JONESBORO -- The last time Arkansas State University played a football game, it may have appeared that the sky was falling.
Trailing 21-0 in the first half, ultimately losing by two touchdowns and allowing 722 yards of offense at Georgia State can do that.
At a glance
Arkansas State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
WHEN 6:30 p.m.
WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
RECORDS ASU (3-3, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference); Louisiana-Lafayette (4-2, 1-1)
COACHES Blake Anderson (42-27 in six seasons at ASU); Billy Napier (11-9 in two seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette)
RADIO KFIN-FM, 107.9, in Jonesboro; KHLR-FM, 106.7, in Little Rock
SERIES Louisiana-Lafayette leads 25-20-1
LAST MEETING Louisiana-Lafayette defeated ASU 47-43 on Oct. 27, in Lafayette, La.
LAST WEEK ASU had a bye week; Louisiana-Lafayette lost to Appalachian State, 17-7, last Wednesday night in Lafayette, La..
NOTEWORTHY ASU and Louisiana-Lafayette are tied for second with Texas State in the Sun Belt West at 1-1. Louisiana-Monroe is in first at 2-0. … Tonight is ASU’s first home game since a 41-28 victory over Southern Illinois on Sept. 21. … Louisiana-Lafayette leads the series with ASU 10-7 since the two schools have been in the Sun Belt. … The home team has won 15 of the past 18 meetings.
Twelve days have passed, and the Red Wolves (3-3, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference) have had plenty of time to press reset, while still pore over the many issues that face them in the second half of the season.
The Sun Belt West Division is up for grabs, which also means so is winning the league title, and despite the mass amount of injuries and defensive woes, ASU is still right where it wants to be.
"I think we kind of had to take a step back and again re-evaluate where we're at, that we're still in control of what happens to us if we can find a way to manage the issues that have been created through the season," ASU Coach Blake Anderson said Monday. "I don't want to panic. We've lost to two really good teams leading up to this game. We've found holes and problems during [the Georgia State] game, and they did a great job.
"It's not like we went out and played a bad team. They're a good football team. We don't want to panic, but we do want to be realistic about what this team looks like moving forward and make sure that we give this group of guys the best chance to succeed, and I think we're doing that."
The Red Wolves open the season's second half with a big test tonight in Jonesboro against Louisiana-Lafayette (4-2, 1-1). ASU has planned a "blackout" of the stadium. It's a matchup of the two schools predicted to finish first and second in the Sun Belt preseason coaches poll.
Louisiana-Lafayette and ASU have plenty of history together, and Anderson indicated Monday that this matchup has essentially turned into a rivalry game for both programs.
In 2014, during Anderson's first season at ASU, the Sun Belt had to issue public reprimands for multiple members of each team following the Red Wolves' 55-40 loss to the Ragin' Cajuns in Lafayette. That game featured eight unsportsmanlike conduct fouls and two ejections.
In 2016, ASU lost again in Lafayette, 24-19, late in the season but was still able to capture the Sun Belt title. The following year, ASU drubbed the Ragin' Cajuns 47-3 in Jonesboro.
Last year, the Ragin' Cajuns beat ASU 47-43 in Lafayette in October. That game proved to be the difference at the end of the season in the Sun Belt West when Louisiana-Lafayette and ASU each finished tied for first in the division at 5-3, allowing the Ragin' Cajuns to advance to the conference championship game against Appalachian State because they held the head-to-head tiebreaker.
"We don't make any bones about it -- we don't like them, they don't like us, and we're gonna hit each other for about 60 minutes," Anderson said.
The Ragin' Cajuns bring the top rushing offense in the Sun Belt to Centennial Bank Stadium. They are averaging 282.2 rushing yards per game, which also ranks sixth nationally, and 38.2 points per game, which is second in the league.
Louisiana-Lafayette running backs Elijah Mitchell, Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais have combined for 184 carries, 1,362 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Ragas averages 9.1 yards per attempt, while Calais is averaging 7.8 and Mitchell 5.9.
"They're physical. Really physical," ASU defensive coordinator David Duggan said. "I think their running backs run hard. I mean they're big, physical running backs and they try to knock you off the ball with their offensive front. It's gonna be a big challenge for our defense this week."
Containing the Ragin Cajuns' running game was easily Anderson's biggest concern during his news conference Monday. That's also partly due to the Red Wolves having so many key injuries on the interior defensive line.
Junior nose tackle Forrest Merrill is out for the rest of the season with a torn bicep, and Anderson announced that two more defensive tackles, senior Tony Adams and sophomore Hunter Moreton, are done with season-ending injuries.
The positive news is that senior defensive tackle Kevin Thurmon, who hasn't played since the Southern Illinois game on Sept. 21 because of a broken hand, is expected to play tonight, but how many reps he can go and how effective he can be wearing a protective cast on his surgically repaired hand remains to be seen.
The Red Wolves once again plan to do a lot of rotating on the defensive line during the game to help keep a unit with limited bodies fresh.
"We just got to continue to rotate as many live bodies as we can and be as good as we can for the amount of snaps that we can be," Anderson said. "That's the million dollar question -- how many snaps can a guy be effective? And that's different for Forrest than it is for somebody else."
ASU can't afford another outing where its defense struggles as bad as it did against Georgia State to get off the field. ASU's big-play offense has been the strength of the team all season, even after redshirt freshman Layne Hatcher took over for injured Logan Bonner at quarterback. But even that side of the ball has been pushed to its limit over the last two games when opponents have scored 52 and 43 points. The Red Wolves were 1-1 in those outings.
"We got the same mentality every week -- we got to score one more point than our opponent, and whatever that looks like each week can be different," ASU offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said. "That's our job, is to score every time we get the ball."
The outcome of tonight's game could have significant implications as far as the Sun Belt West is concerned at the end of the season. That proved to be true last year for both teams.
After a week off, ASU's quest for a third Sun Belt title under Anderson and ninth consecutive bowl appearance resumes tonight in Jonesboro.
"We know what our challenge is. We know what we're up against," Anderson said. "We're just not gonna sit here and tell you we're gonna put everything on hold and restart next year. That's not it. We're gonna find a way to win."
Sports on 10/17/2019
Print Headline: ASU hoping holes have been patched