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Butch Jones: Physicality needed in Sun Belt

by Mitchell Gladstone | November 16, 2022 at 3:04 a.m.
FILE — Arkansas State players take the field before the Red Wolves' game against South Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

JONESBORO -- "The Fun Belt no longer is the Fun Belt. It may be more considered the Physical Belt, or whatever you want to call it."

Out of context, that quote from Arkansas State Coach Butch Jones may get its laughs. But despite being a part of the Sun Belt Conference for less than two years, Jones recognizes a real shift in league dynamics.

"Three, four years ago ... you'd outscore everyone 48-46, 52-48, and then all of a sudden, with new coaches coming in, new recruiting philosophies, the Sun Belt changed drastically," Jones said during his news conference Tuesday afternoon. "It's a line-of-scrimmage league, make no mistake about it."

He made the comment specifically doting on Texas State, who the Red Wolves will face Saturday afternoon in San Marcos, Texas.

While the Bobcats are not one of the five Sun Belt teams among the top 25 programs nationally in total defense -- a group that includes Marshall (ninth), South Alabama (12th), James Madison (13th), Appalachian State (24th) and Troy (25th) -- they rank 47th, a few spots behind Louisiana-Lafayette (40).

Compare that to 2017 when the only Sun Belt member among the top 25 was Appalachian State at 17th, with ASU next at 29th.

This season's Red Wolves remain a good bit away from joining that upper echelon of defenses. ASU is much improved on that side of the ball -- allowing 410.9 yards and 31.3 points per game after 505.9 and 38.6, respectively, a year ago -- but it's still among the bottom third of FBS schools in both categories.

In many respects, Saturday's win against Massachusetts was a statistical anomaly. Judging a defense based on the numbers isn't straightforward when that unit is on the field for more than two-thirds of the game.

But ASU's defensive stand on the Minutemen's 2-point conversion try that would have tied the game at 35-35 was illustrative of progress, both this season and over the course of Jones' brief tenure.

"It showed toughness," safety Justin Parks said. "I watched the play over and over again. ... Seeing a big ol' wolfpack pushing them back, not letting them get the [score] showed toughness, it showed grit."

With only two games left in the Red Wolves' season, Parks said he knows that growth is something that needs to carry over into the offseason.

"We're more accountable to ourselves in practice and accountable to each other," Parks said when asked about the most noticeable change on his side of the ball. "We've got to know our mistakes and we've got to correct our own mistakes."

Jones reiterated the need to recruit at the high-school level in order to build the type of veteran defense he's praised several teams for this season -- the Bobcats' the most recent. He added that ASU will use the transfer portal to fill holes when necessary, but Jones again spoke to multiyear development of the Red Wolves' depth.

While Parks is not a starter -- the sophomore safety serves as the backup to Eddie Smith -- he's one of as many as 25 defensive regulars who could return to Jonesboro in 2023.

"We're going to recruit our way through this," Jones said. "It's not going to be a quick fix entirely next year, either. ... We've just got to stay the course, and we will."

Up next


WHEN 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE Bobcat Stadium, San Marcos, Texas

TV None


RADIO Red Wolves Sports Network

LINE Texas State by 51/2


Print Headline: Jones: Physicality needed in Sun Belt


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