JONESBORO — Arkansas State gets back to the business of football this evening.
After a two-week break, the Red Wolves play their final non-conference game of the season tonight when future Sun Belt Conference member Idaho visits on homecoming. Kickoff is 6 p.m. at Liberty Bank Stadium.
After back-to-back losses to end the month of September, and an off week last Saturday, the Red Wolves are eager to play again and turn their season in a different direction. It’s been a long wait between games for ASU.
“Any time you lose, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. You wish you could come back, bounce back and get a quick win to get things back on track, but obviously the bye week definitely makes it seem a lot longer,” ASU quarterback Adam Kennedy said. “We’re excited for this Saturday, ready to go out there and get back on track.”
Arkansas State (2-3 overall, 1-0 Sun Belt) hopes to rebound from stinging road losses at Memphis and Missouri.
ASU was uninspired in a 31-7 loss at Memphis three weeks ago, then battled into the second half before succumbing at Missouri 41-19 two weeks ago.
So last week the Red Wolves spent their practice time focused on themselves. This week they focused on the Vandals.
The Red Wolves feel rested and rejuvenated from the time off. But they’re also feeling a little antsy to move on with the season.
“That bye week (allowed us) to recharge and just put those two losses behind us,” ASU safety Sterling Young said. “I feel like we played pretty well against Missouri until towards the end. We just took the good from that and we’re just trying to transition to this next game, and basically the word that my coach, Coach (Blake) Baker, has been telling us is just get that bad taste out of your mouth.”
That bad taste comes not only from two losses, but a couple of areas the Red Wolves have excelled in the previous two years.
Arkansas State hasn’t run the football effectively or protected the quarterback as well as head coach Bryan Harsin would like the last two games. ASU has been among the Sun Belt’s top teams in rushing and sacks allowed the last two seasons.
Harsin said practices have been focused on getting running back David Oku going again and keeping Kennedy safe in the pocket.
Missouri held Oku to 36 yards rushing on 19 carries while Kennedy has been sacked 12 times in the last two games.
“As far as the matchups go, I think we match up well in certain areas,” Harsin said. “We have to protect our quarterback, No. 1. They’ve got a good D-line and they do bring pressure, all right. Protect our quarterback is what we need to do.”
Idaho (1-5) is coming off a 61-14 loss to Fresno State, its worst defeat of the season. Fresno State led 47-0 at halftime and finished with 731 yards total offense.
Unfortunately for Idaho, last week’s debacle has been an all-too-common occurrence. With only three defensive starters back, the Vandals are next-to-last in the nation in total defense, allowing 537 yards and over 42 points a game.
Idaho has been especially vulnerable against the pass. Vandal opponents have completed 66 percent of their pass attempts and thrown for 19 touchdowns.
Even so, Kennedy said the Vandals won’t be the homecoming cupcake that oddsmakers in Las Vegas have made a 24-point underdog.
“They’re going to come out fighting, there’s no doubt about it,” Kennedy said. “After what happened last week to them, any time that happens to you, you want to bounce back and show that’s not who you are.”
It’s a message Harsin has tried to convey to his team all week.
With preseason Sun Belt Conference favorite Louisiana-Lafayette scheduled to visit ASU next, Harsin doesn’t want his team looking ahead.
“This isn’t a bad football team at all,” Young said. “If you’re playing D-I football, I won’t look at anybody as a bad team. You just have to prepare like you’re going against the best team.”
Harsin expects to see a little of everything offensively from Idaho, which is coached by former University of Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. Considering what’s happened recently, Harsin hopes his team has been serious about its preparations.
Arkansas State has given up 1,000 yards and 72 points the last two games.
“We’ve got to do a great job of tackling better, fitting better, and doing a better job in the pass game with the big play,” Harsin concluded.