Unlike most of his players, Arkansas State coach Butch Jones knows what it’s like to play – and beat – a highly ranked team.
During a long coaching career with stops as head coach at Tennessee and Cincinnati, he also served as special assistant to head coach Nick Saban when Alabama broke through Ohio State. in the national championship game, 52-24, in the 2020 season.
Jones is in his second season as head coach of Arkansas State (1-0), but after a 58-3 victory over Grambling State, the Red Wolves will enter a different stratosphere on Saturday when they play at No. 3 at Ohio State. (1-0).
“The only thing is when you’re playing against a top opponent, the mistakes you make are magnified, so your margin for error is much slimmer,” Jones said Monday. “A lot of the mistakes that we made on Saturday night, if we make those same mistakes against Ohio State, they’re going to turn into blowout plays and negative distance football plays and possibly generated turnovers.”
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The Buckeyes opened with a marquee game against then-No. 5 Notre Dame and overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit to record a 21-10 pro win.
Ohio State and its Heisman Trophy quarterback prospect CJ Stroud struggled for much of the game due to the absence of standout wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who injured his leg during the game. second series of the Buckeyes. Smith-Njigba played a few snaps just before halftime and then sat out the rest of the game.
Coach Ryan Day said Tuesday he was unsure whether Smith-Njigba would be available on Saturday.
“We won’t bring him back if there’s a chance he’ll get hurt in the future,” Day said.
Stroud, meanwhile, still completed 24 of 34 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns, turning to Emeka Egbuka for a career-high nine catches for 90 yards. The Buckeyes showed poise, rushing for 176 yards against Notre Dame, TreVeyon Henderson gaining 91 yards and Miyan Williams 84.
Ohio State led the nation in scoring last season averaging 45.7 points per game and should be an offensive juggernaut again, but the story of the game was defense under freshman defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
Knowles was brought in from Oklahoma State to fix a unit that was 59th out of 130 schools in total defense (372.9 yards per game) last season. The Buckeyes held Notre Dame to 253 total yards (72 in the second half) and forced the Fighting Irish to shoot on their final six possessions.
“It’s the start we were looking for, for sure,” Day said. “Watching the movie, (the defence) played very hard. They played fast and decisive.”
Arkansas State, 2-10 last season, has an experienced quarterback in second-year starter James Blackman, who had been a part-time starter at Florida State. He found an immediate connection this season with Oregon State transfer Champ Flemings, who caught seven passes for 122 yards against Grambling State.
“He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Jones said of Flemings. “Champ is also one of those guys who came into our program and adhered to our standards, our expectations, but also brought us a whole new level of competitiveness.”
Stroud said the Buckeyes’ goal of winning every game will help them avoid disappointment after an emotional win.
“Arkansas State is a good team,” he said. “They won last week. We are both 1-0.”