If at anytime you start to doubt Gus Malzahn, just remember what he did as a rookie High School head coach back in 1994. He took a tiny "basketball " school with no football tradition to the state title game. Hughes almost shocked the state. They lost to Lonoke 17-13 in the AAA Title game.
The stage couldn't have been any bigger last night. The crowd wasn't the biggest in ASU history, but more than one longtime ASU fan told me that it was the best atmosphere they've ever experienced watching a game in Jonesboro. Throw in the ESPN U audience and more instate media attention than ASU is used to seeing and you have a great opportunity.
The reviews poured in all night . Following a late ASU touchdown, a proud ASU alum, KATV's Beth Hunt, tweeted " Boom !!! Malzahn is so good. Awesome play design". Then there was this simple text from another media friend " Gus rocks".
Gus + Rhett Lashlee + Ryan Aplin = sleepless nights for Sun Belt defensive coordinators.
I hate to steal a line from Gus, but I will. All three have one thing in common. They all have the "it" factor. The " it " factor play on Thursday came early in the third quarter with the game tied at 17. Aplin tucked the ball and headed for the corner. He had all 11 Warhawk defenders thinking run. What happened next was pure genius. The best player in the Sun Belt Conference put the brakes on, went airborne, and delivered a jump pass to a wide open Taylor Stockemer. 70 yards later, Stockemer was in the endzone, and ULM was crying foul. The replay showed that Aplin released the ball just in time.
It was Gus ball at it's best on Thursday. Big plays. Runs : Aplin, 38 yards, and Oku ( a stud) ,21 yards. Passes: Stockemer, 70 yards, and Julian Jones (Mr. Big Play), 46 yards. Then there's the meat of the offense. The screens and the inside runs. David Oku and JD Mckissic combined for 34 touches and 233 yards. They have both become consistent ,fast and physical finishers . The Red Wolves have now scored at least 34 points in five straight games.
Another encouraging sign for ASU fans. John Thompson's young defense. I think most fans were expecting 35-34, 42-41 shootouts this season. That hasn't happened . The Red Wolf defense has yet to allow 30 points in a conference game. They are ranked second in the Sun Belt in the two most important categories, scoring defense and total defense.
His first season isn't over, but Gus has already sealed the deal on an ASU first . Win number 7 of the season gives ASU back to back winning seasons for the first time since making the jump back to Division One A ball. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays have never been so much fun for ASU fans.
I'll be honest with you. I didn't think Gus would have this kind of success in year one, not with just 10 returning starters. I made a big mistake. I forgot about Hughes.
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