JONESBORO -— In its 53-24 romp over the University of Central Arkansas, Arkansas State’s efficiency in the red zone produced the most lopsided score in the three games of the modern series between the in-state teams.
The Red Wolves scored on 11 of their first 12 possessions on the way to 642 yards of offense and 32 first downs. Four different backs, led by quarterback Ryan Aplin’s 84 and running back Derek Lawson’s 74, had more than 50 yards as the Red Wolves averaged 6.7 yards per rush.
ASU was held to three points on six of the scoring drives as place-kicker Brian Davis, who had had an erratic week of practice, tied a Sun Belt record with six field goals.
Hugh Freeze, ASU’s coach, quipped afterward that Davis had such an erratic week of practice that he thought of benching him and going for it on fourth down every time.
"Give UCA a lot of credit for coming out and giving us their best shot," said Freeze. "We knew it was coming and we knew they would. We knew they had good enough athletes and were capable of playing with us. I think we could have been better in our first-half red zone production, but I’m very excited to see Brian and the kicking unit perform the way they did. We just don’t want to have to depend on that every single game."
ASU, relentless with its fast-paced, no-huddle offense, led 19-10 at the half, then became attacked more with both its running game and pressure on UCA quarterback Wynrick Smothers the second half.
"I thought our red-zone defense was really good in the first half, but unfortunately we kept letting them down there," said UCA coach Conque. "We’re not going to win many football games if we can’t stop the run. We have to show a little more courage in the backside — be a little more aggressive back there to help out in the box.
"But we’re just really thin over there right now. We have to improve our tackling and our run defense or we’re going to struggle. ... It’s been a really rough September, very physical, playing two FBS teams."
Frank Newsome, a senior linebacker who was the Bears’ leading tackler last season, did not play with a lingering ankle injury.
The Bears were held to 122 yards of offense the second half, primarily on two passes by Smothers, 53 yards and a touchdown to Jesse Grandy and 40 yards to Al Lasker. Smothers, who started in place of senior Nathan Dick, caught a 1-yard throwback pass from running back Terence Bobo for another touchdown.
"I thought Wynrick really competed hard tonight,’ Conque said. "He really just had one major mistake (a pick-6 interception for 31 yards by Sterling Young). Once, we got down three scores it was tough. If we wanted to get in the game, which we came here to win, we had to get away a little bit from the run game."
The game was the first meeting between the two teams since 1997 and drew a crowd of 27,918 on a misty night. Three of the four largest crowds in ASU history have occurred against UCA.
"I’m real proud of this night, this whole event," Conque said. "It was a great atmosphere, a historical night. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t write the piece of history we wanted to write."
(UCA sports information director Steve East contributed to this report)