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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas State quarterback Logan Bonner was sacked by SMU’s Delontae Scott on the game’s final play Saturday as the Red Wolves fell to the Mustangs 37-30 at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro. - Photo by Jeff Gammons

JONESBORO -- Nothing about the past two weeks for the Arkansas State University football team has been easy.

Some look-in-the-mirror opportunities have resulted.

Interim coach David Duggan indicated after Saturday night's 37-30 loss to SMU in Jonesboro that he may have overprepared and overemphasized some things with the Red Wolves (0-1) heading into the opener. On Monday, Duggan came back to that theme when reflecting on last week.

"Maybe I prepared them, like I said on Saturday night, maybe I prepared them too much for the challenges of a first game and, basically, I jinxed our team," Duggan said.

Since the passing of ASU Coach Blake Anderson's wife, Wendy, on Aug. 19, Duggan -- who's in his first year as defensive coordinator for ASU -- has been thrust into the interim role. Anderson remains on a leave of absence, and there's been no indication of when his return may come. Anderson did release a statement on Monday.

"It's been two weeks since Wendy went home to be with the Lord, and the support from all across the country has been overwhelming, as it has been over the past two years," Anderson said. "It's impossible to adequately say thank you to so many amazing people who both energized Wendy's fight and who now are carrying me and our kids daily through prayer, texts, hugs, cards, food and so much more.

"I apologize for the crudeness of this attempt to say it, but with so many people to reach out to, it seems the only way to even come close. Thank you to all. Truly blessed and grateful."

Duggan, who hasn't been a head coach since 2006-07 when he led the Cologne Centurions of the now-dissolved NFL Europe, is adjusting on how best to lead the Red Wolves.

"My message is a little bit easier this week, I think," Duggan said. "Not to take anything lightly, but I want them to understand that we have a job to do, we have a focus to do.

"We didn't get the results of the first game that we were looking for, and that hurts. But they all understand that those things happen and all their goals are still ahead of them, and we got to go out and we got to rebound this week and we can't turn back the hands of time."

Unintentionally and coincidentally, Duggan has been placed into a position that Anderson was in prior to last offseason.

In July at Sun Belt media day in New Orleans, Anderson said that relinquishing the offensive play-calling duties had allowed him to take on more of a "CEO" approach with the Red Wolves this year. He admitted certain things got missed in the time he spent deeply involved with the offense.

Now Duggan has had to take on the role of leading the entire team in Anderson's absence while coordinating the defense.

"Coach Duggan has done a phenomenal job. He has stepped in in a very hard situation and has provided great leadership for this football team," offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said. "We could not ask more from him and what he's done in terms of steadying the ship.

"We're all in it together, and that's the reality of it. We came in here [Sunday] and we said, 'Hey, this team's got a choice, and we can look at this game and we can feel sorry for ourselves that we got beat, or we can look at it and go OK, how can we fix it, how can we correct it, how can we be better moving forward, and they took it to heart in the meeting room.' To be honest with you, I expect us to take big steps this week and have a great week moving forward."

The big question is whether it'll translate to the Red Wolves' first road trip this week. ASU heads to Las Vegas to face UNLV (1-0) on Saturday at 9 p.m. Central. UNLV is a 2-point favorite, and the game will be broadcast on Facebook as part of the Mountain West Conference's partnership with Stadium.

The Rebels defeated Southern Utah 56-23 on Saturday in their opener. They had 331 rushing yards and averaged 7.4 yards per attempt.

Last season, ASU beat UNLV at Centennial Bank Stadium 27-20.

The Red Wolves hope to have senior wide receivers Kirk Merritt and Dahu Green back healthy Saturday. Merritt was knocked out of the SMU game in the second quarter after taking a big hit while trying to catch a pass over the middle.

Duggan said Monday that Merritt is day-to-day but would not disclose his injury. When asked whether Merritt was in concussion protocol, Duggan declined to say. Green also remains day-to-day with a nagging knee injury.

"We thought [Green] was gonna be ready last week," Duggan said. "Talking with him [Sunday], he seemed like he was pretty optimistic on how he was feeling."

Sophomore safety Antonio Fletcher will miss the first half of the UNLV game after he was ejected for targeting in the third quarter of the loss to SMU. Junior Elery Alexander, a junior-college transfer from Texas, is expected to start in Fletcher's place.

If both Merritt and Green can't play, expect to see another heavy dose of the connection between junior quarterback Logan Bonner and senior wide receiver Omar Bayless. The two connected on four touchdown passes against SMU.

"I could not be more proud of Omar Bayless," Heckendorf said. "Just what he went through in the last two weeks, of all the guys on our team, he might have been the closest one to Wendy [Anderson]. They had a very special relationship, and then he had some things back home going on that he was dealing with. So for him to be able to overcome all that and to put those emotions aside and be able to go out there and have that kind of performance, man, I could not be more proud of him and how he responded for our team."

David Duggan

Sports on 09/03/2019

Print Headline: Red Wolves' interim coach fine-tunes message in Week 2

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