Ga. Southern at A-State in-depth preview

Ga. Southern at A-State in-depth preview

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Georgia Southern (3-1, 2-0) at A-State (0-4, 0-0)

7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5
Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
Radio: 97.2 FM Conway, 107.9 FM Jonesboro
TV: ESPN2, WatchESPN
Live Stats: AStateStats.com/AStateRedWolves.com
Live Game Notes: twitter.com/AStateGameDay


ON TAP: Arkansas State continues a four-game home stand, its longest since 1992, Wednesday against Georgia Southern to open the Sun Belt Conference schedule.

THE PRINCIPALS:  Arkansas State completed its non-conference schedule with an 0-4 record and now opens league play, carrying a nine-game winning streak against conference opponents into its Sun Belt opener.  Not only is the Red Wolves’ conference winning streak the fifth longest in the nation, A-State is the only FBS program in the country to win four conference championships over the past five seasons.  While Arkansas State is playing its Sun Belt opener, Georgia Southern already has a 2-0 record in league action and brings a 3-1 overall record into the contest. A-State (2015) and Georgia Southern (2014) have won the past two Sun Belt titles, although they will meet Wednesday night for the first time as conference foes.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  give A-State at least one victory over every member of the Sun Belt Conference since the league was formed in 2001 . . . Even A-State’s all-time record against Georgia Southern to 1-1 . . . Extend its conference winning streak to 10 games . . . Give the Red Wolves four consecutive seasons with a win in their Sun Belt Conference opener for the first time in school history . . . Improve its record in the month of October to 16-2 since the 2010 season, including the last five in a row . . . Move A-State’s record against Sun Belt foes to 34-6 over its last 40 league games . . . Snap a five-game skid dating back to the 2015 New Orleans Bowl . . . Improve its record in midweek games (Tue.-Thur.) to 15-6 since 2001 and mark its 11th victory over its last 14 outings in such games . . . Improve its home record to 52-13 since 2005 and give the Red Wolves 27 wins over its last 33 games at Centennial Bank Stadium.

THE ARKANSAS STATE - GEORGIA SOUTHERN SERIES:  Wednesday’s game will mark just the second all-time meeting between A-State and Georgia Southern and the first since 1986 when the two programs met in the I-AA (now FCS) national championship game in Tacoma, Wash.  The Eagles went up 26-7 in the first half of that contest before going on to claim a 48-21 victory.

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.

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 were Bryan Harsin (2013), Gus Malzahn (2012) and Hugh Freeze (2011).

TWO YEARS RUNNING: With 16 combined victories in 2014 and 2015 while leading the Red Wolves, Blake Anderson became the first head coach in A-State history to win 12 or more games over his first two seasons at the school.  Additionally, Anderson became the only head coach in school history to direct A-State to 16 wins in 25 or fewer games.

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT:  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.

UNBUCKLE THE BELT:  The Red Wolves stand 10-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers after picking up a 49-35 win over Idaho in their first league game last year.  A-State has won its last three Sun Belt openers, also knocking off ULM 28-14 in 2014 and Troy 41-34 in 2013.  Prior to 2013-15, the last time the Red Wolves won their Sun Belt Conference opener in three consecutive years was 2004-06.  A-State has never won four consecutive Sun Belt openers.

RED WOLVES OCTOBER:  Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State holds a 15-2 record over its last 17 games played in the month of October.  The Red Wolves went undefeated in the month during the 2011, 2012 and 2015 seasons, 1-1 in 2013 and 2-1 in 2014.

GEORGIA RED WOLVES:  Arkansas State has six players on its roster from the state of Georgia, including four listed on its current depth chart -- linebackers Khari Lain (Tyrone) and Tajhea Chambers (Gordon) and deep snappers Ryan Eustace (Powder Springs) and Ty Mimbs (Sandersville).  Also from Georgia are quarterback D.J. Pearson (Duluth) and linebacker Thomas Weldon (Ringgold).

HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 11 consecutive years with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 51‐13 (.796 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 26 of their last 32 home games. The Red Wolves actual on‐field record all‐time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 143‐76‐1 since it opened in 1974. A‐State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.

THAT’S A FIRST:  The Red Wolves had 19 players participate in their first career game at A-State over the last four weeks, including five 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 six defensive players, including Dee Liner (Jr., DL, starter), BJ Edmonds (Fr., S),  Kyle Martin (Jr., CB), Trent Ellis-Brewer (Fr., DB), Antwon Turnage (Jr., LB) and Kyle Wilson (Jr., LB).  The remaining two were Sawyer Williams (Fr.-R, K) and Damon Foncham (Fr.-R, P).

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 34th 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 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.

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 
MORE OFFENSE, FEWER POINTS: 
Despite outgaining both Utah State and Central Arkansas in total offense each of the last two weeks, the Red Wolves suffered setbacks against both teams.  It marked just the second and third times A-State lost a game under head coach Blake Anderson when it actually had more offensive yards, as the other came in 2014 against Louisiana-Lafayette (595-521).  The Red Wolves are now 13-3 in such games over the last three seasons (5-1 in 2014, 8-0 in 2015, 0-2 in 2016).

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS:  Arkansas State has increased its number of plays covering at least 20 yards each week this season.  The Red Wolves finished last week’s game with nine explosive plays (20+), almost matching its total for the first three games combined (12).  Additionally, all but two of A-State’s 21 explosive plays have come via the passing game and it has recorded at least one pass covering 50 or more yards in three outings.

PROTECTING THE FOOTBALL: 
There has been a stark contrast between A-State’s turnovers committed its first two games and its last two games.  The Red Wolves actually went their opening two games without a single turnover, but have committed seven combined over the last two. Ironically, its margin of defeat has been considerably closer the last two weeks despite losing the turnover battle.  The Red Wolves actually entered the Utah State game as one of just seven teams in the nation that had not committed a single turnover.  Since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2001, A-State had gone back-to-back games without a turnover only one other time -- its final regular-season game and bowl game of the 2012 season.

TWO-MINUTE OFFENSE:  Eight of Arkansas State’s 12 scoring drives this season have taken less than two minutes, and only one drive this season has consumed more than three minutes.  Last year’s team tended to score in the same manner, taking less than two minutes on 35 of its 58 touchdown drives for a 60.3 percentage that ranked among the 10 highest in the nation.

300-PLUS:
Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 72 of its last 81 games (.889 percentage).  A-State went over 300 yards in all 13 games during head coach Blake Anderson’s first season, reached the mark 11 times last year and has done so three times this season (last three games).

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  Although the Red Wolves’ season-high scoring output this season is 23 points (last week versus Utah State), they have posted at least 30 points in 41 of their last 63 regular-season games (65 percent) dating back to the 2011 season, including 15 of the last 23 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.

HANSEN STEPS IN:  Earning his first start this season, sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen passed for a career-high three touchdowns and 424 yards, the second most in school history, against Central Arkansas.  Hansen’s total yards were just 14 shy of the A-State record set in 2010 by Ryan Aplin, and they were also the third most by a Sun Belt Conference player this year.  His three touchdown passes matched the third most by a Sun Belt player this year as well.  Hansen completed 21-of-38 passing attempts with a long completion of 58 yards that went for a touchdown.  He had eight completions that went for at least 25 yards during the game.

MAKING A MOVE:  Junior Blake Mack changed positions from wide receiver to tight end this season, and he appears to have transitioned well as he already has 20 receptions for a team-high 360 yards.  His first two seasons combined at wide receiver, Mack posted 17 receptions for  235 yards.  He caught eight passes for 142 yards last week, which were both career highs, and was named a Mackey Award Honorable Mention Tight End of the Week.

WAND APPROACHING 1,000: Running back Warren Wand has run for a team-high 228 yards this season to go along with his 709 he recorded as a true freshman, which leaves him just 63 shy of reaching 1,000 for his career.  His 709 yards were the most by a true freshman at A-State since Lamont Zachery ran for 846 yards in 1996.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
SWALLEY NAMED SEMIFINALIST: 
Senior DL Jake Swalley has been tabbed as one of the William V. Campbell Trophy’s 156 semifinalists, announced last Wednesday by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF).  The award recognizes an individual as the best football scholar-athlete in the nation.  Swalley, a general studies major, holds a cumulative 3.9 GPA and is on course to graduate in December.

A LOSS ON THE PLAY:  The Red Wolves had five players combine for five tackles for loss last game against UCA, giving them at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in each of their first four games.  A-State had a season-high nine TFL the week prior against Utah State.  A-State recorded 86 tackles for loss last season, which were the most since 2011 and tied the program’s third most since gaining FBS status in 1992.

PICK IT OFF:  While A-State has only one interception this season (at Utah State), it led the nation in picks last year 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, which has forced at least one turnover each of its first three games this season, ranked second in the nation in turnovers gained last year with 34. That total included 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 26 of 30 games played under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.

DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS:  Senior linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster recorded a double-figure tackles total during two of A-State’s first four games, including a career-tying 14 against Toledo.  He has now reached double figures in the tackles column eight times during his career.  Woodson-Luster is ranked 30th in the nation among active players in career tackles with 230.

PLAYING IN THE BACKFIELD:  Junior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones recorded at least a half TFL in 10 games last season and in 16 of his last 21 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 19.0 for his career.  He has tallied at least a half sack in 14 of his last 22 games.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES: 
Senior kicker J.D. Houston was successful on his only field goal attempt against UCA, making him 4-of-5 on the season and 16-of-19 during his two-year career at Arkansas State.  His career field goal percentage is .842, which ranks ninth in the nation among active players.

SPECIAL TEAMS SOLID:  While Arkansas State’s special teams haven’t produced the same high rankings it did the previous two seasons, the numbers are just a four-game sample.  The Red Wolves’ special teams units under coordinator Luke Paschall was one of the best-rounded in the nation the previous 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 569 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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