Arkansas State Somehow Manages to Beat Lowly UMass.

Red Wolves victory is highlighted by a satisfying 123 yard performance from running back Marcel Murray

The Red Wolves’ first offensive series resulted in a crisply delivered touchdown, set up by a 19 yard Johnnie Lang run and a 29 yard reception of Champ Flemings. Seydou Traore scored the game’s first touchdown, absorbing a massive hit in the end zone but hanging on for the six points.

After that, the remainder of the game was handed to the Defense as the offense struggled to accumulate positive yards. Aside from that opening scoring drive, the offense failed to gain even a single first down (not aided by a Minuteman penalty) in the first half. Beyond the opening drive, the Red Wolves offense netted 2 first half yards. TWO!

Defensively, Arkansas State harried Minuteman QB Brady Olson all afternoon, forcing a pair of first half interceptions, including a pick six from Trevian Thomas, who redeemed himself after allowing a certain interception to bounce off his hands during the first UMass offensive series. At halftime, the Minutemen had settled for a pair of field goals.

The second half was a completely different animal.

The Red Wolves opened the second half to a near identical template, with a Champ Flemings first down setting up the eventual Taore TD catch. But the A-State defense also gave up its first touchdown on the subsequent UMass possession. The Red Wolves responded by Blackman immediately throwing a deep ball interception intended for Jeff Foreman, and the Minutemen put up another score on a Red Wolves defense rapidly running out of gasoline.

Then something magical happened. Marcel Murray broke off a 75 yard touchdown run. Suddenly, he was the Murray of Lore, breaking off big runs (including a 28-yarder) on the ensuing offensive possession that set up what should have been the backbreaking Red Wolves touchdown (Lang on a 12 yard sweep). Murray would end the game with 123 yards and a touchdown, a stat line we haven’t seen from the former SBC Freshman of the Year in a long time.

But the Minutemen would not go away. A deep pass coming off of what looked like a false start from the center set up a TD that closed the score to 35-27. The Red Wolves offense could only handle the Marcel Infinity Stone for a brief moment before delivering a bucket-load of uninspired three-and-outs, leaving it up to the defense to seal the victory.

Victory by a knee hair. The Minutemen came within a two-point conversion of tying the game with a handful of seconds left. But Kenneth Harris stonewalled the Minuteman ball handler at the goal line, and A-State fans were left with a curiously unsatisfying victory over largely winless University of Massachusetts. Yay, us.

“Moving forward, we have to learn the next phase now,” said Coach Butch Jones post game. “And that’s how to close an opponent out.” Fourth quarter collapses have been a trademark for the the 2022 team. “The game of football is all about your mental disposition. When you’re up by 15 and then up by 16, you have to learn to close games out.”

Ultimately the Red Wolves, favored to win by 17, were 0-8 on third downs. Seven Red Wolf possessions were three-and-outs. The Minutemen offense ran 93 plays to the Red Wolves 42. Give credit to the defense, who surrendered 27 points in the second half after only giving up 6 in the first. But the team’s pair of sacks, two picks and 8 TFLs proved to be the difference.

“I felt this was a game changing win for the program,” said James Blackman post game, “A great win for the young guys on the team.” That’s a good way to look at it. You can’t win unless you learn how to win, even if that win comes at the expense of the very lowly Minutemen.