Fall Out: Georgia Southern Defeats Arkansas State 28-21 in Statesboro
For the fourth consecutive game, the Arkansas State Red Wolves failed to dial up 30 points, leaving many fans scratching their heads.
When it was over – with Justice Hansen ingloriously absorbing the last of his six quarterback sacks – Red Wolves fans were unsurprisingly chagrinned by Arkansas State’s performance against Georgia Southern. It wasn’t for a lack of physical play. The Red Wolves defensive line was bruising in its work, routinely stuffing the Eagles behind the line of scrimmage. Nor was it a complete shutdown of Red Wolves offensive firepower. Hansen was 38 of 50 for 376 yards.
And yet, there seemed something missing with these Red Wolves as they stumbled into halftime with only a field goal to their name. Where was the big play? Where was the moxie?
A humbled Coach Blake Anderson was willing to take on the onus, awakening the next morning both contrite and philosophical:
He’s right, of course. Today is another day and the Sun Belt race is far, far, far from over. And Coach Anderson does need to improve execution. After all, he’s calling the plays. And so far, the plays ain’t cutting it.
The Red Wolves are playing not to turn the ball over
The only thing fans grouse more about than penalties is turnovers. Last year, Justice Hansen tossed four interceptions to Georgia Southern, yet still came away with a 43-24 victory. Those Red Wolves took chances, continuously putting the fear of the big play in the minds of the Eagles’ secondary, even if it meant risking a pick.
On Saturday, Hansen completed only three passes that went over 20 yards. The offensive playbook seemed comprised chiefly of sideline routes and lateral passes. Georgia Southern’s pass offensive is good, and Monquavion Brinson is a stud, but if Hansen is armed with one of the better (if not best) wide receiving squads Jonesboro has ever fielded, why not roll the dice and stretch the field?
Counting on the defense to win games can take you only so far
Once again, Joe Cauthen’s defense kept the Red Wolves within striking distance, forcing a number of three-and-outs on which the offense failed to capitalize. Yes, the Red Wolves gave up 348 rush yards, but Arkansas State punished the Eagles on every attempt.
For each game this season, the defense has been counted on to create an opportune turnover or force a ton of fast three-and-outs to give the Red Wolves a shot to win. The magic ran out in Statesboro. The defense really needed the offense to take the lead, and that challenge was left unmet.
Georgia Southern managed the game better than Arkansas State
Let’s keep a few things real: the Eagles hosted the Red Wolves on their own turf, and with a bye week in between. Those are advantages you can’t capriciously discount. The Georgia Southern game plan was simple: PoundPoundPoundPoundSURPRISE! The Eagles’ took advantage of an injury to Dareon Jackson to score its first TD – a lob to Weasley Fields who ran 61 yards unopposed to the end zone. The Eagles’ last score was on a reverse Georgia Southern hadn’t run all day, completely befuddling the defense.
On the other side of the field, the Red Wolves didn’t seem to have many surprises up their sleeves. On a 4th and 2, for example, Arkansas State chose to run their smallest running back up the middle (which failed). The entire offensive strategy seemed to be to feed Kirk Merrit on the lateral and hope he breaks one. There was little variety.
Most unnerving was the offensive line’s failure to keep Hansen upright – though Hansen seemed slow to be rid of the ball at times. The Eagles knew that neutralizing the Red Wolves required pressuring the quarterback. It worked.
So now what?
Did we really expect the Red Wolves to roll through the Sun Belt undefeated? Yeah, I guess some of us did, including me. But what we truly didn’t expect was this frustratingly low-scoring, low-impact offense. Coach Anderson is not wrong. The team is playing hard. The coaching needs to catch up. Preferably before Appalachian State arrives next Tuesday.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.