A-State at Auburn in-depth preview

A-State at Auburn in-depth preview

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Arkansas State (0-1) at Auburn (0-1)
6:30 p.m. Saturday
Jordan-Hare Stadium

Radio:
  EAB Red Wolves Sports Network (92.7 KASR Conway, 107.9 FM Jonesboro)
TV:
  SEC Network
Live Stats:
  AStateRedWolves.com
Live Game Notes:
  twitter.com/AStateGameDay

ON TAP: Arkansas State hits the road this week for the first of back-to-back non-conference road games, traveling to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face an Auburn team that entered the season receiving votes in both the Associated Press and Coaches Top 25 polls.  The game is set for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff and will be televised by the SEC Network.  Every A-State game can be heard live on 107.9 FM in the Northeast Arkansas area.  The live radio broadcast can also be accessed on the official A-State Athletics web site (AStateRedWolves.com) and the A-State Athletics app.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  give the Red Wolves their first victory over Auburn and an SEC opponent . . . mark its second win over a high resource (Power 5) conference team since moving to FBS status in 1992, and its first since defeating Texas A&M in 2008 while the Aggies were a member of the Big 12 Conference . . . snap a three-game skid against non-conference opponents . . . give the Red Wolves their fifth consecutive road win . . . move its record to 1-1 after two games for the fifth time over the last six seasons (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 . . . A-State began last season 0-2).

THE PRINCIPALS:  Arkansas State, the only FBS program in the nation to win four conference championships over the last five seasons, began its 2016 campaign with a 31-10 setback at home against a Toledo team that entered the season receiving votes in both the Associated Press and Coaches Top 25 polls.  Auburn continues a stretch of five consecutive home games to begin the season after falling 19-13 to No.2-ranked Clemson in its season opener last week.  The Red Wolves are one of two Sun Belt Conference opponents on the Tigers’ schedule, also hosting Louisiana-Monroe in their fifth contest.

HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, a 16-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 back-to-back winning seasons, a pair of bowl game appearances (2015 New Orleans Bowl and 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) and the 2015 Sun Belt Conference championship his first two seasons at the helm, which also saw the Red Wolves break the school records for total offense (6,174 yards in 2014), average yards total offense (476.5 yards per game in 2014), total plays (1,024 in 2014), points scored (520 in 2015), touchdowns scored (69 in 2015) and interceptions (26 in 2015).  During his first two years at the helm of the program, he saw 20 of his players earn 26 All-Sun Belt Conference selections -- the most in the league over that span.

THE ARKANSAS STATE - AUBURN SERIES:  Arkansas State and Auburn have played three times since first meeting in 2006, and Saturday’s game will mark the third game this decade (2010, 2013, 2016) between the two programs.  A-State suffered a 27-0 setback in 2006 when Auburn was ranked No. 6 and fell 52-26 to the eventual national champions when they were No. 22 in 2010.  The last meeting between the two teams, played the season following Gus Malzahn’s departure as A-State’s head coach, saw the Tigers claim a 38-9 victory in 2013 before going on to play in the national championship game. 

A-STATE vs. THE SEC:  The Tigers will be Arkansas State’s fifth SEC opponent over the last four years after facing both Auburn and Missouri in 2013, Tennessee in 2014 and Missouri again in 2015.  Although A-State has never defeated a team while it was a member of the SEC, it has picked up victories over two current schools prior to them joining the league.  The Red Wolves defeated Ole Miss 10-0 in 1915 and also tied the Rebels twice.  The Red Wolves defeated Texas A&M 18-14 in 2008 as well while the Aggies were a member of the Big 12 Conference.  A-State has played Ole Miss 23 times, more than any other current SEC member.

ALABAMA RED WOLVES:  Arkansas State has 13 players on its roster from the state of Alabama, which is third most behind just Arkansas (37) and Texas (18).  Among the Red Wolves’ 13 players from the state of Alabama, Blaise Taylor, Cam Echols-Luper and Griffin Riggs all three played at Auburn High School before finding their way to A-State.  Additionally 10 of those 13 are listed on the Red Wolves current depth chart.

THAT’S A FIRST:  The Red Wolves had 15 players participate in their first career game last week at A-State, including four as starters.  There were 11 offensive players who saw their first action at A-State, including Chad Voytik (Sr., QB, starter), Kendall Sanders (Sr., WR, starter), Cam Echols-Luper (Jr., WR, starter), Armond Weh-Weh (Jr., RB), Christian Booker (Jr., WR), Justice Hansen (So., QB), Justin McInnis (So., WR), Omar Bayless (Fr.-R, WR), Darveon Brown (Fr.-R, WR), Avery Johnson (Fr.-R, TE) and Dalton Ford (Fr.-R, OL).  There were two defensive players, including Dee Liner (Jr., DL, starter) and Kyle Wilson (Jr., LB).  The remaining two were Sawyer Williams (Fr.-R, K) and Damon Foncham (Fr.-R, P).

PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE:  A league-high 11 A-State players received 12 selections to the 2016 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Football Team.  Not only were the Red Wolves’ 12 total selections four more than the next closest team in the conference, they saw a league-best eight players tabbed first team.

102ND SEASON:  Arkansas State kicked off its 102nd season of football Sept. 2 vs. Toledo.  A-State holds a 450-473-37 record since the inaugural season and has played in 13 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.

FIVE-YEAR WINS TOTAL:  Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013, seven in 2014 and nine last season, the Red Wolves have recorded 44 victories that are tied for the 23rd most in the nation over the last six years.

DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK:  Three of Arkansas State’s victories last season came after the Red Wolves entered halftime behind on the scoreboard.  During those three victories, A-State outscored its opponents by a combined 86-23 in the second half.  The Red Wolves also defeated Utah State during the 2014 season after entering the second half behind, giving them four second-half comeback victories under head coach Blake Anderson.

DOUBLE DIGITS:  All nine A-State victories last season came by at least 10 points, and the Red Wolves average margin of victory in its eight Sun Belt wins was 21.1 points.  Six of A-State’s seven wins in 2014 also came by a double-figure margin, meaning 15 of the Red Wolves’ 16 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points.  The only exception was a 21-14 overtime win over Utah State in 2014.

FIVE ALIVE:  Arkansas State has secured five consecutive winning seasons (2011-15) for not only the first as an FBS member, but also the first time at any level since 1949-53.  The only time A-State has ever strung together six straight winning seasons was 1912-17.  The Red Wolves piled up 44 victories from 2011-15 for its most over a five-year span in the program’s 102-year history.

TOP 25:  Arkansas State was receiving votes in both the Associated Press (2 points) and Coaches (6 points) Top 25 polls at the end of the 2015 regular season, making  it the fourth season since 2011 that A-State was included among “others receiving votes” at one point during the year.  The Red Wolves also earned votes in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  A-State’s most ever points in the Associated Press (28) and Coaches (23) Top 25 came in the 2012 final polls.

SUN BELT CHAMPS:  Arkansas State won the 2015 Sun Belt Conference championship with an unblemished 8-0 record, giving it the league title for the fourth time over the last five seasons with a 33-6 conference record over that span.  A-State also won the league title 2011-13, including outright championships in 2011 and 2012.  It is just the second program in Sun Belt history with three (2015, 2011-12) outright titles, along with North Texas (2002-04).  Arkansas State is one of three programs to ever win at least four total Sun Belt Conference championships, joining North Texas (4) and Troy (5)

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BET:  Arkansas State has won 33 of its last 39 Sun Belt Conference games (.846 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the conference to 66-42.  The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 23.  With the exception of Georgia Southern, which A-State has never faced as an SBC opponent, the Red Wolves have defeated every team in the conference since the football league was formed in 2001.  Along with ULM and Louisiana-Lafayette, A-State is one of three teams that have been a part of the conference since its inaugural football season.

ALL-TIME CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS:  Including four of the last five Sun Belt Conference titles, Arkansas State has won 11 conference championships all-time.  A-State won the Southland Conference seven times (1986, 1985, 1978, 1975, 1970, 1969, 1968).  The Red Wolves also won the 2005 Sun Belt Conference title, but it was later vacated due to NCAA sanctions.

BOWL HISTORY:  Arkansas State has played in 13 bowl games all-time and holds a 4-8-1 record in those contests.  The Red Wolves have made a bowl game five consecutive years (2011-15) for the first time in school history.  They played in the New Orleans Bowl last season and in the GoDaddy Bowl the four years prior to that, winning two of them during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.  A-State also played in the 2005 New Orleans Bowl, which marked its first bowl appearance since 1970.  Arkansas State played in seven bowl games from 1951-70, including the Pecan Bowl (1968-70), Tangerine Bowl (1952 & 1951) and the Refrigerator Bowl (1951-52).  The Tangerine Bowl was played in Orlando, Fla., the Pecan Bowl in Arlington, Texas, and the Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Ind.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
TWO-MINUTE OFFENSE:  The Arkansas State offense scored in two minutes or less on 35 of its 58 touchdown drive last season for a 60.3 percentage that ranked among the 10 highest in the nation.  Both of the Red Wolves scoring drives in their 2016 season opener took less than two minutes.

300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 69 of its last 78 games (.885 percentage).  A-State went over 300 yards in all 13 games during head coach Blake Anderson’s first season and reached the mark 11 times last year, including the last nine games in a row.

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State has posted at least 400 yards total offense in 18 of 27 games (66 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach.  The Red Wolves posted over 500 yards total offense six times in 2015, including a season-high 624 yards against Missouri State.  The last time A-State had recorded at least 500 yards total offense in six or more games was 2012 when it did so seven times.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  A-State has posted at least 30 points in 41 of its last 60 regular-season games (68 percent) dating back to the 2011 season, including 15 of the last 20 contests. The Red Wolves have won 29 of their last 33 games when scoring at least 30 points.  A-State broke the school record in 2015 for both points scored (520) and touchdowns scored (69).  Additionally, the Red Wolves ranked 12th in the nation in scoring offense last year, averaging 40.0 points per game.

RANKING THE O-LINE:  With all five starters returning on the offensive line in 2016, the Red Wolves’ front five received high praise from Athlon Sports as the No. 27 ranked o-line unit in the nation.  A-State’s first-team unit has 106 combined starts between them entering the 2016 season.  Senior center Devin Mondie is a member of the Rimington Award Watch List, Colton Jackson has started all 39 games of his career and Jemar Clark joined them on the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team.

RUSHING RED WOLVES:  Arkansas State has posted at least 200 rushing yards in seven of their last 10 games, dating back to last season.  The Red Wolves ran for over 200 yards in five straight games (first time since 1988 when it was an FCS member) at one point during the 2015 season.  Arkansas State ranked 15th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 231.3 yards per game.

FINDING THE END ZONE:  A former walk-on and Burlsworth Trophy nominee, junior running back Johnston White recorded a team and career-best 14 rushing touchdowns last season as a sophomore to give him 20 running scores during his career.  He has scored at least one rushing touchdown eight of his last 10 games played.  White’s 14 running scores last season tied for the fifth most in school history.  His 20 career rushing touchdowns are tied for the 10th most in school history.

WAND MADE EARLY IMPACT:  Running back Warren Wand rushed for 709 yards, the second most on the team, last season and averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a true freshman.  His 709 yards were the most by a true freshman at A-State since Lamont Zachery ran for 846 yards in 1996.  Wand has rushed for at least 50 yards in seven games, including a career-high 119 against Georgia State.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
BREAK IT UP:  Arkansas State saw 15 different players combine to record 51 pass break-ups last season, which were its third most ever as an FBS member.  The last time the Red Wolves had recorded more than 47 pass break-ups was 2013 when it had an FBS-era record 57.  Senior safety Cody Brown (then a junior) posted a team-high nine pass break-ups and ranked tied for fifth in the Sun Belt in passes defended with 12.  Brown was the only player in the Sun Belt ranked among the top 35 players in tackles and top five in both passes defended and interceptions.

PICK IT OFF:  The Red Wolves led the nation in interceptions last season with a Sun Belt Conference record 26.  Fifteen different players combined for those 26 picks that were the third most in school history and the most by an A-State team since the 1969 squad posted a school-record tying 32 (tied with the 1961 team).  A-State posted a season-high four interceptions at ULM, and it recorded at least three in six games.

PICK-SIX:  Arkansas State recorded six interception returns for a touchdown last season, which was the second most in Sun Belt Conference history and just two shy of the NCAA record currently held by the 2011 Southern Miss and 2012 SMU teams.  While he coached on the offensive side of the ball, A-State head coach Blake Anderson was also a member of that 2011 Southern Miss team.  The current Sun Belt Conference record is seven, held by the 2011 Louisiana-Lafayette team.  The Red Wolves also posted a school-record 503 interception return yards, led by senior safety Money Hunter (then a junior) with 128 yards that ranked tied for the fifth most ever by an A-State player.  Hunter had two interception returns for a touchdown last season to tie the Sun Belt Conference record.  Additionally, he has three for his career to tie that Sun Belt record as well.

TURNOVER KINGS:  Arkansas State ranked second in the nation in turnovers gained last season with 34, including 26 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.  They turned eight of those turnovers into defensive touchdowns, which led the nation.  A-State’s 34 turnovers gained tied the 2002 team for the most by the Red Wolves since joining the FBS in 1992, and it was also the programs most at any level since 1988 when it had 39.  The Red Wolves have recorded at least one turnover gained in 24 of 27 games played under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.

WOODSON-LUSTER MATCHES CAREER HIGH:  Senior linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster tied a personal career high with 14 tackles, while also posting two tackles for loss and a forced fumble during Arkansas State’s season opener against Toledo.  His 14 tackles not only tied his personal best, it also matched the most by a Sun Belt player and the 12th most in the nation last week.  Reaching double figures in the tackles column for the seventh time of his career, Woodson-Luster’s total stops were the most by an A-State player since the 2014 season.  He was also responsible for the fourth forced fumble of his career and his two tackles for loss gives him 16.5 for his career.

GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK:  Arkansas State has recorded 30 or more sacks in back-to-back seasons (2014-15) for the first time ever during its FBS era (1992-cur.).  Sixteen players combined for 31 sacks a year ago, which came one year after tallying 37.  The Red Wolves ranked second in the SBC in sacks and 41st in the nation.

PLAYING IN THE BACKFIELD:  Junior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones recorded at least a half TFL in 10 games last season and in 14 of his last 18 contests dating back to his freshman year.  He also had a team and Sun Belt Conference high 9.0 sacks last season, and he has a team-high 17.0 for his career.  He has tallied at least a half sack in 12 of his last 19 games. 

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
SPECIAL TEAMS SOLID: 
Arkansas State’s special teams units under coordinator Luke Paschall have become one of the best-rounded in the nation the last two seasons, ranking among the top 41 teams in the country in five different statistical categories and among the top 31 in four.

BLOCK PARTY:  Senior defensive end Chris Odom  posted a team-high three blocked kicks last season as a junior to tie third most in school history.  He recorded his first two career blocks during the Georgia State game, his first coming on a field goal and the second on an extra point attempt.  In the process, he became the seventh player in school history to record multiple blocks in the same game.  His third block came on a Texas State field goal attempt to end the first half.  The Red Wolves had four total blocks, which tied the fifth most in school history.

ON THE RETURN:  Junior cornerback Blaise Taylor   recorded 322 punt returns yards last season to lead the Sun Belt Conference and account for the second most in school history.  His two-year career has seen him pile up 556 punt return yards that are the second most in school history and the third most ever by a Sun Belt player.  He has two punt returns for touchdowns (1 in both 2014 and 2015), making him one of six Sun Belt players all-time with multiple scores.

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