Wolves’ pass­ing game hits big plays

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BROOKS KUBENA

JONES­BORO — Ar­mond Weh-Weh ran his re­ceiv­ing route to­ward the side­line and looked into the open field at Cen­ten­nial Bank Sta­dium.

“‘ Gosh, I’m so open,’” the se­nior run­ning back re­called think­ing, mo­ments af­ter Arkansas State Uni­ver­sity’s fi­nal scrim­mage of fall foot­ball prac­tice Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon.

Nor­mally, Weh-Weh said, the play — which wheels the run­ning back down the side­line to­ward the end zone — doesn’t even un­fold dur­ing prac­tice; the quar­ter­back al­ways gets sacked be­fore he can get a pass off.

“This time he threw it, per­fect ball, and I caught it,” Weh-Weh said.

The 30-yard play was one of many long- dis­tance touch­down re­cep­tions high­light­ing the Red Wolves scrim­mage. The per­for­mance backs up se­nior wide­out Di­jon Paschal’s state­ment at the team’s me­dia day July 28 that the of­fense would be “tak­ing more shots down the field” this sea­son.

The score also high­lighted Weh-Weh’s first game-style ac­tion since he missed most of the 2016 sea­son with an ACL in­jury. Weh-Weh tweaked his an­kle dur­ing prac­tice a week ago and missed the Aug. 5 scrim­mage.

“I’m just tak­ing it day by day and be­ing pa­tient,” said Weh-Weh, who said he’s con­fi­dent enough in his left knee that he’s “not even wear­ing my knee brace on it any­more.”

Weh-Weh worked in rep­e­ti­tions with a run­ning back group led by 5-5, 179-pound ju­nior War­ren Wand, who had a 39-yard run on the first drive of the scrim­mage.

“I think this group is go­ing to do some spe­cial things this year,” Weh-Weh said. “We got a group of guys that can all go. It’s def­i­nitely ex­cit­ing.”

Fresh­man backup quar­ter­back Lo­gan Bon­ner con­nected with Weh-Weh on the touch­down, and ju­nior starter Jus­tice Hansen led off the scrim­mage with two of his own — both to se­nior tight end Blake Mack.

Hansen com­pleted a 37yard pass deep to the left side­line to se­nior slot re­ceiver Chris Mur­ray, who had caught the ball look­ing al­most di­rectly above him as he slid safely to the side­line.

ASU Coach Blake An­der­son moved Mur­ray from out­side re­ceiver to in­side re­ceiver at the start of fall camp be­cause An­der­son be­lieved Mur­ray could be a threat on the in­side.

“We fig­ured out it was the right move Day One,” An­der­son said. “It gave us size on the out­side; it gives us speed on the in­side. And what we’re do­ing up front cre­ates some prob­lems. Puts him in space that he’s not nor­mally been in, and I think he’s re­ally lik­ing what we’re do­ing with him.”

Ju­nior de­fen­sive back Justin Clifton “was a lit­tle up­set” see­ing the mul­ti­ple shots com­pleted down­field and re­ceiv­ing touch­downs.

“[The re­ceivers] have a lot of height,” Clifton said. “It’s a good threat deep for us. Those guys come out here and ball out ev­ery day just as we do. So it’s great com­pe­ti­tion for us for what we might see dur­ing the sea­son.”

Clifton and the ASU de­fense had 10 sacks dur­ing the scrim­mage, re­veal­ing is­sues on an of­fen­sive line that does not have a re­turn­ing starter. Sopho­more guard Troy El­liott, who started two games last sea­son, did not play in the scrim­mage and was wear­ing a boot on his left foot. An­der­son said last week that he had a mi­nor an­kle in­jury and should be back soon.

“The five [of­fen­sive line­men] that we’re go­ing to play with at no point were out there to­gether,” An­der­son said. “I thought we lost some con­ti­nu­ity and some com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and we had some young guys who were out of po­si­tion. We have to get them healthy and work­ing to­gether.”

Se­nior de­fen­sive end Ja’Von Rol­land-Jones and se­nior de­fen­sive line­man Dee Liner were both held out of the scrim­mage, but they were not nurs­ing ma­jor in­juries.

There is still a com­pe­ti­tion for the start­ing po­si­tions at place­kicker and punter. Sopho­more kicker Sawyer Wil­liams and fresh­man Blake Grupe book-ended the scrim­mage by both mak­ing a 35-yard and 42-yard field goal but miss­ing a 47-yard field goal.

Sopho­more punter Da­mon Fon­cham kicked a 47yard punt that landed on the de­fense’s 6, and sopho­more punter Cody Grace kicked a 36-yard punt to the de­fense’s 7.

“I like the com­pe­ti­tion we have in those po­si­tions,” An­der­son said.

ASU opens the reg­u­lar sea­son at Ne­braska on Sept. 2.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Blake An­der­son watched his team run drills Dec. 14, 2016. The Red Wolves open the sea­son Sept. 2 at Ne­braska.

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