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Red Wolves move forward after loss

by Mike Harley | September 9, 2023 at 3:01 a.m.
Quarterback J.T. Shrout and the Arkansas State Red Wolves host Memphis today seeking their first win of the season following last week’s loss at Oklahoma. The game is set for 6 p.m. at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro. (AP/Alonzo Adams)

After opening the season with a 73-0 dismantling at the hands of then-No. 20 Oklahoma, Arkansas State Coach Butch Jones said he is looking for progress, any progress.

"Every coach will tell you that the most important progress on a football team is usually from Game 1 to Game 2," Jones said entering today's home opener against Memphis. "That's when you make your most progress. Every coach tells his team that, but obviously you give yourself an opportunity to compete at a high level when you have a great week of practice."

The Red Wolves (0-1) face the Tigers (1-0) today at 6 p.m. at Jonesboro's Centennial Bank Stadium in a regional rivalry that dates back to 1914. Memphis lead the all-time series 32-24-5.

The Red Wolves had to quickly turn the page following the loss to the Sooners, Jones said he understands there is no time to dwell on the past as Memphis presents a formidable challenge.

"When you look at their team, they are very complete at all three levels of their defense," Jones said. "They play a lot of people. It doesn't matter who is in, there is not a drop off the way they play defense. It's going to be a great challenge for us."

In last week's 56-14 opening victory against Bethune-Cookman, the Memphis defense held the Wildcats to 91 yards of total offense, the fewest yards allowed in the nation..

On the offensive side of the ball for Memphis, second year offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey, a product of the Chip Kelly coaching tree, runs primarily an up-tempo Spread offense -- not too much different from what Oklahoma ran against the Red Wolves a week ago. The Tigers will also run a lot out of the Pistol formation and mix in some run-pass-option plays, as well as some Pro-style sets with the quarterback under center.

"Offensively, it all starts with the quarterback, three-year starter [Seth] Henigan," Jones said. "They have four out of five returning starters on the offensive line -- the fifth starter [left guard Xavier Hill] coming in via the transfer portal and LSU. Big, physical, imposing offensive line. Very good skill on the perimeter."

The Tigers also feature speedy wide receivers in Demeer Blankumsee and Tauskie Dove on the perimeter, while running backs Blake Watson and Sutton Smith give Memphis a solid one-two punch in the backfield.

The Arkansas State defense will have to tackle much better this week, as well as find ways to get off the field on third down, Jones said.

Creating turnovers is another area where the Red Wolves can look to gain positive momentum defensively. Both of the touchdowns Memphis surrendered to Bethune-Cookman came on defensive scores.

ASU linebacker Melique Straker said he believes the defense will be improved this week and that the adversity that the unit faced last week will lead to growth as they move forward.

"The key to success is truly playing to our standard," Straker said. "Fast, physical, A-State football. Whenever you go through any type of adversity -- in this case big adversity -- it really shows you who you really are and who the team really is. It gives us an opportunity to get ourselves out of that hole and find out what we're made of. I think we are made of a lot more than we displayed last Saturday."

J.T. Shrout will make his second start at quarterback for the Red Wolves. A bright spot for the Arkansas State offense a week ago was the play of the offensive line, especially in pass protection. As a veteran presence playing with a young group around him, Shrout said he understands he will be looked to in order to provide continued leadership against a tough Memphis defense.

"At the end of the day, the team kind of looks to the quarterback in some way shape or form," Shrout said. "I got to do everything I can to hold the standard for us as players and make sure that standard doesn't drop. Making sure I'm doing my job as a leader. Trying to take care of the things I can control and bring guys along."

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