S. Alabama at A-State in-depth preview

S. Alabama at A-State in-depth preview

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S. Alabama  (3-2, 0-2) at A-State (1-4, 1-0)

6 p.m. Saturday
Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro

RADIO: 107.9 FM Jonesboro, 97.3 FM Conway
TV: ESPN3
Live Stats: AstateStats.com/AStateRedWolves.com
Live Game Notes: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

ON TAP: Arkansas State is set to play its third consecutive home game and continue Sun Belt Conference play Saturday when it hosts South Alabama in its 2016 Homecoming game, which will also air on ESPN3.  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.

THE PRINCIPALS:  Arkansas State is in the midst of a four-game home stand, its longest since 1992, and will carry a 10-game winning streak against Sun Belt Conference opponents into its second league contest of the season.  Not only is the Red Wolves’ conference winning streak the fourth longest in the nation, A-State is the only FBS program in the country to win four conference championships over the last five seasons.  While the Red Wolves posted an 0-4 record in non-conference games, they defeated Georgia Southern 27-26 last week to start league play 1-0 for the fourth consecutive year for the first time in school history.  South Alabama, conversely, has won all three of its non-conference games while posting an 0-2 Sun Belt record through its first five outings.  The Jaguars began the season by defeating Mississippi State, then suffered back-to-back Sun Belt losses before defeating Nicholls and then-ranked No. 19 San Diego State.

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.

THE ARKANSAS STATE - SOUTH ALABAMA SERIES:  Arkansas State holds a 4-0 all-time record against South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference series that dates back to just 2012.  The Red Wolves picked up a 49-31 road win last season and a 45-10 home victory in 2014, which came one year after escaping the 2013 meeting with a narrow 17-16 win in Mobile.  The Red Wolves also won the initial game between the two teams by a 36-29 score at Centennial Bank Stadium in 2012.

ALABAMA RED WOLVES:  Arkansas State has 13 players on its roster from the state of Alabama, which is the third most behind just Arkansas (37) and Texas (18).  Among the Red Wolves’ 13 players from the state of Alabama, 10 of them are listed on the Red Wolves current depth chart.

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 34 of its last 40 Sun Belt Conference games (.850 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the conference to 67-42.  The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 23.  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.

HOMECOMING HISTORY:  Arkansas State is 60-27-1 all-time in Homecoming contests.  The Red Wolves have won 12 of their last 13 Homecoming games, including their last five in a row, dating back to the 2003 season.  A-State had a seven-game winning streak snapped in 2010 with a 34-24 setback to Louisville, but knocked off North Texas (37-4 in 2011), South Alabama (36-29 in 2012), Idaho (48-24 in 2013 and 49-35 in 2015) and ULM (28-14 in 2014) in its last five Homecoming games.

RED WOLVES OCTOBER:  Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State holds a 16-2 record over its last 18 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.  A-State is 1-0 this month after defeating Georgia Southern last week.

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 52‐13 (.800 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 27 of their last 33 home games. The Red Wolves actual on‐field record all‐time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 144‐76‐1 since it opened in 1974. A‐State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  Improve A-State’s all-time record against South Alabama to 5-0 . . . make it 2-0 in Sun Belt Conference play for the fourth consecutive year and fifth time over the last six seasons . . . Extend its conference winning streak to 11 games . . . Improve its record in the month of October to 17-2 since the 2010 season, including wins the last six games in a row . . . Give it 13 victories over its last 14 Homecoming games, including wins in the last six straight . . . Move A-State’s record against Sun Belt foes to 35-6 over its last 41 league games . . . Improve its home record to 53-13 since 2005 and give the Red Wolves 28 wins over their last 34 games at Centennial Bank Stadium.

THAT’S A FIRST:  The Red Wolves had 19 players participate in their first career game at A-State over the last five games, including seven 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).

102ND SEASON:  Arkansas State kicked off its 102nd season of football Sept. 2 vs. Toledo.  A-State holds a 451-476-37 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, nine last season and one this year, the Red Wolves have recorded 45 victories that are tied for the 31st most in the nation over the last six years.  

DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK:  Arkansas State achieved its first victory this season (vs. Georgia Southern) when entering halftime behind on the scoreboard, giving it five second-half comeback victories all-time under head coach Blake Anderson.  Three of Arkansas State’s victories last season came under the same circumstances.  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.

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’ 17 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points.  The only exceptions were a 21-14 overtime win over Utah State in 2014 and last week’s 27-26 victory over Georgia Southern.

UNBUCKLE THE BELT:  The Red Wolves stand 11-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers after picking up a 27-26 win over Georgia Southern last week.  A-State has won its last four Sun Belt openers, also knocking off Idaho 49-35 in 2015, ULM 28-14 in 2014 and Troy 41-34 in 2013.  A-State has now won four consecutive Sun Belt openers for the first time in school history.

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.

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)

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 
RUSHING RED WOLVES: 
Arkansas State recorded a season-high 343 rushing yards last week against Georgia Southern, which were 20 yards more than it had in its first four games combined.  The Red Wolves had two players go over 100 yards rushing in the same game for the first time since the 2014 season.  Sophomore running back Warren Wand ran for a career-high 140 yards, while junior running back Johnston White also produced a career-best 126 yards.

MORE OFFENSE, FEWER POINTS:  Despite outgaining both Utah State and Central Arkansas in total offense, 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 14-3 in such games over the last three seasons (5-1 in 2014, 8-0 in 2015, 1-2 in 2016).

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS:  Arkansas State increased its number of plays covering at least 20 yards each of its first four games this season, and the Red Wolves’ have posted a season-high nine each of their last two outings.  A-State recorded 18 combined explosive plays (20+) its last two games, topping its total for the first three games combined (12) by six.

EXPLOSIVE RUNS:  Entering its game against Georgia Southern, all but two of A-State’s 21 explosive plays to that point had come via the passing game.  However, the Red Wolves were able to reverse that trend in a big way last week against Georgia Southern as it had six rushing plays cover at least 20 yards.  Arkansas State produced its longest rush of the year during the game as well, a 55-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Warren Wand.

PROTECTING THE FOOTBALL:  There has been a stark contrast between A-State’s turnovers committed its first two games and its last three games.  The Red Wolves actually went their opening two games without a single turnover, but have committed 12 combined over the last three.  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:  Nine of Arkansas State’s 17 scoring drives this season have taken less than two minutes.  Only three drives this season have consumed more than three minutes, although two of those drives occurred during last week’s game against Georgia Southern.  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 73 of its last 82 games (.890 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 four times this season (last four games).

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State recorded a season-high 525 yards total offense last game, hitting the 400-yard mark for the 20th time over its last 31 games (65 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach.  A-State’s offense has increased its total offense each game this season and is averaging 388.6 yards per game, which ranks 88th in the nation.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  Although the Red Wolves’ season-high scoring output this season is 27 points (last week versus Georgia Southern), they have posted at least 30 points in 41 of their last 64 regular-season games (64 percent) dating back to the 2011 season, including 15 of the last 24 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 43 games of his career and Jemar Clark joined them on the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team.

HANSEN EARNS SUN BELT WEEKLY HONOR:  Sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week after helping Arkansas State rally from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Georgia Southern 27-26.  Hansen recorded 243 yards total offense, including a career-high 61 rushing yards, and threw for a pair of scores.  With 2:41 remaining in the contest, Hansen engineered the game-winning drive that saw him produce two plays appearing on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top-10 Plays of the Day, including the game-winning touchdown that was tabbed No. 1.  Prior to throwing the go-ahead touchdown with nine seconds left on the clock, Hansen kept the drive alive on a 4th-and-16 from A-State’s own 24-yard line by scrambling for an 18-yard gain.  The touchdown pass to freshman wideout Omar Bayless was set up by a 29-yard completion from Hansen to Kendall Sanders. The A-State quarterback completed 16-of-27 passes for 182 yards, and his first touchdown pass covered six yards on a third-down play to tie the score 10-10 late in the second quarter.

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 22 receptions for a team-high 389 yards.  His first two seasons combined at wide receiver, Mack posted 17 receptions for  235 yards.  He caught eight passes for 142 yards against UCA, which were both career highs, and was named a Mackey Award Honorable Mention Tight End of the Week for his performance.

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 is still looking for his first rushing touchdown this season, but has scored at least one rushing touchdown eight of his last 14 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.  Additionally, he is ranked 45th in the nation among active players in career rushing scores.

WAND APPROACHING 1,000:  Running back Warren Wand has run for a team-high 368 yards this season to go along with his 709 he recorded as a true freshman, pushing him over 1,000 for his career with 1,077 to his credit.  His 709 yards were the most by a true freshman at A-State since Lamont Zachery ran for 846 yards in 1996.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
WILSON HONORED: 
Junior linebacker Kyle Wilson was named College Sports Madness’ Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Georgia Southern last week.  He was not only part of Arkansas State’s defense that limited Georgia Southern to a season-low 365 yards total offense, he also recorded career highs for tackles (13) and tackles for loss (3.0).  Wilson’s TFL total was just a 0.5 tackle shy of the most by a Sun Belt Conference player this season, while his 13 tackles were the third most by an A-State player this year.

SWALLEY NAMED SEMIFINALIST:  Senior DL Jake Swalley has been tabbed as one of the William V. Campbell Trophy’s 156 semifinalists, announced Sept. 28 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.

STOPPING THE RUN:  The A-State defense limited Georgia Southern to a season-low 162 yards rushing, which was also the Eagles second lowest total since joining the FBS in 2014.  Georgia Southern entered the game averaging 317.8 yards per game and ranked fourth in the nation in the stat.

DECEIVING AVERAGE:  While A-State’s defense is allowing 468.6 yards total offense per game to rank 110th in the nation, the Red Wolves’ opponents are averaging 360.3 over the last three games.  The 360.3 average total offense allowed would rank the Red Wolves 39th in the nation.  A-State gave up 556 yards to Toledo and 706 to Auburn, but has held its last three opponents to no more than 382 yards.

BETTER ON THIRD DOWN:  Arkansas State has allowed opponents to convert, on average, 35 percent of its third-down attempts the last three games, considerably lower than its 49 percent for the entire season that ranks 122nd in the nation.  A-State’s third-down conversion percentage over the last three games would rank 42nd in the country.  Georgia Southern entered its game against A-State converting 53 percent of its third-down attempts, but the Red Wolves limited the Eagles to just 3-of-15 on third downs while forcing seven 3-and-outs.

A LOSS ON THE PLAY:  The Red Wolves had six players combine for eight tackles for loss last game against Georgia Southern, giving them at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in each of their first five games.  A-State had a season-high nine TFL against Utah State and has 33.0 for the season.  The squad is averaging 6.6 tackles for loss, which is the same average it had last season when it recorded 86. The Red Wolves’ 86 TFL last year 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 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 31 games played under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.

DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS:  Senior linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster recorded a double-figure tackles total during three of A-State’s first five games, including a career-tying 14 against both Toledo and Georgia Southern.  He has now reached double figures in the tackles column nine times during his career.  Woodson-Luster is ranked 28th in the nation among active players in career tackles with 244.

PLAYING IN THE BACKFIELD:  Junior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones recorded at least a half TFL in 10 games last season and in 17 of his last 22 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 23 games.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES: 
Senior kicker J.D. Houston was successful on both his field goal attempts against Georgia Southern, making him 6-of-7 on the season and 18-of-21 during his two-year career at Arkansas State.  His career field goal percentage is .857, which ranks eighth 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 five-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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