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story.lead_photo.caption Blake Anderson ( Jeff Gammons)

JONESBORO -- Under different circumstances, Saturday would have generated far more smiles after Arkansas State University's 28-27 victory over Coastal Carolina at Centennial Bank Stadium.

The Red Wolves became bowl eligible for the ninth consecutive season, which means their eight-year bowl streak should extend another year.

But the frustrated faces of ASU Coach Blake Anderson, redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher and senior receiver Kirk Merritt in the postgame media room told a different story.

Five turnovers and a season-high 14 penalties will do that. It was a game that almost got away from the Red Wolves, who were nearly two-touchdown favorites.

"You could not have tried to lose a game any more than we did," Anderson said Monday.

Offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf on Monday addressed his unit's shortcomings.

"Five turnovers and seven penalties, that causes a lot of frustration, and it's hard to win football games when you do that. Feel very fortunate that we were able to find a way," Heckendorf said. "Sometimes you have bad days. We had a bad day on offense, but we found a way to win, and I'll take that any day of the week.

"We came in here as an offensive unit, as coaches, you had that little pit in your stomach that you didn't feel great about your performance, but we were able to learn it in a win. Imagine how we'd have felt if we wouldn't have won that game."

Anderson said the team watched about 15 clips from the Coastal Carolina game in Sunday's team meeting that highlighted some of the Red Wolves' issues.

"We talked about the things that have to be done differently," he said. "If that stuff happened in Week 1, Week 2, with a bunch of young guys, it's one thing. When it's still happening at this point in the season, we obviously have to pay better attention to detail.

"When I know I've heard it be talked about and coached in the room and then it's not getting carried over to the field, the ownership of the guys, they got to take it seriously, they got to do it right."

ASU (6-4, 4-2 Sun Belt) has won three consecutive games, but a potent Georgia Southern team (6-4, 4-2) comes to Jonesboro on Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff in the Red Wolves' home finale.

The Red Wolves are 27-5 in their past 32 November games, which dates back to the 2011 season, Hugh Freeze's lone year as head coach. ASU also has won eight consecutive games in November.

The Sun Belt West division title remains unlikely, as Louisiana-Lafayette (8-2, 5-1) stayed a game ahead of ASU in the standings after escaping South Alabama 37-27 on the road Saturday. The Ragin' Cajuns, who beat ASU 37-20 in Jonesboro on Oct. 17, would have to lose their final two games at home against Troy and Louisiana-Monroe for the Red Wolves to sneak into the league title game, assuming ASU can win its last two games.

ESPN, CBS Sports and 247 Sports are projecting the Red Wolves to go to the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 21, which would be appropriate considering the bowl's mission of breast cancer awareness and what ASU experienced in August with the death of Anderson's wife, Wendy.

Nothing will be definitive, though, until bowls matchups are announced Dec. 8.

"I love the fact that we're in that position," Anderson said of ASU's eight-year bowl streak, which ranks inside the top 15 nationally. "You look at what Virginia Tech's done, it's not easy to have a 26-year bowl streak [which leads the nation]."

Last season, four teams who had been bowl eligible -- Louisiana-Monroe, Southern Miss, Wyoming and Miami (Ohio) -- were passed over. All four play in Group of 5 conferences. Considering nonfootball factors such as TV ratings and ticket revenue play a significant role, getting to six victories doesn't make for postseason guarantees for Group of 5 teams.

The Red Wolves know there's only one way to guarantee anything.

"We got to keep winning. Chances of being as many as six or seven teams eligible in our league, that's possible. I mean there's still a lot to happen over the last couple weeks," Anderson said. "We know we have to win out to even have an opportunity [for the Sun Belt title], and we need help along the way.

"I told [the team] the truth -- don't expect 6-6 to get you to a bowl game. You can be sitting at home very easily."

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STACI VANDAGRIFF
Quarterback Layne Hatcher and his teammates will try to put a frustrating performance against Coastal Carolina behind them when they take on Georgia Southern on Saturday in Jonesboro.

Sports on 11/19/2019

Print Headline: Wolves not content with bowl eligibility

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