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Red Wolves begin restoration path

by Mitchell Gladstone | November 29, 2021 at 1:53 a.m.

JONESBORO -- Before Arkansas State Coach Butch Jones left the locker room to head to his postgame news conference Saturday evening, he left the Red Wolves with a very clear message.

They'd be meeting Sunday. And not everyone was invited.

"I told the guys, [come if you] are all in," Jones said. "If not, we wish you well and we'll move on."

ASU's worst season in more than two decades came to an end with a 24-22 home loss to Texas State, marking the first time the Red Wolves (2-10, 1-7 Sun Belt Conference) failed to win at least two Sun Belt Conference games. ASU won't wait long to get its offseason going -- the coaching staff will be on the road recruiting today and the players will return on Tuesday to resume their strength and conditioning work.

"Every single game this year, we were able to take something from it," running back Lincoln Pare said. "It's going to drive us for the entire offseason and all of next season."

ASU will think about the 15 plays of 60 yards or more that it surrendered, often backbreaking touchdowns that became a staple each week. Or maybe the nine games in which it failed to log at least 100 rushing yards. Or possibly the 48 sacks given up by the offensive line, ranking third-worst in the nation.

The Red Wolves could pick out the few bright spots -- a passing offense that was just one of 17 to average at least 300 yards per game, a defense that showed legitimate growth over the last five weeks of the season and a lineup that could return as many as 16 of 22 starters.

"With all the bad, you've got to find the good," defensive end Kivon Bennett said. "I wouldn't trade this year for anything in the world, man. I think everything happens for a reason.

"Of course, there's nothing better than winning games and nothing more fun than winning games, but at the same time, I think it's kind of what we needed as a program. It was a lot of new pieces to the machine and I think we needed a humbling experience like this to help us progress."

There will be more comings and goings over the ensuing weeks and months. Secondary coach Dalton Hilliard was reportedly hired as an assistant at Connecticut on Sunday. Running back Marcel Murray entered the transfer portal a couple weeks ago, and he probably won't be the last to do so.

ASU will have most, if not all, of its 2022 recruiting class signed two weeks from Tuesday. Transfer additions will trickle in throughout the spring. But Jones reemphasized Saturday night that there are issues in Jonesboro which can't simply be remedied in a singular offseason.

"I was hired here to fix a situation," he said. "I'm going to do me in the way we build a program because it's been proven at three different spots, and nobody's going to blink. I know exactly where we're at. I know who's in [and] who's not in. ... It's going to be fixed over a number of years. That's the situation we're in."

Print Headline: Red Wolves begin restoration path

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