A-State at Ga. Southern in-depth preview

A-State at Ga. Southern in-depth preview

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A-STATE (3-1, 0-0) at Georgia Southern (2-1, 0-0)
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Allen E. Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, Ga.|
RADIO: 107.9 FM Jonesboro, 106.7 & 99.3 FM in Central Ark.
TV: ESPN+
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

THE PRINCIPALS:  The Red Wolves have secured a winning record against non-conference opponents for the first time since 1995 and now turns their sights to Sun Belt Conference competition for the remainder of the regular season.  A-State, the only FBS program in the nation to win five conference championships over the last seven seasons (2011-17), has won its last five Sun Belt openers and will face Georgia Southern in its first conference game for the third consecutive year.  The Eagles inaugural season (2014) as a member of the Sun Belt Conference saw them capture the league title with an unblemished 8-0 record, but they have produced a 12-12 combined conference mark in the three seasons since while finishing no better than third.  They are under the direction of Chad Lunsford, who is in his first full season as head coach after previously serving as interim head coach for the final six games of the 2017 season.  Georgia Southern currently holds a 2-1 overall record with home wins over South Carolina State (37-6) and UMASS (34-13) and a road setback at No. 2 Clemson (7-38).

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  move its record to 4-1 or better through five games for the first time ever as an FBS member and the first time at any level since it was 4-0-1 in 1986 . . . give the Red Wolves a win in their conference opener for a school-record sixth consecutive season . . . make it 13-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers . . . make it 24-5 over its last 29 Sun Belt Conference road games . . . would tie Blake Anderson with Steve Roberts for the fifth most wins ever by a head coach at A-State . . . move its all-time record versus Georgia Southern to 3-1 and give it 79 all-time Sun Belt Conference wins.

THE A-STATE - GEORGIA SOUTHERN SERIES:  Arkansas State and Georgia Southern will meet for the third time as Sun Belt Conference opponents and fourth time ever.  The two teams have played in their Sun Belt opener each of the last two years with A-State claiming a narrow 27-26 win in Jonesboro in 2016 and a 43-25 victory in Statesboro last season.  The Red Wolves hold a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series that also includes a 26-7 Georgia Southern win in the 1986 I-AA national championship game in Tacoma, Wash. 

ROAD WARRIORS:  Arkansas State has won 23 of its last 28 conference road games dating back to the 2011 season.  A-State had won 10 consecutive conference road games, its longest streak ever as a member of any league, before falling to Western Kentucky in its 2013 regular-season finale.  The Red Wolves went 4-0 in conference road games in 2011, 2012 and 2015, 3-1 in 2016 and 2017, 2-1 in 2013 and 2-2 in 2014.

BY THE NUMBERS . . 
1 or more turnovers gained by A-State in 46 of 55 games (83%) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.

1 of just two programs in league history owning at least five Sun Belt Conference championships.

1 or more touchdown passes by Justice Hansen in 20 of the last 21 games.

1 touchback and just eight opponent return attempts (11%) in 73 career punts by Cody Grace.

1 A-State victory needed to move Blake Anderson into a tie with Steve Roberts for the 5th most wins by a HC at the school.

2 players named a Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week this season (QB Justice Hansen, DE William Bradley-King).

3 straight seasons A-State and Georgia Southern have met in both team’s Sun Belt Conference opener.

3 A-State victories through its first four games are its most since the 2008 season.

3 games this season that Kirk Merritt has either tied or led the team in receptions.

4 punt returns this season by A-State’s opponents for -13 yards (No. 1 punt return defense in the nation).

5 Sun Belt Conference championships (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016) over the last seven seasons (2011-17).

5 consecutive Sun Belt Conference openers won by A-State.

6 A-State players on a combined 15 college football award watch lists.

6 touchdown passes by Justice Hansen vs SEMO was a school record and tied the second most in Sun Belt history.

7 straight bowl game appearances (2011-17) -- a school record.

7 consecutive winning seasons (2011-17) by A-State for the first time in school history.

7 or more victories each of the last seven seasons (2011-17) -- first time in school history.

7 current A-State players have already earned their degree.

7 players on A-State’s roster from the state of Georgia.

9 A-State players on the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team were the second most in the league.

9 all-time Sun Belt Conference Team Academic Awards

9 or more players with at least one reception in each of A-State’s first four games.

10 or more tackles by Darreon Jackson four of A-State’s last five games.

10 of the last 13 seasons (2005-17) have seen A-State reach bowl eligibility, including the last 7 in a row.

10 players in school history, including Warren Wand, who have rushed for over 2,500 yards in a career.

11 explosive plays (15+ pass/12+ rush) per game this season by the A-State offense.

11.9 yards per rush (8 att. for 95 yards) by Marcel Murray versus UNLV.

13 consecutive seasons with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium (2005-17).

17.4 kickoff return defense average ranks No. 26 in the nation, one year after allowing a 21.4 avg. & ranking No. 74.

19 points for A-State in the top-25 Coaches’ Poll tied Troy for the most ever by an SBC program in a preseason poll.

19 A-State players on at least one preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team.

20 defensive touchdowns between 2014-18 under DC Joe Cauthen.

23 victories by Arkansas State over its last 28 Sun Belt Conference road games.

28 consecutive games with at least one sack by the A-State defense.

30 of A-State’s 34 victories under HC Blake Anderson have come by a double-figure margin.

30 or more points scored by A-State in 55 of its last 86 regular-season games (64 percent).

31 of the last 33 games with at least five tackles for loss by the A-State defense.

34 A-State victories under Blake Anderson are the most by any A-State head coach over his first five seasons.

36 A-State victories over its last 43 home games.

46 Sun Belt Conference victories over the last seven (2011-17) seasons (46-9 league record).

62 victories by A-State over the last eight seasons ranks tied for the 25th most in the nation.

71 interceptions by the A-State defense over the last five years are the fifth most in the nation.

78 all-time Sun Belt Conference victories by A-State, which are the most in the history of the league by any program.

116 turnovers gained by A-State over the last five seasons ranks as the fifth most in the nation over that span.

121 consecutive games played without A-State being shutout.

170 rushing yards or more in four consecutive games for the first time since the 2015 season.

173 rushing yards vs Alabama were the most allowed by the Crimson Tide since 2015 vs. Georgia -- a span of 41 games.

299 yards or less total offense by A-State’s opponents in 10 of the Red Wolves’ last 20 games.

300 or more yds total offense in 95 of last 106 games (90 pct.), including all but 5 games under Blake Anderson.

400 or more yds total offense in 35 of 55 games (64 pct.) under HC Blake Anderson.

499 all-time & consecutive A-State games worked by Head Certified Athletic Trainer Ron Carroll.

HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, an 18-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 the Red Wolves to Sun Belt Conference championships in 2015 and 2016, as well as four consecutive winning seasons and bowl-game appearances (2017 Camellia Bowl, 2016 Cure Bowl, 2015 New Orleans Bowl, 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) during his first four seasons leading the program.  Under his direction, the Red Wolves have set nine new single-season school records for average yards total offense (494.8 yards per game in 2017), first downs (322 in 2017), first downs passing (190 in 2017), passing yards (4,106 in 2017), passing touchdowns (38 in 2017), points scored (520 in 2015), touchdowns scored (69 in 2015), total offense (6,174 yards in 2014) and total plays (1,024 in 2014).  During his first four years at the helm of the program, he saw 41 of his players earn 64 All-Sun Belt Conference selections -- the most in the league over that span.

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 in his first season (2014) at the school.  The other head coaches to win at least seven games in their first season as head coach at A-State were Bryan Harsin (2013), Gus Malzahn (2012) and Hugh Freeze (2011).

FIVE YEARS RUNNING:  Despite A-State being just four games into the 2018 season, Blake Anderson is already the only head coach in Arkansas State history to win 34 or more games over his first five seasons at the school.  Additionally, he is the only head coach at A-State to ever direct the program to at least 34 wins in 55 or fewer games.

DOUBLE DIGITS:  Although 30 of the Red Wolves’ 34 victories under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points, the Red Wolves have won each of their last two games by a single-digit margin.  The previous four seasons combined under Anderson saw A-State claim just two wins by less than 10 points, including a 21-14 overtime victory against Utah State in 2014 and 27-26 outcome versus Georgia Southern in 2016.

CLIMBING THE LADDER:  Blake Anderson has led the Red Wolves to a pair of Sun Belt titles and collected 26 league wins along the way, which are the fifth most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches.  Anderson has the opportunity to climb as high as second on that list this season.

SUPPORTING A GOOD CAUSE:  This week the A-State coaching staff will be wearing special arm patches in honor of the AFCA’s Coach to Cure MD program.  This is the 11th year coaches around the country join together to raise funding and awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  Fans are encouraged to donate by texting “CURE” to 50555 or visiting www.CoachtoCureMD.org.

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 46 of its last 55 Sun Belt Conference games (.836 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 78-45.  The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 25.  A-State has 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.

SUN BELT CHAMPS (5 of 7):  Arkansas State is the only FBS program in the nation to win five conference championships over the last seven years.  The Red Wolves most recently claimed the 2016 Sun Belt Conference championship, giving it back-to-back titles with a combined 15-1 league record over that span.  A-State also won the league title 2011-13, making it one of just two programs in league history with at least five all-time SBC titles.

UNBUCKLE THE BELT:  The Red Wolves stand 12-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers after picking up a 43-25 win over Georgia Southern in their first league game last year.  A-State has won its last five Sun Belt openers to tie its longest streak ever as a member of any conference.  The program also won its first Southland Conference game five straight years from 1966-70.

GEORGIA RED WOLVES:  The Red Wolves have seven players on their roster from the Peach State, which is tied for the third most among all states outside of Arkansas.  A-State has 13 players on its roster from the state of Texas, eight from Missouri and seven from both Georgia and Alabama.  Out of the seven players from Georgia, three of them are listed on A-State’s current depth chart.

Tajhea Chambers (Gordon)

Antonio Fletcher (Lithonia)

Jerry Jacobs (Atlanta)

Preston Johnson (Atlanta)

Marcel Murray (Hiram)

Ryan Taylor (Loganville)

Bryan Terry (Atlanta)

THROUGH 4:  Arkansas State stands 3-1 through four games for the first time since the 2008 season and just second time ever as an FBS member.  Prior to 2008, the last time A-State held a 3-1 or better record at any level was 1986 when it was a member of the Southland Conference.  The Red Wolves have never held a 4-1 or better record at the FBS level.

WINNING NON-CONFERENCE RECORD:  With a 3-1 record, Arkansas State secured a winning record this season against non-conference opponents for the first time since 1995 when it went 3-2. Additionally, with wins the last two weeks against Tulsa and UNLV, the Red Wolves won back-to-back non-conference games against FBS opponents for the first time ever since moving to FBS status in 1992.

NO. 500 FOR RON CARROLL:  Now in his 43rd season as Arkansas State’s head certified trainer, A-State Hall of Honor inductee (2005) Ron Carroll will reach a milestone number in his career this Saturday when the Red Wolves play Georgia Southern.  A part of eight all-time A-State conference championships and eight bowl games, Carroll will be working his 500th all-time Arkansas State game on a night when the program will be playing its 999th all-time game.  Carroll has not only worked every A-State football contest since his first in 1976, he has never missed a fall practice and missed only one spring practice in 2013 to have his gallbladder removed.  Since being named A-State’s first certified athletic trainer at the age of 24, he has worked with 11 head football coaches and 11 athletics directors.  Now 66 years old, Carroll has also since been married (1979), has three children and is expecting his seventh grandchild this October.

·         FIRST GAME: Sept. 4, 1976 vs. NE Louisiana

·         NATIONAL ATHLETIC TRAINERS ASSOC. HALL OF FAME:  2003

·         A-STATE HALL OF HONOR:  2005

·         100 OUTSTANDING STAFF IN A-STATE’S 100-YEAR HISTORY:  2010

·         A-STATE ALL-CENTENNIAL FOOTBALL TEAM (HONORARY MEMBER):  2014

·         500TH GAME: Sept. 22, 2018 at Ga. Southern

WATCH ME, WATCH ME:  Arkansas State has six different players on at least one major watch list for the 2018 season, including four who play on the offensive side, two on defense and one on special teams.  All combined, A-State has a player on 13 different major watch lists.

            LANARD BONNER (1):  Outland

            JUSTIN CLIFTON (3):  Nagurski, Thorpe, Wuerffel

            CODY GRACE (1):  Ray Guy

            JUSTICE HANSEN (8):  Walter Camp, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Wuerffel, Golden Arm, Manning, CFPA National Performer of the Year, Senior Bowl

            RONHEEN BINGHAM (1):  Senior Bowl

            WARREN WAND (1):  Doak Walker

BOWL ELIGIBLE:  Arkansas State has obtained bowl-eligible status each of the last seven years (2011-17) and 10 times over the last 13 seasons.  Since joining the FBS in 1992, Arkansas State has become bowl eligible in nine games or less five times (2011, ‘12, ‘14, ‘15, ‘17).  The earliest A-State ever became bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 through eight games.

SEVEN STRAIGHT:  Arkansas State has secured a winning record in a school-record seven consecutive seasons (2011-17).  The next longest streak was six straight seasons from 1912-17.  The Red Wolves piled up 59 victories from 2011-17 for its most over a seven-year span in the program’s 103-year history.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
JUSTICE SERVED:  Senior quarterback Justice Hansen was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 3, recognizing his record-setting performance against Southeast Missouri State.  He set a school record with six touchdown passes and finished the night 26-of-36 passing with 423 yards.  All six touchdowns went to different receivers, and he became the first Sun Belt quarterback to toss six or more touchdown passes since Giovanni Vizza of North Texas had eight against Navy on Nov. 10, 2007.

MERRITT ON THE RECEPTION:  Junior receiver Kirk Merritt has either led A-State or tied for the team high in receptions three of the first four games, hauling in a combined 18 receptions over that span.  He has caught five passes in three of the Red Wolves’ four games and is currently ranked fourth in the Sun Belt Conference with a team-best 4.5 receptions per game.

EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE:  Based on gains of at least 15 yards passing and 12 rushing, Arkansas State has recorded at least nine explosive players in every game this season and is averaging 11 per contest.  The Red Wolves recorded a season-high 15 explosive plays against SEMO, followed by 11 versus UNLV and nine against both Tulsa and Alabama. A-State has recorded 44 total explosive plays, including 24 covering at least 20 yards.

RUSHING RED WOLVES:  Arkansas State has rushed for at least 170 yards in every game this season, marking the first time the Red Wolves have posted at least 170 in four consecutive games since doing so in five straight during the 2015 season.  The Red Wolves rushed for at least 170 yards in four games total for the entire 2017 season.

300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 95 of its last 106 games (.896 percentage).  A-State has produced 300 yards in 50 of 55 games under head coach Blake Anderson, including the last 16 in a row.

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 35 times over its last 55 games (64 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach.  The Red Wolves went over 400 yards in nine of its 12 games last season.  A-State is ranked 39th in the nation this season at 466.3 yards per game, one year after it posted a school-record 494.8 average that ranked 10th in the nation.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  Including 14 of the last 21 contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 55 of their last 86 regular-season games (64 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 43 of their last 48 games when scoring at least 30 points.

HITTING THE MARK:  Junior quarterback Justice Hansen has thrown at least one passing touchdown in 20 of his last 21 games and two or more touchdown passes in 15 of his last 18 outings.  He has thrown multiple scoring passes in 20 career games.  The former Oklahoma transfer has thrown for at least 200 yards 20 times, 300 ten times and 400 five times during his three-year career at A-State.  Dating back to the 2015 season, Hansen has passed for at least 200 yards in 18 of his last 23 games.

ECLIPSING 2,000:  Running back Warren Wand has pushed his career rushing total to 2,500 yards, making him one of 10 players in A-State history to post 2,500 in a career.  He is currently ranked 15th in the nation among active players in career rushing yards, while his 18 career rushing touchdowns are the 35th most.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
BRADLEY-KING COLLECTS WEEKLY HONOR:  Sophomore defensive end William Bradley-King was named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week after his dominating performance in the Red Wolves’ 27-20 victory over UNLV this past weekend.  He recorded his second career forced fumble while setting career highs with nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. With the Red Wolves leading 27-20, Bradley-King recorded a strip-sack on fourth down that ended UNLV’s final possession and secured the victory for Arkansas State. The Kansas City, Mo., native also posted a sack on the final play of the first half, helping preserve a six-point A-State lead by not allowing UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers to get off a pass to the end zone. He additionally came up with tackles on two third-down plays that forced UNLV punts during the game.

JACOBS HONORED BY CSM:  College Sports Madness named junior cornerback Jerry Jacobs its Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week following his two-interception performance against UNLV.  Jacobs became the first A-State player to intercept multiple passes in a game since Kyle Martin had two against ULM in the Red Wolves’ 10th game of last season.  Jacobs is ranked tied for second in the conference in interceptions and tied for eighth in passes defended.

A LOSS ON THE PLAY:  Dating back to the 2015 season, the Red Wolves have posted at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in 31 of its last 33 games.  A-State posted a season-high 13 tackles for loss in 2017 versus Texas State and has now recorded at least 10 in six of the last 11 games.

GETTING TO THE QB:  A-State has ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation in sacks four of the last five years, posting a combined 155 sacks over that span.  The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 28 consecutive games dating back to the 2016 season.

UNDER 300:  Arkansas State held five opponents under 300 yards total offense each of the previous two years (2016-17), matching its combined total for the two seasons prior to that (2014-15).  Dating back to the 2016 campaign, the Red Wolves have held 10 of their last 20 opponents to under 300 yards total offense.

PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES:  A-State has put up strong defensive numbers in third and fourth-down situations over the last five seasons (2014-18), ranking no worse than 36th nationally in either category four of those seasons.  The Red Wolves’ best third-down ranking (for a full season) came in 2015 at No. 19, while they finished among the top 10 teams on fourth down each of the last two seasons (2016-17).  While A-State’s third-down percentage defense ranks 65th in the nation this season at 38%, it is actually just 28% (13 of 46) excluding the Alabama game -- that would rank 16th in the nation.  Likewise, its fourth-down percentage defense in games excluding Tulsa is .200 (1 of 5).

PICK IT OFF:  A-State has proved to be an opportunistic defense the last five seasons (2014-18) when the ball has been put in the air, intercepting a combined 71 passes over that time that rank as the fifth most in the nation over that span.  The only teams with more interceptions are San Diego State (79), Ohio State (75), Alabama (73) and Louisville (73).

FORCING TURNOVERS:  Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 46 of 55 games (83 percent) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.  The Red Wolves have ranked among the top 29 teams in turnovers gained four of the last five years as well (2014-18), and their combined 116 forced turnovers over that span are the third most in the nation.  While they recorded just one turnover gained during its first two games combined, they have posted seven over the last two.

DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE:  Arkansas State has ranked among the top 21 teams in the nation in defensive touchdowns each of the last five seasons (2014-18) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.  In fact, the 2015 season saw the Red Wolves record an FBS-high eight touchdowns.  The Red Wolves have 20 total defensive touchdowns over the last five seasons (2014-18).

DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS:  Senior safety Darreon Jackson recorded a career-high 13 tackles against Tulsa, which are also the most this year by an A-State player through four games.  Jackson has now posted double-figure stops in four career games, all coming over the Red Wolves’ last five outings.  Jackson is currently ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference and 36th in the nation in tackles with 9.5 per game.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
COVERAGE GAME:  Arkansas State’s punt and kickoff coverage units have been successful early this season as both rank among the top 26 in the nation.  In fact, the Red Wolves are ranked first in the nation in punt coverage by allowing -3.25 yards per return by its opponents.  The kickoff coverage team is allowing just 17.4 yards per return, which is a significant improvement over its 21.4 average and No. 74 ranking a year ago.

ON THE RETURN:  Stepping into a punt return role for the first time of his career, senior running back Warren Wand has already recorded 107 return yards that leaves him just 106 shy of breaking into the top 10 single-season marks in A-State history.  While his 10.7 yards per attempt ranks fifth in the Sun Belt Conference, it ranks Wand 28th in the nation.

AMAZING GRACE:  Junior punter Cody Grace has posted only one touchback in 73 punting attempts during his two-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just eight times (11 percent).  He has played a big part in the Red Wolves ranking No. 1 in the nation this season and No. 2 a year ago.  He has posted at least one punt inside the opponent’s 20-yard line every game of his career (15) and multiple in all but three.

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