JONESBORO — The race is far from over.
JONESBORO — The race is far from over.
Arkansas State has been in this position and the one thing it knows better than anyone is nothing is decided. It’s the Red Wolves’ belief that anything can happen, and past experiences have them focused on their next opponent as ASU resumes Sun Belt Conference play Saturday.
"We’ve been in this same predicament the past couple of years, depending on other teams and things like that to help us, and it has still worked out," said Arkansas State safety Sterling Young. "We control our own destiny, what we do ourselves from here on. We want to go out the same way we have before, and win as many games as we can. We know what to do and what it takes to do it."
Two years ago, Arkansas State lost its first Sun Belt game under former coach Gus Malzahn. The Red Wolves then reeled off seven straight conference victories to win the outright championship for the second straight year.
Last season, ASU suffered an early setback in SBC play to Louisiana and then lost again in the season finale to Western Kentucky. But the Red Wolves’ 5-2 conference record was still good enough to earn a share of the Sun Belt crown.
Fast forward to this week and Arkansas State finds itself looking up from the middle of the Sun Belt standings.
ASU was victimized 55-40 by Louisiana in a showdown of preseason conference favorites on national TV. The setback was disappointing but far from discouraging for a team that’s been there, done that, before.
"We’ve got a lot of young players that haven’t experienced this, but we’ve got a lot of old guys, veterans and people that have been with us and through this the past few years," Young added. "I think that experience will take us a long, long way these next few weeks."
The climb back to contention begins Saturday afternoon against a team ASU had no trouble with a season ago.
The Red Wolves (4-3 overall, 2-1 Sun Belt) face the Idaho Vandals in Moscow, Idaho, inside the Kibbie Dome. Kickoff is 4 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3.com.
While the loss to UL put a crack in Arkansas State’s path to another Sun Belt title, it hasn’t deterred the team from its season-long goals.
Despite giving up a season-high 521 yards, 55 points and eight rushing touchdowns, the Red Wolves are ready to resume the conference race. They say their emotions are in check and they’ve moved on with plenty of opportunities still to look forward to.
"We have to move on and be ready for the next opponent," said ASU quarterback Fredi Knighten. "You can’t think about it because it’s in the past and you can’t do anything about it. The guys have come out this week focused. You can tell that by the energy level we’ve had during practice. We’re ready to get out there and get another chance to play."
First-year ASU coach Blake Anderson is ready as well.
"We’d all love to get the taste of that last one over with," Anderson said.
This week’s opponent takes Arkansas State more than 2,000 miles across the country to the Pacific Northwest.
Idaho (1-6, 1-4), which was a member of the Sun Belt in football from 2001-04, rejoined the league this season after the Western Athletic Conference collapsed during a wave of movement and sweeping conference affiliation changes two years ago.
For ASU, it’s the third straight week to play on the road and by far the longest journey of the season. The Red Wolves haven’t played at home since Oct. 4, although they finish the regular season with three of their final four games at Centennial Bank Stadium.
Just getting to the Kibbie Dome will be an adventure. The Red Wolves did not have a direct flight into Moscow, so they spent most of Friday reaching their destination.
"The issue with this one, more than anything else, is you don’t stay there in town," Anderson said. "You’re going to have to do some more traveling Saturday morning and then the time change coming back is going to mean we are going to get back at 4 or 5 in the morning. It makes for a tough trip. It’s not easy to get there, you don’t fly directly into town, and then you’ve got driving to do when you get there."
The long trip that includes a four-hour flight, possible jet lag, and the disappointment of a big loss a week earlier are all factors that could work against Arkansas State.
"This is a long trip that’s not going to be very fun," Knighten said. "There’s going to be a little jet lag. We’ve just got to go in and minimize all the outside factors and focus on playing the game."
After struggling as an independent last year, the Vandals haven’t found the going any easier this season in the SBC.
Idaho is off to a rocky start with just one win on the season, a 29-17 victory over New Mexico State two weeks ago that snapped a 13-game losing streak. Arkansas State blitzed the Vandals 48-24 last year in Jonesboro.
The Vandals are coached by former University of Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, brother of former UA head coach Bobby Petrino.
Anderson said Idaho employs an offensive philosophy similar to what the Petrinos ran at Arkansas.
The Vandals rank second in the Sun Belt with more than 300 yards a game passing. Defensively, though, they’ve had a hard time stopping opponents and have allowed 36 points and 469 yards a game this season.
Led by junior running back Michael Gordon, Arkansas State has one of the more potent rushing attacks in the Sun Belt. Gordon has topped 100 yards in three straight games and averages a league-leading 163 yards through three Sun Belt games.
"We’ve got to establish the run game, make them stop the run, and commit extra guys to the box so we can throw the ball effectively," Anderson said.