For the second time in a little over three weeks, Arkansas State suffered a loss that wasn't quite as close as their final score indicated. The scoreboard says five points, but the stat sheet says that final margin came only because of two quick Red Wolves touchdowns at the end of the game. They somehow had the ball with a chance for a game-winning score at the very end for a win they wouldn't have deserved, but they couldn't pull it off. It's only right, because A-State probably wouldn't have deserved this Sun Belt Conference title had they pulled it off.
A week ago against South Alabama, the Red Wolves took the bowl eligibility that the Jaguars wanted for themselves. The tables turned this week, or something. If the bell tolled for the conference title dream, the season isn't over yet-because this is November, and the college football season has only just begun. As usual, let's overreact, because what else should we do?
Life, and thus football, sometimes is "a game of inches," and sometimes is a game of runs-of 20 points (i.e. A-State), then 31 points (i.e. App. State) and finally, 14 points (i.e. A-State). But if you only glance over this and marvel at Al Pacino's performance from Any Given Sunday, then you'll miss the most important point. How did Appalachian State score 31 points in a row?
One at a time, yes, but mostly with a lot of help from the Arkansas State offense. The Red Wolves were home and should have been ready to make the most of what has been a stellar home field advantage (i.e. 45-9 record at Centennial Bank Stadium since 2005), but they were lost against App. State. A-State had the ball for a miniscule 18:14 against the Mountaineers, so I suppose it's a wonder they even managed to score 32 points, but that's looking at it all wrong. The takeaway isn't that the A-State offense made the most of what few opportunities it had-it's that it had so few opportunities in the first place.
The Red Wolves were home, but no one bothered to tell the Mountaineers about it. It's home sweet home, except when it isn't.
I Cried Wolf
How does a team keep the ball for less than a third of a 60-minute game? Well, going 0-for-11 on third down conversions certainly helps. Truly, that's probably where it starts and ends. Could A-State have done worse than this had it tried? Sure, but it makes this performance all the more dispiriting, given that the team actively tried to win and not be bad. It still made no difference.
Smarter men than I will probably say that the real disturbing trend from this game was the fact that the run defense was a no-show yet again. And they would be right, given that Marcus Cox amassed a tidy 229 yards on 40 rushes, but that's not the aim of this category. "I cried wolf," because I look at a relatively harmless trend. A-State's 0-for-11 deed was bad poetry and certainly not benign, but there's no sign that the team will repeat that performance-Fredi Knighten and the gang have been merely average this season in third down conversion. And merely average is better than "the worst."
Howl Of The Night
In light of all that, it is probably surprising that App. State didn't score more than its 37 points. Given a (run) defense that struggled, and an offense that seemed intent on not helping it, and that Taylor Lamb led App. State on four touchdown drives out of five in the middle two quarters, the Mountaineers should have scored more.
Gage Sharp, a UTEP transfer, had himself a day against the Mountaineers despite the fact that many media outlets might say the opposite. The junior combined with fellow linebacker Qushaun Lee to record roughly one third of A-State's 77 tackles, and his 11 solo tackles were a game-high. There's no way around it-he was sharp. (I try to avoid #badpuns, but sometimes I can't.)
While gaining bowl eligibility was something, and while the Red Wolves might have had their eyes set on something bigger and better in the form of a Sun Belt title, it turns out that the College Football Gods had different plans in mind. The fat lady has not only warmed up, she's sung, left the stage and come back for an encore. If your Gods don't want you to do one thing, you ask them to point you in the right direction. Usually, they oblige.
Looking ahead, let's hope that they can play spoilers. That's "they" as in the Red Wolves, and "play spoilers" as in force Texas State to beat the lowly Georgia State in its regular season finale just to reach the six-win plateau. There's no need to pile on New Mexico State for anything, but the Texas State game looms large on Nov. 20. And Red Wolves are great in shadows.
Which Poutine On The Menu?
Coach Anderson, maybe try the guacamole poutine this week. While the guys certainly would love to forget about any meal while nursing this broken dream, they still have to eat. Adding guac', sour cream and tomatoes to the usual suspects of fries, cheese curds and gravy keeps the meal fresh. It's a welcome distraction to the current plight.
The wolves howled and it fell flat (again), but the poutine doesn't have to be.