Montana St. at A-State in-depth preview

Montana St. at A-State in-depth preview

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Arkansas State Red Wolves (0-0)
vs. Montana State Bobcats (0-0)

6 p.m. Saturday, Centennial Bank Stadium
Radio: EAB Red Wolves Radio Network (107.9 FM Jonesboro, 93.3 FM Little Rock)
TV: ESPN3
Live Stats: AStateStats.com (StatBroadcast)
Live Game Notes: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

THE PRINCIPALS: A-State claimed the last three Sun Belt Conference championships and won 28 games over the last three seasons, which is tied for the 20th most in the nation among FBS schools. The Red Wolves won 10 games in both 2011 and 2012 before finishing with an 8-5 record last season. A-State, picked to finish second in the preseason Sun Belt Conference coaches poll, enters the 2014 season under the direction of Blake Anderson, its fifth head coach over the last five years. Montana State completed the 2013 season with a 7-5 overall record and 5-3 mark against Big Sky opponents. The Bobcats are ranked No. 19 in the nation in the preseason FCS Coaches Poll and were picked to finish third in both the preseason Big Sky coaches and media polls.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : give it 10 consecutive home-opening victories . . . mark the first time since 2008 and 2009 it won back-to-back season openers . . . make Blake Anderson the 11th A-State head coach all-time to win his first game at the school . . . give the Red Wolves three consecutive home victories and 17 wins over their last 19 home games . . . improve its record over the last four seasons to 29-11 . . . extend A-State's winning streak against FCS foes to 10 games.

THE ARKANSAS STATE - MONTANA STATE SERIES: Arkansas State and Montana State played three times between 1960-84, and the Bobcats captured a victory all three times. The most recent game, played in Bozeman in 1984, saw Montana State claim a 31-14 win in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs. The Bobcats also picked up a 27-6 home win in the first game between the two schools, while a year later in 1961 they won 9-6 in Jonesboro.

 

 WR J.D. McKISSIC
ASU HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, a 13-year coaching veteran at the NCAA FBS level who also coached in an NJCAA National Championship game, was named the Red Wolves' 30th all-time head football coach on Dec. 19, 2013. Working on head coach Larry Fedora's staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at both North Carolina and Southern Miss over the last four seasons, Anderson's dynamic offense helped lead the two programs to 34 victories, three bowl game appearances and two conference or divisional titles. Along the way, his potent offense was responsible for breaking both schools' total offense records while also ranking among the most productive teams in the nation. The Hubbard, Texas native comes to A-State after spending the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at North Carolina.

A-STATE vs. THE BIG SKY: Including Montana State, Arkansas State has played three current members of the Big Sky Conference all-time. The Red Wolves have played Montana State three times (1960, ‘61, ‘84), Southern Utah twice (1997, 2002) and North Dakota once (1970), although Southern Utah and North Dakota were not members of the league at the time of those meetings. Arkansas State holds a 2-4 record in those games, claiming one win over both North Dakota and Southern Utah. A-State's last meeting against a current Big Sky opponent came in 2002 when it picked up a 38-16 victory against Southern Utah during Steve Roberts' first year as A-State's head coach. Arkansas State also claimed a 23-18 win over North Dakota during its 11-0 unblemished 1970 season.

KICKING OFF AT HOME: Arkansas State will play its season opener in Jonesboro for the second consecutive year for the first time since the 1997 and 1998 seasons. The Red Wolves will open their season in Jonesboro for just the fifth time since moving to the FBS in 1992.

HOME OPENERS: Arkansas State has won its last nine home openers at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to the 2005 campaign. The Red Wolves stand 29-11 all-time in home openers at the stadium and are also 15-6 in such games since moving to the FBS in 1992.

SEASON OPENERS: A-State claimed a 62-11 win over UAPB in last year's season opener, but has not won back-to-back season openers since the 2008 and 2009 seasons. A-State claimed an 18-14 win against Texas A&M in its first ever game as the Red Wolves, and then in 2009 knocked off Mississippi Valley State 61-0.

A-STATE vs. THE FCS: Arkansas State is playing an FCS?member for the fourth consecutive season and sixth time over the last seven years. Dating back to the 2002 campaign, the Red Wolves have won their last nine games against FCS foes by a combined 488-71 score. A-State's last setback against an FCS opponent was the 2001 regular-season finale when it dropped a 28-22 decision to Nicolls State. The Red Wolves are 20-4 against FCS opponents since moving to the FBS?in 1992.

STARTING STRONG: Blake Anderson is A-State's 30th all-time head coach, but just 10 of the previous 29 claimed a victory in their first ever game at the school. Last season Bryan Harsin became the first A-State head coach to win his initial game since Larry Lacewell in 1979, snapping a streak of seven head coaches to drop their debuts. A-State's head coaches to win their first game at the school include Harsin, Lacewell, Bill Davidson (1971), Gene Harlow (1955), Glen Harmeson (1954), Bill Adams (1939), Jack Dale (1931), Bill Stanley (1924), Foy Hammons (1919) and Clint Young (1913).

RED WOLVES TABBED SECOND IN PRESEASON SBC POLL: The Red Wolves were picked second in the preseason coaches poll announced in conjunction with the league's annual Media Day. A-State received 102 points behind Louisiana-Lafayette, which received 121 points and all 11 first-place votes.

PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE: Arkansas State placed 10 players on the 2014 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team, which tied Louisiana-Lafayette for the most in the league. Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee was named the conference's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and he was joined on the first team by four other teammates. The Red Wolves placed four offensive and six defensive players on the all-conference squad, while junior receiver J.D. McKissic also made the team as a return specialist.

CENTENNIAL SEASON: Arkansas State will kick off its 100th season of football on Aug. 30 vs. Montana State. A-State now holds a 434-462-37 record since the inaugural season and has played in 10 bowl games. A-State did not field a team from 1942-44 due to World War II. Arkansas State also didn't have a team in 1918 as World War I was ending. In honor of its 100th football season, the athletics department has created a microsite that can be viewed at AStateFootball100.com.

SUN BELT CHAMPIONS: Arkansas State claimed its third consecutive Sun Belt Conference championship in 2013. A-State has won 10 conference championships all-time. It won the Southland Conference seven times (1986, 1985, 1978, 1975, 1970, 1969, 1968). A-State also won the 2005 Sun Belt Conference title, but it was later vacated due to NCAA sanctions. Prior to the 2011-13 seasons, the last time A-State won three straight conference championships was 1968-70 when it was a member of the Southland Conference.

A WINNING RECORD: Arkansas State secured its third straight winning season in 2013 for the first time since 1985-87. A-State won 10 games in both 2011 and 2012, while collecting eight victories last season. The Red Wolves' 28 total victories since 2011 are the most over a three-year span since winning 29 games from 1985-87.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: Entering the opening week of the season, Arkansas State has 27 combined freshmen and sophomores on its depth chart to tie for the 10th most in the nation. The Red Wolves' 10 seniors on the depth chart are tied for the 10th fewest in the country. Oklahoma State leads the nation for the most freshmen and sophomores on its current depth chart with 32, while Temple has six seniors on its depth chart for the fewest in the country.

OVER .500 IN THE SUN BELT: With a 5-2 conference record last season, A-State posted a winning Sun Belt record for the sixth time since the league's inaugural season in 2001. A-State has put together three straight winning records against conference opponents for the first time since 1984-86 when it was a member of the Southland Conference.

THREE-YEAR WINS TOTAL: Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2010 and 2011 and eight more last year, the Red Wolves have recorded 28 victories for their most over a three-year span since winning 29 from 1985-87 as an NCAA?I-AA?(now FCS) member. The Red Wolves 28 total wins over the last three seasons also ranks tied for the 20th most in the nation.

NCAA FBS WINS PER YEAR SINCE 2011
Team 2011 2012 2013 Total
Alabama 12 13 11 36
Northern Illinois 11 12 12 35
Oregon 12 12 11 35
Stanford 11 12 11 34
Florida State 9 12 14 35
LSU 13 10 10 33

South Carolina 11 11 11 3
Clemson 10 11 11 32
Boise State 12 11 8 31
Oklahoma State 12 8 10 30
Oklahoma 10 10 11 31
Ohio State 6 12 12 30
Georgia 10 12 8 30
Michigan State 11 7 13 31
Cincinnati 10 10 9 29
Baylor 10 8 11 29
Louisville 7 11 12 30
Wisconsin 11 8 9 28
Kansas State 10 11 8 29
Notre Dame 8 12 9 29
A-State 10 10 8 28
Nebraska 9 10 9 28
Central Florida 5 10 12 27
Utah State 7 11 9 27
USC 10 7 10 27
Texas A&M 7 11 9 27
UL Lafayette 9 9 9 27

THREE-PEAT: Last year, Arkansas State became the third program in Sun Belt history to claim at least a share of the conference championship in three consecutive seasons, joining Troy (2006-10) and North Texas (2001-04). The Red Wolves also won three league championships in a row for the just the second time in school history, also claiming the Southland Conference titles from 1968-70.

HOME SWEET HOME: With a 5-1 home mark last season, Arkansas State secured its ninth consecutive winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. ASU is now 41-9 at Centennial Bank?Stadium since the 2005 season and has won 16 of its last 18 home games. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank?Stadium is 133-72-1 since it opened in 1974. A-State's six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.

TEN FORMER WALK-ONS EARN SCHOLARSHIP: Head coach Blake Anderson announced during A-State's fall camp that 10 former walk-ons to the Red Wolves football team have been awarded full athletics scholarships. While some of the 10 have been placed on scholarship in the past, they have all been a walk-on member of the team at some point during their careers. The list includes Brock Barnhill, Travis Bodenstein, William Boyd, Darius Buckley, Ryan Eustace, Charleston Girley, Ryan Jacobs, Booker Mays, TeDarius Turner and Raziel Velgis.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 45 of its last 51 games.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: A-State has posted at least 30 points in 25 of its last 35 regular-season games dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 15 of their last 16 games when scoring at least 30 points.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Arkansas State's collective offensive line will enter the 2014 season with the nation's third fewest combined starts in the nation. The Red Wolves return just two offensive lineman with starting experience, including sophomore Colton Jackson with 13 and senior Alan Wright with nine. The 22 combined starts are the fewest behind just Tennessee (six) and Ohio State (20). ?Following A-State is San Jose State with 23 and Army with 24.

TAKING OVER AT QB: Among the nation's 30 schools with its collective group of quarterbacks having played the fewest number of games, A-State is one of 11 without one who has ever started a game. Junior quarterback Fredi Knighten, listed at the top of A-State's depth chart, brings the most experience among the group with 19 games played -- although he has never started.

RECEIVING RECORDS: Entering his junior season, J.D. McKissic is already taking over the Arkansas State record books in almost every major receiving statistical category. He holds the school record for receptions in a game (15), season (103) and career (185). He is ranked seventh for career receiving yards with 1,672 to his credit and has nine receiving touchdowns rank tied for ninth. He is the only player in school history to have 70 or more receptions in two different seasons.

ON A ROLL: A Freshman All-America selection in 2011 and Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-America in 2012, sophomore WR J.D. McKissic has caught at least one pass in all 26 games of his career at A-State. His 26 consecutive games with a reception is tied for the 12th longest streak in the nation. He had a school-record 15 against Missouri last season. McKissic has five career 100-yard receiving games.

100-YARD RUSHER: Junior RB Michael Gordon. Gordon accumulated over 100 yards rushing a team-high four times last season, including two of the last three regular-season games. Gordon posted 606 of his 754 rushing yards in conference games, averaging 86.6 yards per contest that ranked second in the league.

GRISWOLD BREAKS OUT: Senior tight end Darion Griswold enjoyed a break-out season last year, catching 24 passes for 312 yards. His receptions total was the most in a season by an A-State tight end since Trevor Gillott recorded 24 in 2009 as well, while his 312 receiving yard were the most by a player at the position since David Johnson had 356 in 2008.

A FLARE FOR THE DRAMATIC: Sophomore RB Michael Gordon was responsible for three of the four longest runs by A-State last year, including a 92-yard outburst against UAPB that was the second longest in school history. Gordon posted a 64-yard touchdown run against Troy and had a 40-yard touchdown rush against Texas State as well.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
LOADED SECONDARY:
Arkansas State's secondary has combined to start 97 career games, which is tied with UCF for the sixth most in the nation entering the 2014 season. Just UTSA (133), Virginia (112), Colorado (111), Ole Miss (108) and Arizona (105) have more. A-State's players in the defensive backfield with starting experience include Sterling Young, Chris Humes, Money Hunter, Artez Brown, Andrew Tryon, Rocky Hayes, Frankie Jackson and Charleston Girley.

IN THE CLUTCH: Junior safety Sterling Young came up with four clutch turnovers over the last five games of the regular season in 2013, helping spark the Red Wolves to strong second-half showings. Young came up with an interception against both South Alabama and ULM and a fumble recovery versus Georgia State and Western Kentucky . . . Much like his pick against South Alabama, his interception against ULM came at a critical junction of the game and sparked a solid second-half performance by the Red Wolves . . . His interception against ULM came with score tied 14-14 and at the ULM's 38-yard line, directly leading to a touchdown that started a 28-0 scoring outburst by A-State . . . His pick against South Alabama came with Red Wolves trailing 6-0 and in the back of A-State's end zone. It occurred on the Jaguars first drive of the second half, and the Red Wolves marched down the field for a touchdown and 7-6 lead on its ensuing drive . . . He returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown on Georgia State's first drive of the second half to cut A-State's deficit to just 17-14 . . . Young recorded another fumble recovery with 11:15 remaining in the fourth quarter against WKU, directly leading to a touchdown that gave A-State a 31-27 advantage.

COVERING AT CORNERBACK: Junior corner Rocky Hayes made a big impact in his first season on the defensive side of the ball in 2013, leading the team in both pass break-ups (10, tied for most) and interceptions (3). He ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference in passes defended with 13. Hayes is ranked 43rd in the nation in passes defended. Additionally, senior Artez Brown had a career-best 10 pass break-ups last season and had 11 passes defended. Brown ranked fourth in the Sun Belt Conference in passes defended.

LEAVE NO STONE UNBLOCKED: Sophomore defensive end Chris Stone made a habit of disrupting the opponent's backfield last season, recording a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss that ranked 11th in the Sun Belt Conference. Stone recorded at least one tackle for loss in seven games last season and posted a career-high two in two different games. He had three tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

ANOTHER 100: Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee recorded a team-high 134 tackles last season, making him the first A-State player to record over 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons since linebacker Les Echols in 2002 (105) and 2003 (123). He ranked 12th in the nation in tackles and led the Sun Belt Conference. Lee recorded a career-high 16 tackles at South Alabama and had at least 10 tackles in six of the last eight games, giving him 10 career games with double-figure stops. His 134 tackles were the fifth most in school history.

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