Football is a funny game in that usually the best way to beat an opponent is to actively try to beat him. But every so often, you will see a team, or a coach (or both), beat an opponent by simply letting him beat himself. As they say, sometimes the best defense is a great defense. At other times, it's a great offense. And at still other times, it's to just wait for the turnover.
The Arkansas State Red Wolves managed to escape Moscow relatively unscathed and with their (tenuous) dream of a fourth straight Sun Belt Conference title still intact. The score of 44-28 is probably kinder to head coach Blake Anderson's squad considering that Idaho led 21-17 early in the third quarter, but again-the Vandals turned the ball over not one, not two, not three, ...but eight times.
The game is only a few hours old, which means it's the perfect time to delve deeper into the result. You know what they say, right? It's in the aftermath that you can best overreact. So I'll do just that and, like last week after the loss at Lafayette, take a look at 1) an alarming trend, 2) a harmless takeaway, 3) a player of the game and 4) what can be expected next week.
In the past eight quarters, the Red Wolves run defense has allowed no fewer than eight rushing touchdowns and about 80,000 [editor's note: actually, it's 662] yards on the ground. While it is one thing to be left seething and ragin' by UL Lafayette's superhuman duo, it's another entirely to play the role of torero against the Vandals.
Let's remember that Idaho entered the game known for a prolific passing offense. While A-State did well against the pass-Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan had to endure the disgrace of entering a game he had been pulled from-the defense failed against the run. It's time for Chris Stone, Xavier Woodson and Qushaun Lee to chase after everyone running wild inside the habitat. It's what wolves would do.
But of course, I'm not calling out anyone. Especially not Q'.
I Cried Wolf
This is the place to be brazen. Every once in a while in life, it's okay to be greedy when if you've noticed that one good thing X could have been excellent with just this one adjustment Y.
This week, I look at the Red Wolves' performance on defense and say that, like a true football coach would, forcing eight turnovers is great but that 12 is better. Namely, I say that it's also highly disappointing that your opponent (who, again, committed eight turnovers) had a 21-17 lead at the beginning of the third quarter despite four turnovers. It shows that you needed just about all eight of those when the last two or three really just should have been the cheese curds on the rest. But of course, this reflects poorly on the offense more than anyone else.
Howl of the Night
Given how relatively poorly the Red Wolves played for about 45 minutes, it's odd to see how many players could win this prestigious "How of the Night" award. Should it be Rocky Hayes and his one interception, two passes broken up and one quarterback hit? Come on, you can do better. Right, there's Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, who hit Idaho quarterback(s) all of four times during the night. The redshirt freshman was a terror in the Vandals backfield, but his teammate Sterling Young was even better-he combined one interception with a team-high 12 tackles for what was, I would say if I were British, a sterling game.
But of course, there's better because Michael Gordon channeled his inner Madden version of Greg Jennings [caution: explicit language] and put the team on his back with four touchdowns after halftime. That's the lesson here-just give the howl of the night to whoever ties a Sun Belt Conference rushing record.
To his credit, Anderson did ease up on the trick plays after running a gauntlet full of them the week before. I'd say that he listened to my suggestion, but I can't say for sure it came from me. It's entirely possible that Anderson is a totally competent head coach who reassesses his and his team's performance week after week and elaborates a new game plan accordingly. (It's one or the other, really.)
Looking ahead, let's hope that they can remember the number 60. That's "they" as in the entire A-State football team, and 60 as in the length of a football game. The Red Wolves played well enough to beat Idaho but, except for the fourth quarter, this game really was more illustrative of Idaho's problems than A-State's excellence.
That excellence is something the Red Wolves will need next week against a solid South Alabama team that lost a close 19-9 game against the Ragin' Cajuns. Coach Anderson, maybe try the Italian poutine on the menu this week.