Pain and Positivity: The agonizing evolution of the Red Wolves

The announcing duo for the ESPN Plus broadcast for Arkansas State vs Georgia Southern was as you might expect: a bubbly lot who spackled over their lack of Sun Belt understanding with relentless positivity. Case in point, as the final minutes of the game ticked into the ether of immortality, one announcer enthusiastically insisted that “The Red Wolves can take away a lot of positives from this game!”

This is a game in which the Red Wolves 503 yards on the ground – Eagles running back Logan Wright averaged more than 20 yards per carry. Furthermore, the Eagles defense entered Saturday without a single interception on the season, yet managed to pick the Red Wolves off four times. Before Saturday, the Eagles hadn’t scored a single 3rd quarter point, yet shut out Arkansas State 14-0 in the third quarter. This is a game which the Red Wolves defense surrendered scoring drives of three, two and one plays. This is a game where Arkansas State was trounced by an interim coach.

Where, pray tell, are these positives?

Coach Butch Jones seemed to share fan frustration with a succinct summation after the game. “We had an opportunity to seize momentum and we dropped a touchdown pass, a field goal and gave up a third down conversion and then we gave up an explosive play. And then in the second half they dominated the line of scrimmage and it’s really hard to do anything when that happens and it is not going to be accepted in our football program.” [per the powerful Jeff Reed of A-State Nation; emphasis is my own.]

The sarcasm writes itself these days

Five games into the season, it’s clear that we as fans must accept that our football program is not competitive in 2021 and that we will not be challenging Louisiana, Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State (and, apparently, Georgia Southern) anytime soon. As the Sun Belt Elite evolved to became faster, bigger and stronger, the Red Wolves remain a throw-back creature of the 2015 Sun Belt.

Butch Jones knew it the moment he first stepped into the locker room. He responded by bringing in a quick patch of transfer portal players who look like the athletes he wants on the roster. Where the strategy lacks in victories, it makes up for in vision.

“Again it is a combination of a gap and too many missed tackles,” explained Coach Jones. “You know I think if you  really look at the game a lot of it was yardage after initial contact that (Georgia Southern) had. That is a byproduct of physicalness and a byproduct of toughness, it is a byproduct of fundamentals of running your feet on contact.”

The positive we as Red Wolves fans can take from a 59-33 humiliation to Georgia Southern is that we can now relax and realize that what we’re watching is a program in progress. It’s not going to be pleasant – evolution is often painful. But if we remain supportive and strong, we will become bigger, stronger and faster.

In the meantime, it’s going to hurt like hell.

Photo Credit: It Me