Texas State at A-State in-depth preview

Texas State at A-State in-depth preview

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TEXAS STATE (2-8, 1-5) at A-STATE (5-3, 4-1)
2 p.m. Saturday, Jonesboro
RADIO: EAB Red Wolves Sports Network (93.7 FM Little Rock, 107.9 FM Jonesboro)
TV: ESPN3/WatchESPN
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com/AStateRedWolves.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

THE PRINCIPALS:  A-State, the only FBS team in the nation to win five conference championships over the last six seasons, dropped its first Sun Belt game last week at South Alabama to bring its league record to 4-1.  The Red Wolves are currently a half-game out of first place behind three teams that own a 5-1 record.  With a victory, Arkansas State can make it a four-way tie atop the standings as Appalachian State, Georgia State and Troy are all idle this week.  This will also be the second straight week A-State has the opportunity to become bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive season.  The Red Wolves will put their undefeated 3-0 home record on the line against Texas State, which will carry a 1-3 road record into the contest.  The Bobcats hold a 1-5 league record, but three of their five setbacks have come by 10 points or less.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD .
. . :  run its all-time record versus Texas State to 4-1 and give it three consecutive wins against the Bobcats . . . make it bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive year and 10th time over the last 13 seasons . . . guarantee the Red Wolves at least a .500 record for the seventh consecutive season and 11th time since joining the FBS in 1992 . . . move its record to 20-5 in games played in the month of November since 2011 . . . put the Red Wolves in a four-way tie atop the Sun Belt Conference standings . . . improve its record to 45-8 over its last 53 SBC games . . . give the Red Wolves 58 victories over the last seven seasons.

THE A-STATE - TEXAS STATE SERIES:  Saturday’s game will mark just the fifth meeting ever between Arkansas State and Texas State as they are set to continue their Sun Belt Conference series that began in 2013.  The Red Wolves lead the all-time series 3-1, including victories in the last two meetings.  All four games between the two teams have been decided by at least 17 points.
Year (Score), Location
2016 (A-State 36, Texas St. 14), San Marcos
2015 (A-State 55, Texas St. 17), Jonesboro
2014 (Texas St. 45, A-State 27), San Marcos
2013 (A-State 38, Texas St. 21), Jonesboro

HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, a 17-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 Sun Belt Conference championships (2015 and 2016), as well as three straight winning seasons and bowl game appearances (2016 Cure Bowl, 2015 New Orleans Bowl and 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) his first three years at the helm.  Under his direction, the Red Wolves have also set new 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 passing touchdowns (26 in 2017).  During his first three years at the helm of the program, he saw 29 of his players earn 45 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).

FOUR YEARS RUNNING:  Even with at least three games remaining on A-State’s 2017 schedule, Blake Anderson is already the first head coach in Arkansas State history to win 29 or more games over his first four seasons at the school.  Additionally, he is the only head coach at A-State to win 29 games in 47 or fewer contests -- Bill Davidson is the next closest, reaching 29 victories in 48 games from 1971-75.

DOUBLE DIGITS:  A-State’s five wins this season came by double figures, and seven of its eight victories last season came by at least 10 points.  Additionally, all nine of its wins during the 2015 season and six of its seven in 2014 came by a double-digit margin, meaning 27 of the Red Wolves’ 29 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 a 27-26 victory over Georgia Southern in 2016.

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 44 of its last 52 Sun Belt Conference games (.846 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 77-44.  The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 24.  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.

ROAD WARRIORS:  Arkansas State has won 22 of its last 27 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, 2-1 in 2013, 2-2 in 2014 and 3-1 a year ago.  A-State stands 2-1 in conference road games played so far this season.

HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 13 consecutive years (2005-17) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 58‐13 (.817 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 33 of their last 39 home games, including the last seven in a row that stands tied for the sixth longest current streak in the nation. The Red Wolves actual on‐field record all‐time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 150‐76‐1 since it opened in 1974. A‐State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.

RED WOLVES NOVEMBER:  Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds a 19-5 record over its last 24 games played in the month of November.  A-State had a seven-game winning streak during November snapped in its last game of the month in 2016.

SIX-YEAR WINS TOTAL:  Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013, seven in 2014, nine in 2015, eight last year and five this season, the Red Wolves have recorded 57 victories that are tied for the 27th most in the nation over the last seven seasons.

THAT’S A FIRST:  The Red Wolves have seen 16 players start their first career game as a member of the A-State program this season.  Eight of those 16 gained their first start against Nebraska, while an additional two made their first start against UAPB and Georgia Southern and one versus SMU, Coastal Carolina, Louisiana and South Alabama.  The list includes four offensive linemen, two wide receivers, four defensive linemen, one linebacker, one cornerback and four safeties.  The players are Jaypee Philbert (LT), Dalton Ford (LG), Jacob Still (C), Lanard Bonner (RT), Justin McInnis (WR), Kendrick Edwards (WR), BJ Edmonds (S), Darreon Jackson (S), Javier Carbonell (DL), Caleb Bonner (LB), Michael Johnson (S), Hunter Moreton (DL), Ronheen Bingham (DE), Kyle Martin (CB), Jefferie Gibson (S) and Christian Howard (DL).  The Red Wolves have used a different defensive starting lineup all eight games and a different offensive starting lineup three times.

ON THAT NOTE:  Not only did A-State have 16 players make their first start with the Red Wolves, 29 different players took their first snap ever as a member of the team.  The squad’s current 2-deep features 21 of 56 players (38 percent) listed who had never played a snap as an A-State player entering this season.

44-POINT MARGIN:  Arkansas State’s 44-point margin of victory (47-3) over Louisiana was its second largest ever against a Sun Belt Conference opponent.  The largest was a 45-0 win over Middle Tennessee in the final regular-season game of the 2012 season.  Additionally, the Red Wolves’ 44-point win versus Louisiana represented the largest margin of victory by either team in the series that dates back to 1953.

MIDWEEK MADNESS:  Historically, A-State has performed well in midweek games (Tue.-Thurs.) since joining the Sun Belt Conference.  The Red Wolves hold a 19-6 record in all midweek games since its 2001 inaugural year in the league.  They have won 15 of their last 18 midweek contests, including the last eight in a row.

UNBUCKLE THE BELT:  With its 43-25 win over Georgia Southern this season, the Red Wolves now stand 12-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers.  A-State has won its last five Sun Belt openers for its longest streak ever as a member of the conference, and its longest as a member of any league since winning its first Southland Conference game five straight years from 1966-70.

SUN BELT CHAMPS:  Arkansas State 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 -- Troy is the other with five as well.  Arkansas State is the only FBS program in the nation to win five conference titles over the last six seasons, and the Red Wolves hold a 40-7 Sun Belt record during that time.  The Red Wolves’ 7-1 Sun Belt record this season matched the 2012 squad for their third best record ever in the league -- Arkansas State went 8-0 in both 2011 and 2015.

BOWL ELIGIBLE:  With a 7-5 regular-season record, A-State was bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive season in 2016 and ninth time over the last 12 years.  Since joining the FBS in 1992, Arkansas State became bowl eligible in 10 games or less for the sixth time (2011-16).  The earliest A-State ever became bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 through eight games.

SIX STRAIGHT:  Arkansas State has secured six consecutive seasons (2011-16) with a winning record for the first time since 1912-17.  The Red Wolves piled up 52 victories from 2011-16 for its most over a six-year span in the program’s 103-year history.  A-State has never produced seven consecutive winning seasons.

103RD SEASON:  Arkansas State kicked off its 103rd season of football Sept. 2 at Nebraska.  A-State holds a 462-480-37 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.

“1” OF A KIND:  Named a William V. Campbell Trophy finalist, Wuerffel Trophy semifinalist and Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year semifinalist, research indicates that senior cornerback and return specialist Blaise Taylor is the only current FBS player in the nation to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before the start of his true senior season.  He was featured in a Sports Illustrated article written by Bruce Feldman, drawing attention to his many accolades in the class room.  He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and received his MBA this summer.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
300-PLUS:
Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 87 of its last 98 games (.888 percentage).  A-State went over 300 yards in all 13 games during head coach Blake Anderson’s first season, while also reaching the mark 11 times in 2015, 10 times in 2016 and eight times this season (42 of 47 games under Anderson).

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 29 times over its last 47 games (62 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach.  The Red Wolves went over 400 yards in six of its first eight games this season.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  Including 11 of the last 14 contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 52 of their last 79 regular-season games (66 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 40 of their last 45 games when scoring at least 30 points.

QUARTERLY REPORT:  A-State has scored at least three points in 27 of 32 quarters (84%), including 14 of 16 (88%) versus Sun Belt opponents.  The Red Wolves scored in 43 of 52 quarters for the entire 2014 season for an .827 percentage that is the highest under head coach Blake Anderson.  This year’s team has scored its most points in the fourth quarter (85), but has posted at least 71 in each quarter.

QUICK STRIKE:  Twenty-four of A-State’s 47 scoring drives this season have taken less than two minutes (51%) and only two have lasted longer than 3:49.    Additionally, 21 of its 36 touchdown-scoring drives have taken two minutes or less, increasing the percentage to 58 percent.

EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE:  A-State has recorded at least five explosive plays (20+ yards) in five of its first eight games, including a season-high eight against Louisiana.  Out of its 39 total explosive plays, 17 have gone for touchdowns (44%) and 18 have also covered at least 30 yards.

NOW THAT’S JUSTICE:  Junior quarterback Justice Hansen was named College Sports Madness’ Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week following each of A-State’s first two games this season.  Most recently, he was named the Co-Offensive Sun Belt Conference player of the Week and a Davey O’Brien Award “Great 8” Performer of the Week following the Louisiana game.  The week prior, he was tabbed a Manning Award Star of the Week nominee for his performance against Coastal Carolina.  He is the only player in the league to rank among the top three players in passing efficiency (2nd), passing touchdowns (1st), total offense (2nd) and passing yards avg. (2nd).

SCHOOL-RECORD PERFORMANCE:  Junior quarterback Justice Hansen recorded a school-record 46 completions for 415 yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska.  He completed 67 percent of his passing attempts, while his 46 completions also tied the second most in Sun Belt Conference history and are currently the second most in the nation this season.  His 415 yards were the second most of his career and fourth most in school history.

HITTING THE MARK:  Junior quarterback Justice Hansen has now thrown multiple touchdown passes 14 times during his career, including the last 10 games in a row dating back to last season.  He has thrown for at least 200 yards 15 times, 300 six times and 400 twice.  Dating back to last season, Hansen has passed for at least 200 yards his last nine games and in 13 of his last 15.

MULTIPLE WEAPONS:  At least nine different A-State players caught at least one pass in five of A-State’s first eight games, including six wide receivers that have set career highs for either receptions, receiving yards and/or receiving touchdowns.

MAKING A MOVE:  Junior Blake Mack changed positions from wide receiver to tight end last season, and he has transitioned well with 68 receptions for a team-high 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns during that time.  Mack has scored a touchdown in six of his last 10 games, including five of eight this season.  His first two seasons combined at wide receiver, Mack posted 17 receptions for 235 yards.

MORE ON MACK:  Junior Blake Mack’s 1,110 receiving yards accumulated since he changed positions to tight end are the second most in school history by a player at the position, trailing only Steve Lockhart’s 1,216 yards accumulated between 1968-71.  Additionally, Mack’s 68 receptions are also the second most by an A-State tight end behind Lockhart (79).  It should be noted that Mack’s career totals at both the tight end and wide receiver positions are 85 receptions for 1,345 yards.

FINDING THE END ZONE:  A former walk-on and Burlsworth Trophy nominee, senior running back Johnston White recorded a team and career-best 14 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore and now has 27 running scores during his career.  White’s 27 career rushing touchdowns are the sixth most in school history.

ABOVE AVERAGE:  Senior wide receiver Chris Murray recorded five receptions for a career-high 188 yards and career-best two touchdowns, averaging a Sun Belt Conference record 37.6 yards per catch to help lead Arkansas State to a 43-25 road victory over Georgia Southern.  Murray’s receiving yards tied the fourth most in school history and were the most by an Arkansas State player since 1999.  They are also the third most by a Sun Belt Conference player this season, as well as the 26th most in the nation.  He caught three passes that covered at least 51 yards, including touchdown receptions of 56 and a career-long 57 yards.

MOVING FORWARD:  Junior running back Warren Wand has attempted 56 rushes this season and has yet to lose you any yards on a carry.  As a team, the Red Wolves are ranked 28th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed with 4.88 per game.

APPROACHING 2,000:  Running back Warren Wand finished the South Alabama game with 21 rushing yards, pushing his career rushing total to 1,894 yards, leaving him 106 away from becoming the 13th player in A-State history to post 2,000 in a career.  He recorded 709 yards in 2015 for the most by a true freshman at A-State since Lamont Zachery ran for 846 in 1996.  He entered the season 1,588 yards, the most over a freshman and sophomore season since Reggie Arnold ran for 2,136 combined yards in 2006 and 2007.

NEBRASKA GAME NOTABLES:  Arkansas State scored 36 points against Nebraska, which was its most ever against a team currently in a Power 5 conference.  A-State’s second highest total was 34 points scored against then-ranked No. 5 Oregon in 2012 (HC Gus Malzahn) and 34 versus Indiana in 2010 (HC Steve Roberts) . . . The Red Wolves also recorded 32 first downs, which tied the sixth most in school history and were their most since posting a school-record tying 34 against New Mexico State in 2011.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
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 25 consecutive games.  A-State posted a season-high 12 tackles for loss versus Louisiana.  The Red Wolves are ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and fourth in the nation in tackles for loss with 8.6 per game.  Arkansas State led the nation in tackles for loss per game last season with a 9.6 average.

THE NATION’S BEST:  A-State recorded a season-high seven sacks against New Mexico State to tie the seventh most in school history, and it now has 29 for a 3.63 average that ranks No. 3 in the nation.  The Red Wolves ranked sixth in country in sacks per game last year with a 3.31 average.

UNDER 300:  Arkansas State has held three opponents, including the two of the last three, under 300 yards total offense.  The Red Wolves limited New Mexico State to a season-low 256 yards, which was also the fewest allowed by the Red Wolves this year.

PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES:  A-State is ranked 12th and fifth in the nation in third (30%) and fourth-down (25%) percentage defense, respectively.  Since beginning league play, the Red Wolves have not allowed a third-down percentage better than .350 in any of its last five games.  The Red Wolves’ defense has also been able to get off the field on six of eight fourth-down attempts by its opponents for the entire season.

FORCING TURNOVERS:  While Arkansas State didn’t create a turnover against Nebraska or SMU, it has forced 15 in its other six games combined to rank 58th in the nation.  The Red Wolves forced a season-high five turnovers against UAPB, which were their most since the ninth game of the 2015 season.  Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 39 of 47 games (83%) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.

SHUTTING ‘EM OUT:  The A-State defense hasn’t allowed any points in the third quarter in five of its first eight games, including the UAPB contest and four of five Sun Belt games.  The Red Wolves have allowed their fewest points in the third quarter this season, giving up just 21 so far.  The next closest is 40 points allowed in the first quarter.

DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE: 
Arkansas State has ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation in defensive touchdowns each of the last three seasons (2014-16) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.  In fact, the 2015 season saw the Red Wolves record an FBS-high eight touchdowns.  A-State posted four defensive touchdowns in 2014 to rank No. 14, while also recording four in 2016 that ranked eighth.  With defensive touchdowns in back-to-back weeks vs CCU and ULL, A-State is ranked 35th in the nation this season with two.  The Red Wolves have 18 total defensive touchdowns over the last four seasons (2014-17).

DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS:  Senior linebacker Kyle Wilson (2), junior nickel Justin Clifton (2) and sophomore safety BJ Edmonds (3) have combined to post double-figure tackles seven times this season.  Clifton has recorded at least 10 stops five times during his career, while Wilson and Edmonds have both hit the mark three times.

BREAK IT UP:  Thanks in part to a season-high 3 pass break-ups against South Alabama last week, junior defensive back Justin Clifton has a team-high 10 and is ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference in the stat.  Through just eight games he has already surpassed his total for pass break-ups (6) entering this season, giving him 16 for his career.

PLAYING IN THE BACKFIELD:  Senior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones already holds the A-State and Sun Belt Conference records for sacks in a career with 39.5 to his credit, but is now also within 4.5 of tying the NCAA FBS record currently held by Terrell Suggs (Arizona State, 2000-02).  He has also recorded at least a half TFL in 31 of his last 38 contests dating back to his freshman year, and he has 57.0 during his career, which is tied for the 19th most in NCAA history.

CASTON STEPPING UP:
  Just eight games into the season, senior defensive end Caleb Caston has already put up his single-season best numbers for tackles (25), tackles for loss (8.5), sacks (5.0), fumble recoveries (2) and forced fumbles (1).  His previous highs were 12 tackles (2015), 3.0 TFL (2016), 2.0 sacks (2014, 2016) and 1 fumble recovery (2014, 2015).  He is currently second on the team in sacks and TFL, while also ranking among the top seven players in the Sun Belt Conference in both statistical categories.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
PUNT/RETURN GAME:
  The Red Wolves are currently ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation in both punt return defense and punt returns.  A-State’s punting unit is allowing just 2.0 yard per return to rank fourth in the nation, while its own 14.9 average per return ranks 10th.

THE PUNTER FROM DOWN UNDER: 
Versus New Mexico State, sophomore punter Cody Grace recorded a career-high five punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.  He posted two more against South Alabama, giving him at least one in every game this season.

ELITE KICKOFF COVERAGE:  While Arkansas State ranks 32nd in the nation in kickoff return defense at 18.84 yards per return, it has ranked among the top four teams in the nation in kickoff return defense two of the last three years (2014-16) and among the top 18 teams all three seasons under special teams coordinator Luke Paschall entering this year.  A-State allowed just a 16.1 average last season to rank 3rd in the nation, while the 2015 squad ranked 18th (18.7 avg.) and the 2014 team No. 4 (16.3 avg.).

BLOCK THAT KICK:  Arkansas State has recorded 10 blocked kicks over the past three seasons (2015-17), including five last year that ranked as the fifth most in the nation and four in 2015 to rank the Red Wolves No. 7.  The totals over the last three seasons include three blocked punts (both last season) and seven blocked field goals/extra points
 
ON THE RETURN:  Senior cornerback Blaise Taylor has become one of the most prolific punt return men in both Arkansas State and Sun Belt Conference history, ranking No. 1 at A-State in career punt return yards and No. 2 among all-time Sun Belt players.  He has four punt returns for a touchdown and has gone over 100 return yards three times, including a career-high 114 yards against New Mexico State earlier this season.

SUN BELT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK:  Senior cornerback Blaise Taylor was named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after helping lead Arkansas State to a 37-21 road victory over New Mexico State, recording a school and Sun Belt Conference-record nine punt returns for a career-high 114 yards that were also the third most ever by an A-State player and fifth most in Sun Belt history.  Taylor averaged 12.9 yards per attempt on his nine returns that were also the most by an FBS player this year.  He recorded over 100 punt return yards in a game for the third time of his career and, in the process, became just the second player in Sun Belt history to go over 1,000 career yards.  Taylor’s 114 yards were the most by a Sun Belt player and seventh most in the nation this season, while also giving him four of the top-10 single-game totals in Arkansas State history.  He had a long return of 54 yards, which was the second longest in the Sun Belt this year behind only his 63-yard return against Nebraska.

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