There was no self-doubt roaming on Arkansas State University's side of the field during Saturday's game at Louisiana-Lafayette.
ASU Coach Blake Anderson made sure of it.
The seventh-year head coach admitted that energy and execution were big points of emphasis for his team during their preparation for the Ragin Cajuns, especially after what happened against Troy on Oct. 31.
A lack of emotion was evident within the Red Wolves during that 38-10 home loss to the Trojans. That, in turn, caused Anderson to wonder whether or not his team was losing confidence in the midst of a trying stretch of Sun Belt Conference games.
But despite Louisiana-Lafayette handing them their third consecutive loss of the season, the Red Wolves' intensity – both on the field of play and along their sideline – was never an issue Saturday in ASU's 27-20 loss.
They were engaged right from the start and nearly knocked off the preseason West Division favorites.
"Just have to play with confidence and effort," said Arkansas State running back Lincoln Pare, who in his first start became the first Red Wolves' player to rush for more than 100 yards in a game in more than a year. "It's never a good feeling to lose, but this will definitely boost our confidence even more. We've been working really hard every week to improve on that, and I felt like this last week's work was the best work we've done this year."
Pare, a freshman, ran confidently throughout the game and finished with 121 yards on the ground for ASU (3-5, 1-4 Sun Belt), which stayed in step with the Ragin Cajuns in the second half after watching its halftime lead dissipate. Of Pare's 22 carries, only one resulted in a loss of yardage.
There was a stretch in the third quarter where Pare gutted the Ragin Cajuns' defense for 44 yards on five carries during a pivotal 80-yard scoring drive that allowed the Red Wolves regain some of the momentum it lost earlier in the half. Throughout that series, the Red Wolves -- mainly their linemen -- were demonstratively excited about how they were pushing Louisiana-Lafayette's defensive front off the ball to create openings for Pare and backfield mate Jamal Jones. Pare's running, along with that of Jones (15 carries, 76 yards) was instrumental in keeping ASU in the game.
"Our O-line was able to open up really good holes," Pare said. "[Louisiana-Lafayette] twisted a lot on the D-line, which made it difficult at times. But I was still able to pop a few times because of the job the guys did up front."
ASU's renewed vigor was also evident on defense, where the Red Wolves more than held their own against one of the league's more well-balanced offenses.
Final statistics revealed that Louisiana-Lafayette ended the game with 440 yards of offense. What those numbers don't show is how hard ASU made the Ragin Cajuns' work for those yards.
"We saw how we came out the last two weeks before this game, and we knew we were way too flat and gave up way too many points in the first quarter," said ASU linebacker Justin Rice, who had seven tackles and helped the Red Wolves pitch a first-half shutout. "That just puts too much on the offense when we go down a lot early. It gives a lot of stress to them. So we came out with the mindset that we needed to come out fast and punch them in the mouth early.
"There are still areas where we need to improve. The second half was just all mental errors, and we can't allow that. We've got to put a full 60 minutes together, not just 30 minutes."
The Ragin Cajuns did rack up more yardage after halftime, but at no point did the Red Wolves pack it in, particularly on defense. Even on Louisiana-Lafayette's game-winning drive, ASU had players in position to make tackles, but a lot of that credit goes to Ragin Cajuns' players simply making plays.
"This is the first really true complete game we've played defensively since Kansas State," said Anderson. "You think about it. We've played in spurts, and they were losing confidence. ... we started to see them grow in confidence [Saturday], and they played very good game against a very well-built offense.
"I thought they built off of last week's second half. And to me, that gives us a chance down the stretch."