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Wolves looking for improved offense

by Mitchell Gladstone | September 19, 2022 at 4:01 a.m.
Footballs are shown before the start of a game in this Sept. 1, 2011, file photo. (AP/Andy King)

MEMPHIS -- Explosive plays are an all-too-frequent lament from Arkansas State Coach Butch Jones.

The Red Wolves allowed 20 plays of 50-plus yards last season, more than any team in the nation, including three against Memphis -- all of which went for touchdowns. And the Tigers doubled down in the rematch Saturday, breaking five plays of at least 30 yards against an ASU defense that has now given up 40 or more points in 8 of 15 games under Jones.

Resolving the Red Wolves' defensive woes would seem the straightforward solution. But with a young unit that still lacks depth, that fix will require time.

On Saturday night at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, Arkansas State University's losing skid in the Paint Bucket Bowl to Memphis stretched to four games with a 44-32 loss.

"Throughout the course of the game, they were playing zone coverage," Jones said of the Tigers' defense. "So, they were going to make you meticulously move the football and run the football for what they are giving you."

Other than tight end Seydou Traore's 51-yard score on the visitors' opening series, ASU didn't gain 30-plus yards on any play. 20 of James Blackman's 34 pass attempts traveled five or fewer yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

The Red Wolves (1-2) aren't short on offensive bodies. For the first time all season, Blackman had an entire complement of skill-position weapons at his disposal -- including wide receiver Te'Vailance Hunt, who made his season debut after a nagging leg injury kept him out Weeks 1 and 2.

The dilemma is a lack of downfield threats.

Champ Flemings, who had catches of 58 and 34 yards in ASU's first two games plus a 29-yard touchdown grab, should be the top option. But a lingering injury limited him Saturday -- Flemings caught three passes for just seven yards.

Jeff Foreman would likely be next in line. Then again, he's caught two passes in three games after finishing 2021 as the third-leading receiver.

Can Hunt be a jump-ball target? Jones was glad to have the redshirt senior in the lineup against the Tigers but acknowledged Hunt still has rust to shake off.

At the moment, Traore and fellow tight end Emmanual Stevenson arguably are the Red Wolves' two best pass-catching options. Neither has the game-breaking speed needed to challenge the back end of defenses, however.

Memphis was more than happy to keep a roof over the top of ASU's offense.

"I'm just progressing with taking what the defense gives me," Blackman said. "Finding a way, not forcing a way, and we a lot of guys open on the check-downs tonight."

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