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story.lead_photo.caption Blake Anderson ( Jeff Gammons)

JONESBORO -- A ninth consecutive bowl appearance for Arkansas State University is essentially guaranteed at this point, but Coach Blake Anderson maintains there's plenty of growth he wants to see out of his team.

The Red Wolves (7-4, 5-2 Sun Belt Conference) take a four-game winning streak into the final week of the regular season.

All that remains before an impending bowl trip is a sleepy Black Friday matchup against South Alabama (1-10, 0-7). Kickoff from Mobile, Ala., is set for 4 p.m.

Anderson said he doesn't expect the Jaguars, whose lone victory came against Jackson State in Week 2, to lie down.

"Gonna have to go on the road against a team [whose] record is bad but will play their best game against us. They just always seem to do so," Anderson said. "Don't expect a lot from the environment, so we're gonna have to bring our own energy.

"Coming off an emotional, physical game, the challenge to me is get that emotional charge and go down there, carry that on the road in an environment that's not gonna create it for you."

Anderson, who's repeatedly stated over the past month that he expects ASU to finish the regular season with eight victories, has the Red Wolves one more victory away from achieving that goal.

When asked Monday whether ASU is playing its best football of the season, Anderson didn't want to pat his team on the back too much.

"I don't know. We're playing well enough to win. That's really all that matters," Anderson said. "I still think there's a lot of room for improvement.

"We showed probably 15 or 20 clips [Sunday] night as a staff to the team where we can still get better, and that's what we're trying to fight to do. We want to continue to improve this week. I think it's hard to determine whether or not we're playing our best ball or not."

Triple Option prep

Georgia Southern's prolific Triple Option offense was largely held in check by ASU in Saturday's 38-33 victory, something that wasn't lost on Anderson.

"Very, very proud of the defense and how they played the Triple Option," Anderson said. "That's probably as good as we've played that scheme since we've been here, and it was done with a lot of guys that were plugged in to spots that they typically don't play, with a scheme that really was a good bit different than what we've been doing the last few weeks."

ASU defensive coordinator David Duggan was also pleased by his unit's performance.

"Felt that the guys played and executed it pretty well," Duggan said Monday. "With the exception of a couple guys getting bumped out of gaps and things like that, I thought we played pretty well stopping the option part of the game."

But that defensive performance didn't come as a result of a normal week's worth of preparation. It had been months in the making.

Anderson revealed after Saturday's game that ASU's staff spent considerable time in the offseason figuring out better ways to defend against the Triple Option, all in an effort to slow down Georgia Southern in late November.

"We worked on it for a couple weeks, just talking with people and evaluating film and cross-checking keys and reads and things like that," Duggan said Monday. "It's one that you have to be really dialed in to."

That led Duggan to reflect on the first time he faced a Triple Option offense.

"My very first game facing a Triple Option team, I'm thinking, 'I got it.' I'd been working this in for several weeks," Duggan said. "First play goes for a touchdown. I'm like, 'Uh-oh.' Second play goes for another touchdown. I'm going, 'I'm screwed.' And finally we figured it out that our pitch play was playing dive to quarterback to pitch.

"Once you get all your bugs worked out, that's what happens. But you do spend a sizable amount of time preparing for them."

Bonner update

Junior quarterback Logan Bonner has progressed so much from a season-ending thumb injury on his throwing hand that he's been throwing the ball to ASU receivers during pregame warmups the past few weeks.

Bonner, who initially hurt his right thumb in the season opener against SMU, battled through it the first four games before it worsened to the point of requiring season-ending surgery Sept. 25 to repair a torn ligament.

Anderson said Monday that Bonner was "ahead of schedule" in his recovery and that he's expected to be full go in the spring.

"He's able to cut loose and throw the ball however he wants to at this point, which is great to know going into spring," Anderson said. "He shouldn't have any issues at all. By the time he gets through the holidays, he ought to come back in January ready to work, and he's itching to get back at it."

Asked whether Bonner could practice once bowl practices ramp up next month, Anderson didn't want to make any proclamations.

"He'll continue to do what he's doing. Just kind of picking up a little bit more reps every day," Anderson said. "He's just getting himself back in good shape and throwing, and we don't want to rush it, make sure we don't set him back at all. But everything's been good to this point."

In four games, Bonner completed 59.5% of his throws for 1,052 yards, 10 touchdowns and 1 interception.

No Biletnikoff Award

Despite leading the nation in receiving yards and being tied for first in receiving touchdowns, senior wide receiver Omar Bayless was not named a finalist Monday for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation's best receiver.

LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and USC's Michael Pittman were the three finalists.

Bayless, who's already broken the single-season program records for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns this year, broke the Sun Belt Conference's single-season receiving yards mark during ASU's victory over Georgia Southern on Saturday. He tallied 7 receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown in the victory.

Bayless has totaled 80 catches -- which is tied for fifth nationally -- for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award last week.

Sports on 11/26/2019

Print Headline: Anderson wary of Jaguars

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