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ASU slogs behind Appalachian State

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JONESBORO -- Arkansas State brought field goals to a touchdown fight Tuesday night at Centennial Bank Stadium.

Three field goals were inadequate offensive support against Appalachian State (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt Conference), the conference East division favorite. The Mountaineers scored 45 or more points in three consecutive games prior to Tuesday's contest, and they did not flinch in a 35-9 victory at Arkansas State (3-3, 0-2).

The loss gave Arkansas State back-to-back Sun Belt losses for the first time since 2014. The Red Wolves lost their previous game, 28-21, on Sept. 29 at Georgia Southern (4-1, 2-0).

"It's real simple, we're not playing very good football," said Arkansas head coach Blake Anderson.

Arkansas State failed to complete any of its 16 offensive drives with a touchdown, converted just 3 of 17 third downs and has scored a touchdown in just two of its past eight quarters -- all underwhelming marks worthy of concern.

"I don't care if I've got to revamp the whole thing, I've got to find out what this group can do," Anderson said. "It doesn't matter what groups in the past have done. It matters what this group can do."

"It's not good," said senior quarterback Justice Hansen.

The Mountaineers turned Tuesday's game into a dismantling after a defensive slugfest broke out early.

Appalachian State countered a 31-yard first-quarter field goal and a 47-yard second-quarter field goal from Red Wolves freshman kicker Blake Grupe with a 27-yard touchdown run from tailback Jalin Moore with 11:13 left in the half for a 7-6 lead.

Moore went down after the play with an apparent ankle injury and training staff immediately protected his leg with an air cast. He was attempting to go for a third consecutive 1,000-yard season and was the Mountaineers' leading rusher this year with 400 yards and six touchdowns.

Grupe, whose 47-yarder was a career high, added a 33-yarder with 4:37 left in the half for a 9-7 lead. The Red Wolves would not score again, but Appalachian State was not done in the first half.

A 25-yard touchdown pass from Mountaineers quarterback Zac Thomas to receiver Corey Sutton put Appalachian State ahead for good at 14-9 with 2:57 remaining in the first half.

The Red Wolves faced third-and-one at their own 17 on the ensuing possession, but Hansen was picked off by Tae Hayes, who returned the interception to Arkansas State's 3-yard line. Darrynton Evans' one-yard touchdown run put the Mountaineers ahead, 21-9, at the half.

Hansen, who entered Tuesday's game one passing touchdown shy of setting a new school record, never found No. 68 as the Red Wolves' offense was stuck in a rut during a scoreless second half.

The offense did not veer from a strategy dedicated to beating the Mountaineers with short passes and runs even as the deficit swelled to 26 points.

Hansen finished 25-for-40 passing for 209 yards and three interceptions on his rockiest night of the season.

"I just never felt like we got in a rhythm, Justice or anybody else, to be honest with you," Anderson said. "I did not see it ever looking clean. It just seemed muddy and sluggish all night offensively."

Hansen threw two interceptions through the first five games of the year. He eclipsed that total in a little more than three quarters before being replaced by Logan Bonner midway through the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand.

Anderson said depth has become a significant issue. The Red Wolves traveled with just 68 players to Georgia Southern on Sept. 29. The lack of a deep roster and an unknown offensive identity -- other than relying on Hansen often -- are a few of the elements that have sent the offense barreling downward and have forced Arkansas State to deploy "smaller game plans" the past two weeks.

Arkansas State has nine days to recover before another midweek game at home in a week against Georgia State (2-4, 1-1).

Sports on 10/11/2018

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