The game was over after the very first play. The Cajuns opened on defense, and the usually sure-handed Johnny Lang Jr. bobbled the kickoff at the one yard line. By the time Lang recovered, the Red Wolves were at the 2-yard line. And that was it. It was as though the Red Wolves saw what happened to Lang and decided the game was hopeless. AJ Mayer, subbing for an injured James Blackman, led the team to a very sloppy three-and-out, and the Red Wolves began what would become a miserable campaign of three-and-outs and zest-less punting.
There were moments when it appeared Arkansas State was interested in making a game of it. Yet, these efforts seemed routinely undone by penalties, dropped passes, missed tackles, blown coverages and the familiar surrendering of explosive plays. The Red Wolves had an opportunity to tie the game in the second quarter, only to allow the Cajuns special teams defense to block Dominic Zvada’s extra point attempt. After that, what was the point, right?
Even the coaches seemed resigned to the loss. Down 24-9, with less than a minute left in the first half, the Red Wolves were in desperate need for something good – anything to swap momentum. Instead of urging the offense to move down field, Arkansas State coaches called for a pair of clock-killing run plays, seemingly more concerned with protecting the ball than attempting to win. Only a handful of seconds remained on the clock before the team finally attempted to get into field goal range. An offensive penalty murdered that opportunity.
After the Red Wolves defense surrendered a big play touchdown to start the second half, Champ Fleming took the kick-off 90 yards to the house, only to have the play called back thanks to a block-in-the-back call. The offense would respond to this adversity with a rapid three and out, and the Cajuns would score again on the next possession.
Other than the continued excellence of Zvada and the emergence of TE Seydou Traore, this was a miserable viewing experience for fans who have been assured again and again that the team was improving. It’s true – Arkansas State entered the game severely hobbled by injuries, with Blackman and CB Samy Johnson out of the game and back-up QB AJ Mayer injured in the third quarter (freshman Jaxon Dailey would finish the game at quarterback, red shirt be damned). But there wasn’t much positive data to extrapolate.
The Red Wolves failed to convert a single third down. Mayer was 8/23 before getting sidelined. The defense, outmuscled at the line of scrimmage by Cajuns running backs all night, also gave up TD passes of 45, 55 and 36 yards to Cajun quarterback Ben Woodridge, who’d throw 5 touchdown passes. (The defense DID come up with a late 4th Q touchdown, which was good for a grin.) There wasn’t much to enjoy.