New Mexico St. at A-State in-depth preview
NEW MEXICO STATE (2-9, 1-6) at A-STATE (6-5, 4-3)
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
RADIO: 107.9 FM Jonesboro, 93.3 FM Little Rock
LIVE STATS: AStateRedWolves.com; AStateStats.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay
THE PRINCIPALS: Arkansas State, which is bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season and seventh time over the last 10 years, will enter Saturday's game needing one more victory to secure its fourth straight campaign with a winning record. The Red Wolves have dropped their last two games, but hold a 4-1 record at Centennial Bank Stadium. New Mexico State won its first two games of the season, including a 34-31 victory over Georgia State in its Sun Belt opener, but has since dropped its last nine games. While the Aggies haven't won since Sept. 6, three of their setbacks have been by eight points or less.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : give it seven victories for its fourth most since joining the FBS in 1992 . . . end its regular season with a 7-5 record for the second straight year . . . secure its seventh season with a winning Sun Belt Conference record since the league was formed in 2001 . . . improve its Sun Belt Conference record since 2011 to 25-6 . . . make it 13-3 over its last 16 games played in the month of November . . . run its record to 35-16 over the last four seasons . . . improve its all-time record against New Mexico State to 3-6 . . . give it 21 victories over its last 24 home games.
HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, a 13-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. Working on head coach Larry Fedora's staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at both North Carolina and Southern Miss over the last four seasons, Anderson's dynamic offense helped lead the two programs to 34 victories, three bowl game appearances and two conference or divisional titles. Along the way, his potent offense was responsible for breaking both schools' total offense records while also ranking among the most productive teams in the nation. The Hubbard, Texas native comes to A-State after spending the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at North Carolina.
THE ARKANSAS STATE - NEW MEXICO STATE SERIES: While Arkansas State and New Mexico State have played eight times since their initial meeting in 1993, Saturday's game will be the first between the two schools since 2003. The Red Wolves stand 2-6 all-time against the Aggies with their two victories coming in 2003 and 1998. The 2003 Sun Belt Conference contest saw A-State claim a 28-24 win in Las Cruces, while the Red Wolves picked up a 34-31 overtime victory in Jonesboro in 1998. The games have historically been very competitive with six of the eight contests decided by a touchdown or less and none of them by more than 14 points.
A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 24 of its last 30 Sun Belt Conference games (.800 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the conference to 57-42. The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM?with 23 and, with the exception of newcomers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, have defeated every team in the SBC 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 it was formed.
OLD TIES: Along with Arkansas State, New Mexico?State was a charter member of the Sun Belt Conference's inaugural football season in 2001. However, the Aggies moved to the Western Athletic Conference in 2005 before rejoining the Sun Belt again this year. At the same time, the Red Wolves and Aggies were both also members of the Big West Conference from 1993-1995.
SENIOR DAY: The Red Wolves will hold their annual Senior Day this Saturday, recognizing their senior class for their contributions to Arkansas State University and the football program. This year's 14 seniors are Qushaun Lee, Tyler Greve, Alan Wright, Brennan Tutor, Dexter Blackmon, William Boyd, Kenneth Rains, Frankie Jackson, Artez Brown, Sterling Young, Andrew Tryon, Brock Barnhill, Ryan Jacobs and Darius Buckley. A-State will also honor Markel Owens, who would have been a senior this season. Owens, a former business management major and three-year letterman on the football team, passed away suddenly and tragically on Jan. 15, 2014.
STOP THE BLEEDING: Coming off losses against Appalachian State and Texas State its last two times out, the Red Wolves have dropped back-to-back games for just the third time over the last four seasons. Arkansas State has not suffered a setback in three consecutive games since the last three contests of the 2010 campaign.
RED WOLVES NOVEMBER: Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds a 12-3 record over its last 15 games played in the month of November. The Red Wolves won 10 consecutive games in the month of November before falling to Western Kentucky in their 2013 regular-season finale.
HOME SWEET HOME: With a 4-1 home record this year, Arkansas State has secured its 10th consecutive year with a winning record at Centennial Bank?Stadium dating back to 2005. A-State is now 45-10 (.818 winning pct.) at Centennial Bank Stadium since the 2005 season and has won 20 of its last 23 home games. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank?Stadium is 137-73-1 since it opened in 1974. A-State's six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.
BOWL ELIGIBLE: With a 6-4 overall record, A-State has become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season and seventh time over the last 10 years. Arkansas State became bowl eligible after nine games for just the third time (2011, 2012 and 2014). The earliest Arkansas State has ever been bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 after eight games.
A WINNING EFFORT: Arkansas State needs one more victory to secure a winning record for the fourth consecutive season, but just the fifth time since joining the FBS in 1992. The last time A-State posted four straight winning seasons was 1984-87. That stretch saw Arkansas State win 37 games, the most in school history over a four-year period. The Red Wolves have won 34 games from 2011-14.
NUMBER 100: Arkansas State needs one more victory for its 100th all-time win as an FBS member (joined in 1992). The Red Wolves actually hold 109 on-field victories as an FBS member, but 10 wins were later vacated due to NCAA sanctions.
STRONG IN THE SECOND: Dating back to last season, nine of Arkansas State's last 14 victories have come when it was either tied or trailing at some point during the third quarter. Half of A-State's six victories this season have come under the circumstances, while its six last year were its most ever since returning to NCAA Division I-A (now FBS) status in 1992.
FINISHING IN THE FOURTH: Arkansas State has outscored its opponents 112-69 in the fourth quarter this season for a +43-point scoring margin. The Red Wolves have at least matched their opponents fourth-quarter scoring output in all but one game and have outscored seven teams in the quarter. The A-State defense has also kept the opposing offense off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter in four games.
STARTING FRESH: The Red Wolves have had a new starting lineup on offense or defense in every game this season. In fact, A-State has used seven different offensive starting lineups and 11 on defense. They have had 18 players make their first career start this season, including:
OFFENSIVE LINE: Jemar Clark, Devin Mondie, Tyler Greve, Kyle Harris, Austin Moreton
WIDE RECEIVER: Dijon Paschal, Booker Mays, Tyler Trosin
A-BACK: Brandon Cox
QUARTERBACK: Fredi Knighten
RUNNING BACK: Johnston White
DEFENSIVE LINE: Chuks Ota, Clifford Thomas, Chris Odom
DEFENSIVE END: Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, Caleb Caston, Carderious Dean
DEFENSIVE BACK: Sterling Wright
SECOND HALF SURGE: All six Arkansas State victories this season have seen it score at least 21 points in the second half, and the Red Wolves have put up more points in the second half than the first in four of them. The Red Wolves have posted at least 17 second half points in seven games this year, including six of the last eight. Including overtime, A-State has put up 197 second-half points in comparison to 168 in the first. The Red Wolves have outscored their opponents 78-69 in the third quarter and 112-69 in the fourth.
QUICK STARTS: While the Red Wolves were held scoreless in the first half against both Utah State and ULM, that comes in stark contrast to their quick starts in eight of their other nine games when they scored a touchdown on one of their first three possessions. The Red Wolves have scored a touchdown on one of their first two possessions in seven contests.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: Arkansas State is averaging 5.7 explosive plays (20 yards or more) against conference opponents in comparison to 4.3 in its first four games of the season. ?The Red Wolves have recorded 40 explosive plays over its last seven games, while it had 17 in its first four of the season. The Red Wolves had a season-high seven explosive plays against Montana State, ULM, ULL?and Texas State.
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 56 of its last 62 games. A-State went over 300 in each of its first 11 games this season, including a season-high 618 at Georgia State.
400-PLUS: Arkansas State has recorded at least 400 yards total offense in seven games this season, including six of the last seven. Additionally, the Red Wolves have recorded at least 500 yards total offense in four games this year. A-State is averaging 451.1 yards total offense per game, which ranks 34th in the nation.
PASCHAL SHINING: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Dijon Paschal has come on strong in Sun Belt Conference play, ranking sixth in the league in the league in receiving yards (73.6 ypg) and 10th in receptions (4.1 rpg). Paschal has posted 29 of his 35 catches and 515 of his 593 receiving yards against Sun Belt opponents. Paschal is averaging 17.8 yards per reception in conference games only, which is the highest among the top 10 leaders (conference games only) in receiving yards.
TAKING OVER AT QB: In nine of his first 11 career starts, junior quarterback Fredi Knighten has posted over 200 yards total offense. Knighten has recorded at least 300 yards total offense in five of the last seven games, including a career-high 406 last game versus Texas State. He is ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and 22nd in the nation with 290.9 yards total offense per game.
QUARTERBACK KEEPER: Junior quarterback Fredi Knighten has 622 rushing yards for a 56.5 average per game, which are both the highest by an A-State quarterback Since Roy Johnson ran for 782 yards and a 71.1 average per game in 1991. The second highest rushing total by an A-State quarterback since Johnson was 588 yards by Ryan Aplin in 2011.
A FLARE FOR THE DRAMATIC: Junior RB?Michael Gordon is responsible for five of the 10 longest plays this season by an A-State player, and all five were posted in one of the last seven games. Gordon is averaging 7.0 yards per rushing attempt, which is ranked seventh in the nation. He has recorded nine career runs covering at least 40 yards, including seven this season:
92 yd TD vs UAPB (2013); 70 yd TD vs ULL?(2014); 68 yd vs ULM (2014); 64 yd TD vs Troy (2013); 53 vs GSU?(2014); 50 vs GSU?(2014); 49 yd vs ULM (2014); 44 yd TD vs Idaho (2014); 42 yd TD vs Montana State (2014); 40 yd TD vs Texas State (2013)
ANOTHER 100: Arkansas State junior running back Michael Gordon has recorded four 100-yard rushing games this season, giving him eight total for his career. Over the last seven games, Gordon is averaging 119.4 rushing yards per game. His 102.3 yards per game for the entire season ranks fourth in the Sun Belt Conference and 29th in the nation.
SPREADING THE WEALTH: Arkansas State has completed at least one pass to 20 players -- eight more than all of last season. Seventeen of those players have multiple receptions, including Tres Houston with a team-high 47. The 20 players with a reception are the most ever by A-State since joining the FBS in 1992. The next closest was 19 in 2006.
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: A-State has posted at least 30 points in 31 of its last 46 regular-season games (67 percent) dating back to the 2011 season, including five of the last six. The Red Wolves have won 19 of their last 22 games when scoring at least 30 points.
LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Arkansas State's collective offensive line entered the 2014 season with the nation's third fewest combined starts in the nation. The Red Wolves returned just two offensive lineman with starting experience, including sophomore Colton Jackson and senior Alan Wright. The 22 combined starts entering the year were the fewest behind just Tennessee (six) and Ohio State (20). ?Following A-State was San Jose State with 23 and Army with 24.
RECEIVING RECORDS: Just a junior, J.D. McKissic is already taking over the Arkansas State record books in almost every major receiving statistical category. He holds the school record for receptions in a game (15), season (103) and career (230). He is ranked third for career receiving yards with 2,202 to his credit and has nine receiving touchdowns that rank tied for ninth. He is the only player in school history to have 70 or more receptions in two different seasons.
ON A ROLL: A Freshman All-America selection in 2011 and Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-America in 2012, junior WR?J.D. McKissic has caught at least one pass in all 35 games of his career at A-State. His 35 consecutive games with a reception is the 12th longest streak in the nation. He had a school-record 15 catches against Missouri last season.
LOCK IT DOWN: Arkansas State is not only ranked second in the Sun?Belt Conference in fourth down percentage defense and second in third down situations, they are among the nation's leaders in both categories. A-State is ranked 16th and 21st in the nation in 3rd and 4th downs percentage defense, respectively. They have just a .337 conversion percentage on third downs and a .368 percentage on fourth downs.
FORCING TURNOVERS: Arkansas State recorded a season-high eight turnovers gained versus Idaho and now has 25 total for the season that ranks 15th in the nation. The Red Wolves have recorded seven interceptions and eight fumble recoveries over the last four games. One of the fumbles recovered was returned a school-record 93 yards by junior corner Rocky Hayes for a touchdown, while corner Artez Brown had a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown.
SCORING DEFENSE: Arkansas State has held five opponents to 14 points or less. The last time A-State held five or more opponents to 14 points or less in a season was 1986 when it did so 10 times. The Red Wolves have won 17 consecutive games when holding an opponent to 17 point or less.
GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK: Arkansas State recorded a combined 34 sacks against its first 11 opponents, giving it a 3.09 average per game that ranks 17th in the nation. The Red Wolves had six sacks against Montana State, which were its most since posting the same number against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in its 2013 season opener. Through 11 games, A-State has already passed its total (26) for all of last season. The last time the Red Wolves had more than 34 sacks in a season was 2011 when it had 35.
PLAYING BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: Twenty-six players have combined to record 77 tackles for loss over the first 11 games of the season, giving the Red Wolves a 7.0 average per game that ranks 26th in the nation. A-State has surpassed its total (71) for last season, and the last time the Red Wolves had more than 77 tackles for loss in a season was 2011 when it had 99.
AMONG THE LEAGUE LEADERS: Sophomore linebacker Qushaun Lee leads the team and is ranked eighth in the Sun Belt Conference in tackles, averaging 7.7 per game. ?His 85 tackles are four more than the Red Wolves' second leading tackler Qushaun Lee, who is ranked 13th in conference. Woodson has posted a double-figure tackles total three times this season and four times during his career, including a career-high 14 versus Louisiana-Lafayette.
LEAVE NO STONE UNBLOCKED: Junior defensive end Chris Stone has recorded at least a half-sack in seven of 11 outings this season, giving him 6.5 on the year that ranks sixth in the Sun Belt Conference. Additionally, he has at least one tackle for loss in eight of 11 games this year for an 8.5 total that ranks 16th in the Sun Belt. Last season, he posted a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss that ranked 11th in the league. He entered the season with four career sacks, already topping that total over A-State's first 11 games this season.
PICK IT OFF: Seven A-State players have combined for 13 interceptions this season, and the Red Wolves have picked off at least one pass in eight of their last 12 games dating back to the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl. The Red Wolves' 13 interceptions are tied for the most in the Sun Belt Conference and rank as the 22nd most in the nation. A-State had a season-high four interceptions versus Idaho and three a week later against South Alabama.
UNDER 100: A-State has held three teams, including Georgia State, ULM and Montana State, to under 100 yards rushing this season. The Red Wolves have allowed a player from four teams this year to rush for over 100 yards individually.
ANOTHER 100: Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee recorded a team-high 134 tackles last season, making him the first A-State player to record over 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons since linebacker Les Echols in 2002 (105) and 2003 (123). He ranked 12th in the nation in tackles and led the Sun Belt Conference in 2013. Lee has recorded a double-figure stops total 13 games during his career, including the last two. ?He currently has 85 tackles, needing 15 more to become the first player since Mike Morris (1980-82) to post at least 100 stops in three straight seasons.
LOADED SECONDARY: Arkansas State's secondary has combined to start 152 career games, which is among at least the six highest in the nation. A-State's players in the defensive backfield with starting experience include Sterling Young, Chris Humes, Money Hunter, Artez Brown, Andrew Tryon, Rocky Hayes, Frankie Jackson, Sterling Wright and Charleston Girley.