two games.
An offense that spent most of the first half of the season with deep touchdown strikes in the passing game has since cooled off and been limited in that phase. Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State's defensive game plans adapted by making a point to contain the downfield attack and instead dare ASU to run or throw underneath.
Arkansas State at Louisiana-Monroe
WHEN 2:30 p.m. Central
WHERE Malone Stadium, Monroe, La.
RECORDS ASU (4-4, 2-2 Sun Belt Conference); Louisiana-Monroe (3-4, 2-1)
RADIO KFIN-FM, 107.9, in Jonesboro; KHLR-FM, 106.7, in Little Rock
COACHES Blake Anderson (43-28 in sixth season at ASU and overall); Matt Viator (17-26 in fourth season at Louisiana-Monroe and overall)
SERIES ASU leads 26-14 all time.
LAST SEASON ASU defeated Louisiana-Monroe 31-17 in Jonesboro
LAST WEEK ASU defeated Texas State 38-14 in Jonesboro; Louisiana-Monroe had a bye week.
NOTEWORTHY ASU is a 11/2-point favorite over Louisiana-Monroe. … ASU has won the last nine meetings over ULM. … ASU is 2-2 in road games this season. … ASU sophomore cornerback Nathan Page will not play due to suspension. Page was arrested Wednesday in Jonesboro and charged with third-degree domestic battery of a pregnant person.
So do the Red Wolves (4-4, 2-2 Sun Belt) expect more of the same looks today on the road against Louisiana-Monroe (3-4, 2-1)? Not necessarily, and that's because of what ASU coaches saw on tape earlier this week of the Warhawks' defense, one that is prone to playing aggressively.
"They show that they're not afraid to play man coverage. They've gone and played it against everybody, Florida State included, and didn't back down from those matchups," ASU offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said. "I think that you'll get pressure. They're built more to take away the run and force you to throw it, where [Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State] were built more to take away the throw game and force you to run it. We're going to find ways to take what they're willing to give us and not have to force a square peg into a round hole."
The jury is clearly out by now on ASU's passing attack, which has benefited heavily this season from the playmaking of senior wideout Omar Bayless, junior wideout Jonathan Adams and senior slot receiver Kirk Merritt.
Bayless leads the nation in receiving yards with 1,070, receiving touchdowns (12) and is fourth in receptions (60). Merritt has 40 catches for 464 yards and 7 touchdowns, while Adams has 40 catches for 463 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher has stepped in seamlessly ever since junior starter Logan Bonner underwent season-ending surgery for an injury to the thumb on his right throwing hand. Hatcher has completed 67.4% of his throws for 1,200 yards, 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 4 starts.
For the last two games, with how opposing defenses have played ASU, there's been a resurgence of Marcel Murray. The sophomore running back has combined for 57 carries, 278 yards and 2 touchdowns in the last 2 games.
"That takes a lot of pressure off. It makes the defense account for something else, so it kind of opens them up more in some ways," Hatcher said. "It's just a great boost for the offense to see that we can hurt you in different ways. We've got great wideouts that are great at running and catching but they're also great at blocking, and the O-line's been doing a great job opening it up for Marcel and he's been going to work for sure."
But the Red Wolves' running game could be put on the backburner, which was the case for much of the first half of the season, if Louisiana-Monroe's defense gives the type of looks ASU has seen on film.
"I fully expect these guys to get up in your face, play man coverage and bring pressure," Anderson said. "[Louisiana-Monroe Coach Matt Viator] is not afraid to do that."
Heckendorf and Hatcher both pointed to Louisiana-Monroe's matchup at Florida State on Sept. 7. The Warhawks took Florida State into overtime before falling 45-44. The Seminoles had 501 yards of offense, including 282 passing, but also threw 2 interceptions. According to Heckendorf and Hatcher, Louisiana-Monroe wasn't afraid to play aggressively then and leave corners on islands.
"Against Florida State, with some of the best athletes in the country, they went man-to-man and loaded the box," Hatcher said. "So we expect them to do that to us."
If the Warhawks opt to continue with that brand of defense, the Red Wolves are hoping to take advantage on the outside with their big-play receivers.
"We feel great about our receivers out there. We think we have some of the best receivers in the country," Hatcher said. "We love one-on-one matchups with those guys, and if they want to take away the run, then we'll go throw and we'll throw to those guys and see what we can do."
Louisiana-Monroe's defense has still proven to be plenty vulnerable this season. The Warhawks rank dead last in the Sun Belt in scoring defense, allowing 37.3 points per game, and ninth in total defense, letting up 492 yards per game. But the Warhawks do have a league-leading eight interceptions this year.
"I think [last week's victory over Texas State] was a big boost in confidence, and we definitely believe that we're gonna win out and we think we should win out," Hatcher said. "It's just a matter of us doing it now, and we feel confident that we have the ability and the coaching and the scheme to do so. We feel really good about it and that's our goal and that's not gonna change."
Sports on 11/02/2019
Print Headline: Red Wolves look to attack pressure