A-State at Southern Cal in-depth preview

A-State at Southern Cal in-depth preview

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A-State (0-0) at No. 8 Southern Cal (0-0)
10 p.m. Saturday
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
RADIO: 107.9 FM Jonesboro, 92.7 FM Conway
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: AStateRedWolves.com
Live Game Notes: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

  
 
THE PRINCIPALS: Arkansas State enters its second year under head coach Blake Anderson after putting together a 7-6 record last season and making a postseason appearance in the GoDaddy Bowl. The Red Wolves have posted four consecutive winning seasons, while also playing in the last four GoDaddy Bowls. A-State was picked to finish third in the 2015 Sun Belt Conference Coaches Preseason poll. Like Anderson, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian begins his second year at his current school. He led the Trojans, ranked No. 8 in the initial 2015 AP Top-25 Poll, to a 9-4 record a year ago and 45-42 victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : give the Red Wolves their first ever victory over a Pac-12 opponent . . . give it a road win over a non-conference opponent for the first time since 2008 . . . give the Red Wolves their first win over a Power 5 conference since defeating Texas A&M in 2008 while the Aggies were a member of the Big 12 Conference . . . give the Red Wolves their second victory over a Top-25 ranked opponent since moving to FBS status in 1992 . . . mark its third consecutive year with a season-opening victory for the first time since 1979-81.

BY THE NUMBERS . . .
1 100-yard rushing performance for Michael Gordon to become the 8th player in school history with 10+.

2 straight top-25 opponents to open the season for the first time since 2004.

2 consecutive (2013 and 2014) season-opening victories.

2 players from the state of California -- Cameron?Birse and Tyler Trosin.

4 school records held by J.D. McKissic, including single-game (15), season (103) & career receptions (237).

4 consecutive bowl game appearances, including back-to-back GoDaddy Bowl wins in 2013 and 2014.

4 consecutive winning seasons by A-State (last time 1984-87).

4 current players have already earned their degree -- T. Houston, L. Ferguson, B. Mays, C. Girley.

5 head coaches over the last 6 years (Steve Roberts, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, Bryan Harsin, Blake Anderson).

6 true freshmen and nine total freshmen on A-State's current depth chart.

6.8 career yards per rushing attempt by Michael Gordon is the second highest in school history.

7 fifth-year seniors and 15 total seniors on A-State's current depth chart.

7 of the last 10 seasons (2005-14) have seen A-State reach bowl eligibility.

7 or more victories each of the last four seasons.

8 players named to at least one major award watch list.

8 of last nine years w/at least one NFL Draft selection.

9 career 100-yard rushing games by Michael Gordon, including five of the last eight.

10 consecutive seasons with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium (2005-14).

10 career runs covering at least 40 yards by Michael Gordon.

10 Sun Belt Conference Team Academic Awards over the last 13 years.

11 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference selections are the most in the league.

16 players named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team by at least one college football publication.

25 Sun Belt Conference victories over the last four seasons (25-6 league record).

25 "top-10" school records held by Fredi Knighten.

26 receptions needed by J.D. McKissic for the most in Sun Belt Conference history (career).

28 turnovers gained in 2014 were A-State's third most ever as an FBS member.

30 or more points scored by A-State in 32 of its last 47 regular-season games (68 percent).

35 victories by A-State over the last four seasons ranks among the 30th most in the nation.

37 sacks last year were the most by an A-State team since 2002 (39).

42.1 career punting average by Luke Ferguson is the second highest in school history.

46 victories and just 10 losses at Centennial Bank Stadium since 2005 (.821 winning percentage).

46 All-Sun Belt Conference selections over the last four seasons.

86 tackles for loss in 2014 were A-State's third most ever as an FBS member.

101 rushing yds needed by Michael Gordon to become 12th player in A-State history w/2,000 in a career.

146 receiving yards needed by J.D. McKissic for the second most every by an A-State player (career).

237 career receptions by J.D. McKissic -- most in the nation among active players & 2nd most in SBC history.

300 or more yards of total offense in 58 of its last 64 games (91 percent), including all 13 last season.

400 or more points scored three of the last four years, including a school-record 477 last season.

400 or more yards total offense averaged last five seasons, including school-record 476.5 in 2014.

464 passing yards needed by Fredi Knighten to become the 8th player in school history w/4,000 for a career.

705 career rec. yds by Darion Griswold are the most by an A-State TE since David Johnson (760, 2005-08).

2010 was the last year A-State started a season with same head coach as the year prior until 2015.

HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, a 14-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. Anderson led A-State to its fourth consecutive winning season and bowl-game appearance his first season at the helm, which also saw the Red Wolves break the school records for total offense (6,194), average yards total offense (476.5 yards per game), total plays (1,024), points scored (477) and touchdowns scored (65). Despite injuries forcing Anderson to use a different starting lineup in every regular-season game, his squad ranked among the top 45 teams in the nation in 23 combined offensive, defensive and special teams categories. In the process, he saw 11 of his players earn All-Sun?Belt Conference recognition, which tied the second most in the league.

OUT OF THE GATE: Blake Anderson is A-State's 30th all-time head coach, but became just the 11th to claim a victory in his first ever game at the school in 2014. Larry Lacewell is the last A-State head coach to win his first two season openers (1982 and 1983) at the school. A-State's head coaches to win their first game at the school include Anderson, Bryan Harsin (2013), 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).

FAST START: Out of 30 all-time head coaches at Arkansas State, Blake Anderson became one of just four to win at least seven games (2014) in his first season at the school. The other head coaches to win at least seven games in their first season as head coach at A-State are Bryan Harsin (2013), Gus Malzahn (2012) and Hugh Freeze (2011).

BREAKING THE CYCLE: Arkansas State will begin a season with the same head coach it had the season before for the first time since 2010. Not only is Blake Anderson back for his second consecutive year, the Red Wolves have their entire coaching staff back for a second straight year for the first time since 2007. Following a nine-year stint by Steve Roberts as A-State's head coach, Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss), Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Bryan Harsin (Boise State) all spent one year at the helm of the program.

THE ARKANSAS STATE - USC SERIES: Not only is Arkansas State playing USC for the first time in school history, the game will also mark the first meeting between a Sun Belt Conference team and the Trojans. A-State's designation as the only SBC team to ever play the Trojans will be short-lived, however, as USC is set to host Idaho the following weekend. While USC won't be playing Idaho for the first time, it will be the first meeting between the two schools with the Vandals holding Sun Belt Conference membership.

A-STATE vs. THE PAC-12: Arkansas State is set to face a current member of the Pac-12 for just the second time in school history. The Red Wolves only other meeting against a current member of the league came in their 2012 season opener at No. 5 Oregon -- a game A-State dropped 57-34.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': USC will be just the fourth school located in the state of California that Arkansas State has ever played, also facing Pacific twice, San Jose State twice and San Diego State once. The Red Wolves have played just two road games in the Golden State all-time, including a 1993 trip to Stockton to play to Pacific and a 1976 trip to San Jose. The Red Wolves dropped both those games and stand 1-4 all-time against teams from California regardless of where the game was played.

CALIFORNIA RED WOLVES: Arkansas State has two players on its roster from the state of California, including sophomore quarterback Cameron Birse (Danville, Calif.; San Ramon Valley HS) and senior wide receiver Tyler Trosin (Folsom, Calif.; Folsom HS).

SEASON OPENERS: A-State defeated Montana State 37-10 in its 2014 season opener and began its 2013 campaign with a 62-11 victory over UAPB, giving the Red Wolves back-to-back wins its season opener for the first time since 2008 and 2009. The last time A-State won its season opener in three consecutive years was 1979-81.

TWO TOP-25: A-State will begin its 2015 campaign with back-to-back games against Top 25 teams (No. 8 USC, No. 23 Missouri) for the first time since 2004 when it faced then-ranked No. 17 Missouri and No. 4 LSU. The Red Wolves' lone victory over a top-25 team since joining the FBS in 1992 came against No. 25 Kent State in the 2013 GoDaddy Bowl. No. 8 USC is the highest ranked opponent Arkansas State has faced since playing at No. 5 Oregon to open the 2012 season.

FIVE ALIVE: Arkansas State has put together four consecutive winning seasons (2011-14) for not only the first time as an FBS member, but also the first time at any level since 1984-87 when it was a member of the NCAA FCS. The last time the Red Wolves strung together five straight winning seasons was 1949-53.

YOUTH MOVEMENT vs. SENIOR LEADERSHIP: Arkansas State has nine freshmen on its current depth chart, including redshirt freshman Daniel Keith and true freshman Tajhea Chambers listed as starters at the left guard and linebacker positions, respectively. ?Additionally, six of the nine total are true freshmen. At the same time, the Red Wolves also have 15 seniors on their depth chart. Eight of those 15 are listed as starters and seven are fifth-year players.

RED WOLVES TABBED THIRD IN SBC PRESEASON POLL: Arkansas State was picked third in the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, receiving 96 points and one first place vote. ?The Red Wolves have been picked to finish among the top three teams in the league seven of the last 10 years. A-State has won the conference three of the last four years, including 2011, 2012 and 2013.

PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE: Led by six first-team selections, Arkansas State placed a league-high 11 players on the 2015 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team. The Red Wolves had two first team offense, three first team defense and one first team special teams picks, while five other players garnered second team accolades.

FOUR-YEAR WINS TOTAL: Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013 and seven last year, the Red Wolves have recorded 35 victories that are tied for the 27th most in the nation over the last four years. Additionally, A-State's 35 wins are the second most in school history for any four-year span. A-State won 37 contests from 1984-87 as an NCAA FCS member.

101ST SEASON: Arkansas State will kick off its 101st season of football Sept. 5 at USC. A-State now holds a 441-468-37 record since the inaugural season and has played in 12 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.

THREE FORMER WALK-ONS EARN SCHOLARSHIP: Head coach Blake Anderson announced during A-State's fall camp that three former walk-ons to the Red Wolves football team have been awarded full athletics scholarships. While senior defensive back Raziel Velgis has been placed on scholarship in the past, all three have all been a walk-on member of the team at some point during their careers. In addition Velgis, sophomore receiver Sterling Stowers and sophomore defensive lineman Clifford Thomas have earned a scholarship.

OFFENSIVE TEAM NOTES
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 58 of its last 64 games. A-State went over 300 in all 13 games last season, including a season-high 764 versus New Mexico State in its regular-season finale.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: A-State has posted at least 30 points in 32 of its last 47 regular-season games (68 percent) dating back to the 2011 season, including six of the last seven. The Red Wolves have won 20 of their last 24 games when scoring at least 30 points.

BREAKING RECORDS: The 2014 season saw A-State break the school records for total offense (6,194 yards), average yards total offense (476.5 ypg), total plays (1,024), points scored (477) and touchdowns scored (65).

AMONG THE BEST: The Red Wolves' 2014 offensive unit ranked among the top 45 teams in the nation in seven statistical categories, including scoring offense (No. 18), total offense (No. 20), rushing offense (No. 25), first downs (No. 30), completion percentage (No. 36), team passing efficiency (No. 38) and passing offense (No. 39).

OFFENSIVE OUTBURST: The Red Wolves recorded at least 300 yards in every game last season, over 400 in nine contests and at least 500 in five outings. A-State exploded for a school and Sun Belt Conference record 764 yards total offense in its regular-season finale against New Mexico State, which was also the seventh most in the nation for a single game.

GROWING NUMBERS FOR GRISWOLD: Senior tight end Darion Griswold's 705 career receiving yards are the most by an A-State tight end since David Johnson (now with the San Diego Chargers) recorded 760 from 2005-08. Griswold's 52 receptions are the most by an A-State tight end since Trevor Gillott posted 59 from 2006-09. The school records for receptions (79) and yards (1,216) by a tight end are both held by Steve Lockhart (1968-71). Lockhart was a 12th round NFL Draft pick by the New Orleans Saints.

TAKING OVER AT QB: In 11 of his 13 career starts (all last season), senior quarterback Fredi Knighten has posted over 200 yards total offense. Knighten has recorded at least 300 yards total offense in seven of the last nine games.

A FLARE FOR THE DRAMATIC: Senior RB Michael Gordon holds a career 6.8 average per rush, which ranks as the second highest in school history, and has been a part of 16 plays covering at least 30 yards the past two seasons. He has recorded 10 career runs covering at least 40 yards: 92 yd TD vs UAPB (2013); 70 yd TD vs ULL?(2014); 68 yd vs ULM (2014); 64 yd TD vs Troy (2013); 53 vs GSU (2014); 50 vs GSU (2014); 49 yd vs ULM (2014); 44 yd TD vs Idaho (2014); 42 yd TD vs Montana State (2014); 40 yd TD vs Texas State (2013)

RECEIVING RECORDS: Entering the 2015 season, J.D. McKissic has already taken 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 (237). He is ranked third for career receiving yards with 2,301 to his credit and has nine receiving touchdowns that rank tied for ninth. He is the only player in school history to have 70 or more receptions in two different seasons.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK:
Arkansas State recorded 37 sacks last season, giving it a 2.85 average per game that ranked 17th in the nation. A-State returns 13 players that combined for 32 of those 37 sacks, including sophomore defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, who ranked 14th in the nation in sacks a season ago with 8.0.

PLAYING BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: The Red Wolves record 86 tackles for loss last season, giving them a 6.6 average that ranked 36th in the nation. Like it's sacks total, the bulk of those tackles for loss were recorded by players who are back for the 2015 season. In fact, A-State returns 17 players who were responsible for 60.5 of those 86 tackles for loss. Senior defensive end Chris Stone and sophomore defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones both finished the 2014 season with at least 10.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

OPPORTUNISTIC DEFENSE: A-State proved to have one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation a year ago under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen. The Red Wolves ranked No. 14 in the nation in defensive touchdowns (4), No. 15 in passes intercepted (16), No. 21 in turnovers gained (28) and No. 28 in fumbles recovered (12). A-State's 28 turnovers gained were its third most ever as an FBS member.

KEEPING THE SCORE DOWN: Throughout the course of the 2014 season, the Red Wolves held five opponents to 14 points or less. That was its most ever as an FBS?member and the most at any level since 1986 when it did so 10 times.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
COVERED UP:
The Red Wolves were one of the top teams in both kickoff and punt coverage a year ago, ranking No. 4 in the nation in kickoff return defense (16.31 ypr) and No. 9 in punt return defense (3.10 ypr).

ON THE RETURN: A-State brings back all its return men from last year's team that ranked No. 31 in the nation in kickoff returns. ?The Red Wolves' 22.5 yards per kickoff return ranked as the fourth highest average in school history. Cornerback Blaise Taylor emerged as a threat on punt return, ranking second in the league and 35th in the nation in average yards per return while earning All-Sun Belt recognition as a return specialist.


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