With an 0-4 start and facing a Sun Belt Conference opener against Georgia Southern, a team that had won 16 of its first 19 SBC games since joining in 2014, Arkansas State’s reign as league champions appeared over.
But the Red Wolves rallied for a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass to beat the Eagles by a point and then coupled that with a 17-7 victory over South Alabama. Going into this bye week, Arkansas State is confident that it can repeat or come close to last season’s 8-0 conference record.
Arkansas State lost nonconference games to Toledo, Auburn and Utah State before the low point, a loss to FCS Central Arkansas. The Red Wolves also had a slow start last season, going 1-3 before SBC play started.
“We look like the people we play in conference play,” third-year coach Blake Anderson said. “They look like us and if guys do their job and we play with great effort and we’re physical, then I think it does give you a chance to be successful.”
“We didn’t get ahead of ourselves (last season). We truly just went to work. That’s really no different than the approach we’re taking now.”
Arkansas State has won 35 of its last 41 Sun Belt games. The attitude is that league games are Red Wolves games.
“We don’t let our circumstances change your standards,” Arkansas State assistant head coach/cornerbacks coach Trooper Taylor said on this week’s coaches’ conference call. “You should play the same way no matter the opponent, the score or the time on the clock. After the 0-4 start, we didn’t have any fear that the season was lost.
“We try to approach it as two different seasons, nonconference and conference. We’re 2-0 in the Sun Belt.”
You’re excused if you don’t know that Arkansas State has played in bowls each of the past five seasons. Anderson is in his third season following coaches who all spent one season in Jonesboro before stepping up to bigger jobs – Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss, Guz Malzahn to Auburn and Brian Harsin to Boise State.
But as the second half of the season unwinds in the Sun Belt, the Red Wolves are hungry and again on the prowl.
You don’t Zay
East Carolina receiver Zay Jones is piling up numbers in record fashion but he has one number on his mind as the Pirates prepare for Saturday’s game with Cincinnati.
Four. East Carolina has lost four consecutive games and needs four victories in its last six games to qualify for a bowl game.
“Losses are frustrating. My play has to be better in order for us to win,” Jones said. “We still haven’t played our best game yet, and I think that we can play our best game on Saturday.”
Jones, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior from Austin, Texas, had his best game so far at South Carolina on Sept. 17, when he had 22 receptions – one short of the FBS single-game record. If Jones maintains his pace in the second half of the season, he should have an armful of records.
He has 325 career receptions and the FBS record of 387, set by former Pirate James Hardy, is within reach. He also could break Hardy’s single-season school record of 121 receptions. And if Jones can maintain his average of 14 receptions per game, he could break the FBS single-season record for receptions – 155 set by Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes in 2009.
They say it’s a rivalry
No. 14 Boise State (6-0) and No. 20 Western Michigan (7-0) are the only undefeated Group of Five teams. The Idaho Broncos’ schedule is stronger than the Michigan Broncos and that probably gives them the inside edge to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
But Boise State faces a big test Thursday when BYU plays on the blue turf. The Cougars have won two of the last three meetings, and though the teams have met just six times, the Broncos consider BYU, which plays an independent schedule, as a rival.
“Oh yeah, we take every opponent seriously each week, but it’s something special when we play BYU,” sophomore defensive end Durrant Miles said.
“I would definitely say (that it’s a rivalry),” linebacker Ben Weaver said. “Losing to them a few times, especially after last year, it’s a physical game every single time we play them.”
BYU (4-3) is coming off last Friday’s double-overtime victory over Mississippi State in Provo. It was a physical contest and the Cougars have a short week with one less day to prepare than normal.
“It’s been hard because we have a short week this week so we have to push up our schedule,” BYU tight end Tanner Balderee said. “On Saturday we did a lift and a little bit of conditioning. Everybody was feeling a little groggy and pushing through it. It’s been a bang-up for a lot of guys but we’re getting there, and I know the coaching staff will make sure we’re good to go by Thursday.”
Recent BYU results indicate a close game. Of the Cougars’ past 20 games, dating to last season, 13 have been decided by seven or fewer points.
- The Mountain West has three of the top nine rushers in the FBS. San Diego State’s Donnell Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing at 1,111 yards while Nevada’s James Butler is sixth with 822 yards and Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols is ninth with 775.
- Ron Cooper was 22-33 in coaching stints at Eastern Michigan (two seasons) and Louisville (three). He was named interim coach at Florida International when the school fired Ron Turner after an 0-4 start. The team is 3-0 – all Conference USA wins – under Cooper and is first place in the C-USA East Division.
- UTSA’s 14-13 victory at Rice was just the 11th victory over an FBS team scoring 14 or fewer points. The Roadrunners are the only Conference USA team to do that in nearly two seasons. “I feel validated after this win,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “We put together consecutive wins and did it in a place where we haven’t had success. We came from behind, extended the lead and then held on for victory. And what our defense did at the end of the game was confirmation that we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
- Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson and Trent Taylor are first and second in FBS in receiving yards a game at 147.3 and 141. The could become the first teammates in NCAA history to finish as the top two in receiving yards.
- The Mid-American West Division is the Mid-American’s best division. Saturday matches the top four teams – Western Michigan (7-0, 3-0) versus Eastern Michigan (5-2, 2-1) and Toledo (5-1, 2-0) versus Central Michigan (5-2, 2-1). This irony exists in the MAC – Bowling Green and Northern Illinois have met in the last three MAC title games but are a combined 2-12 overall.
That’s what he said
Memphis (5-1, 2-0) visits Navy (4-1, 3-0) in a key American Athletic Conference West Division game Saturday. Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo had this assessment:
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how important this game is for both teams.”