A-State at S. Alabama in-depth preview

A-State at S. Alabama in-depth preview

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A-State (7-4, 5-2) at South Alabama (1-10, 0-7)
4 p.m. Friday
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
RADIO: 107.9 FM Jonesboro, 93.7 FM Little Rock
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com
LIVE NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay 

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  improve its all-time record against South Alabama to 7-1 . . . give it an 8-4 regular-season record for the second consecutive year, marking the fourth time it has posted at least eight wins in a season under head coach Blake Anderson . . . give it eight victories to match its third highest total since moving to FBS status in 1992 . . . give it 57 wins over its last 71 Sun Belt games . . . increase its winning streak in November contests to 10 games . . . extend its winning streak to five games for its longest since claiming six consecutive victories during the 2016 season . . . make the Red Wolves the Sun Belt Conference co-West Division champions for the second straight year IF ULM also defeats Louisiana . . . make the Red Wolves 28-8 over their last 36 Sun Belt road games.

THE ARKANSAS STATE-SOUTH ALABAMA SERIES:  Arkansas State holds a 6-1 all-time record against South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference series that dates back to just 2012.  Four of the seven meetings have been decided by 10 points or less, including the last outing played in Mobile when the Jaguars won 24-19.  The Red Wolves collected a 38-14 home victory over South Alabama last season.

A-STATE vs THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 56 of its last 70 Sun Belt Conference games (.800 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 88-50.  The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 27.  A-State has defeated every team in the conference since the football league was formed in 2001.  Along with ULM and Louisiana, A-State is one of three teams that have been a part of the conference since its inaugural football season.

RED WOLVES NOVEMBER:  Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds a 28-5 record over its last 33 games played in the month of November.  The Red Wolves have won their last nine November games.  They have four games scheduled this month for the second consecutive season.

THROUGH NINE:  Arkansas State holds a winning record through 11 games for the ninth consecutive year dating back to the 2011 season.  A-State was also 7-4 at this time last season, while its best record under head coach Blake Anderson through 11 games was 8-3 in 2015.

HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON:  Blake Anderson, a 19-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 coach on Dec. 19, 2013.  Anderson led the Red Wolves to Sun Belt Conference championships in 2015 and 2016, as well as six consecutive winning seasons and five bowl-game appearances (2018 Arizona Bowl, 2017 Camellia Bowl, 2016 Cure Bowl, 2015 New Orleans Bowl, 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) during his first six seasons leading the program.  Under his direction, the Red Wolves have set nine new single-season records, including average yards total offense (494.8 ypg in 2017), total offense (6,174 yards in 2014) and points scored (520 in 2015).

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).

SIX YEARS RUNNING:  Blake Anderson is the only head coach in Arkansas State history to win 46 or more games over his first six years at the school.  Additionally, he is one of just three head coaches at A-State to  ever direct the program to at least 46 wins in 74 or fewer games -- Forrest England won 47 games over the same span between 1946-52 and Bennie Ellender won 50 times over his first 74 games between 1963-70.

DOUBLE DIGITS:  Including three of their seven victories this season, 38 of the Red Wolves’ 46 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points.  At the same time four of their seven single-digit victories under Anderson have been posted this season.  That is the program’s most single-digit wins in one season since the 2013 season when it also had four, including a 23-20 victory in the GoDaddy Bowl.  Arkansas State has outscored its opponents 1,933-943 in the 46 wins under Anderson for a 21.5-point average scoring difference.

CLIMBING THE LADDER:  Blake Anderson has led the Red Wolves to a pair of Sun Belt titles and collected 36 league wins along the way, which are the second most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches.

BROYLES AWARD NOMINEE:  Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf has been named as one of 41 nominees for the Broyles Award, issued annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.

NEXT MAN UP:  Partially due to injuries, including 10 season-ending to players such as Ryan Graham (RB), Isaiah Azubuike (RB), Logan Bonner (QB), Forrest Merrill (DL), Hunter Moreton (DL), Jerry Jacobs (CB), Tony Adams (DL) and Thomas Toki (DL), the Red Wolves have used 39 different starters this season.  Arkansas State has seen at least 22 players miss multiple games due to injury, including 14 who were starters at the time.

HOME SWEET HOME:  Arkansas State has strung together 15 consecutive years (2005-19) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005.  The Red Wolves are now 68-17 (.800 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 43 of their last 53 home outings.  The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 160-80-1 since it opened in 1974.  A-State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.  The 2011 season also marked the last time the Red Wolves went undefeated at Centennial Bank Stadium.

SUN BELT LEADERS:  Based on the weekly stats report compiled by the Sun Belt, the Red Wolves have four different players leading the league in six combined statistical categories.  The four players ties Appalachian State, while the six categories ties Troy for the most in the league.  Senior wide receiver Omar Bayless is ranked No. 1 in receiving yards and receptions.  Junior defensive end William Bradley-King leads the league in both sacks and fumbles forced, while senior safety BJ Edmonds is ranked first in punt returns and freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher tops in pass efficiency.

ROAD WARRIORS:  Arkansas State has won 27 of its last 35 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 opener.

NON-CONFERENCE RECAP:  Arkansas State produced a .500 or better non-conference record for the second consecutive season, third time under head coach Blake Anderson and fifth time over the last nine seasons, but just sixth time since moving to FBS status in 1992 (1995, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2019).  A-State posted a winning non-conference record (3-1) last season for the first time since 1995 (3-2).

A BIT OF HISTORY:  Arkansas State’s 43-17 win over UNLV marked its largest margin of victory in a non-conference road game since 1986, when it defeated Delaware 55-14 in the I-AA (FCS) playoffs.  The last time it had a larger margin of victory in a non-conference road game played during the regular season was 1976, when it knocked off Southern Illinois 41-10.

EIGHT STRAIGHT:  Arkansas State has secured a winning record in a school-record nine consecutive seasons (2011-19).  The next longest streak was six straight seasons from 1912-17.  The Red Wolves have piled up 74 victories from 2011-19 for its most over a nine-year span in the program’s 105-year history.

ELITE COMPANY:  Arkansas State is one of just four teams in the nation to win five conference titles and appear in eight bowl games since 2011, joining Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma.  The Red Wolves won the Sun Belt title in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 and hold the 15th longest active streak in the nation for bowl game appearances with eight.

SUN BELT CHAMPS (5 of 8):  While Arkansas State last won the Sun Belt in 2016, it is still the only Group of 5 program and one of just four FBS programs in the nation to win five conference championships over the last eight years (2011-18).  The only other teams to do so are Alabama (SEC), Clemson (ACC) and Oklahoma (Big 12).  The Red Wolves most recently won back-to-back Sun Belt titles in 2015 and 2016, compiling a 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 SBC titles.

BOWL ELIGIBLE:  Arkansas State has obtained bowl eligibility status each of the last nine years (2011-19) and 12 times over the last 15 seasons.  Arkansas State has become bowl eligible in 10 games or less each of those seasons.  Since moving to FBS status in 1992, the earliest A-State ever became bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 through eight games.

BOWL STREAK:  Arkansas State has made a school-record eight consecutive bowl-game appearances (2011-18), which is the third longest streak in the Group of 5 and ranks 15th in the nation among all FBS programs.

300-PLUS:  Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards total offense in 114 of its last 126 games (.904 percentage).  A-State has produced 300 yards in 69 of 75 games during the Blake Anderson era.

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 51 times over its last 75 games (68 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach.  The Red Wolves have posted 400 or more yards total offense in 15 of their last 18 games.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  The Red Wolves have posted at least 30 points in 69 of their last 105 regular-season games (66 percent) dating back to the 2011 season.  The Red Wolves have won 54 of their last 62 games when scoring at least 30 points.

BIG NUMBERS:  Senior WR Omar Bayless picked up this season where he left off last year, recording over 100 receiving yards in eight of the last 12 games dating back to 2018.  Including the Arizona Bowl and the first 11 games this season, he has posted 87 receptions (7.3 rpg) for 1,504 yards (125.3 ypg) and 15 touchdowns.  His four touchdown  receptions versus SMU tied the school and Centennial Bank Stadium records, while his career-high 213 receiving yards against Troy were the third most in A-State history.  Bayless is currently leading the nation in receiving yards (1,375), 100-yard receiving games (7) and receiving touchdowns (15), while also ranking eighth in receptions (7.3 pg).

BILETNIKOFF SEMIFINALIST:  Senior WR Omar Bayless was named on Nov. 18 as one of just 12 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, issued annually to the outstanding FBS receiver regardless of position.  He is the first A-State player to be tabbed a semifinalist, although the Red Wolves’ J.D. McKissic and Dwayne Frampton were on the watch list in 2013 and 2011, respectively.

SUN BELT OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK:  Senior wideout Omar Bayless was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in A-State’s 50-43 victory at Troy.  He became the fourth player in Arkansas State history to record over 200 receiving yards in a game by posting 10 receptions for a career-high 213 yards and a touchdown. He finished with the third most receiving yards in school history and the 13th most in the nation this season, while also tying the fifth most ever by a Sun Belt Conference player.  A-State’s first offensive play of the game saw Bayless come up with a 92-yard touchdown catch, which was the second longest reception in school history, eighth longest in the nation this season and tied the fourth longest every by a Sun Belt player.

2,000-YARD CLUB:  Senior wide receiver Omar Bayless has joined an exclusive group of just five all-time A-State players to record 2,000 receiving yards in a career.  He went over the 2,000-yard mark during the Louisiana game and now has 2,497 for his career.  Bayless joined J.D. McKissic (2012-15), Lennie Johnson (1995-98), Robert Kilow (1998-2000) and Taylor Stockemer (2009-12) as Arkansas State players with 2,000 yards.  He has a school-record seven 100-yard receiving games this season and eight total for his career.

KEEPING GOOD COMPANY:  This century, senior wide receiver Omar Bayless is one of just five FBS players to post at least 80 receptions, 1,375 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns through 11 games or less.  The others are Biletnikoff Award winners Larry Fitzgerald (Pitt, 2003), Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech, 2007), Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State, 2010) and Brandin Cooks (Oregon State, 2013).

GOOD HANDS:  Junior wide receiver Brandon Bowling has 24 catches this season, which is already more than he had for his first two seasons combined (15).  He also has 195 receiving yards, 87 more than his career total (108) entering this year.  He posted career-best numbers for both receptions (12) and receiving yards (92) against SMU, and those 12 catches tied the fourth most in school history.

PRODUCTION INCREASE:  Ranked sixth in the Sun Belt Conference in receptions per game, junior wideout Jonathan Adams has already posted a career-best 54 catches this year -- 37 more than his previous best for a season (2018).  Including a career-high 158 receiving yards against Georgia Southern, he now has 719 receiving yards through 11 games, which is the fourth most (65.4 ypg) in the Sun Belt.  Adams posted a career-best 267 yards for all of last season.

DELIVERING IN HIS DEBUT:  Earning his first career start against SMU, junior QB Logan Bonner threw for a career-high four touchdowns, while he also set new career-best marks for completions (32), passing yards (324) and total offense (340).  His 32 completions and four touchdown passes both tied the seventh most in A-State history for a single game.  Athlon Sports ranked Bonner’s performance as the 21st best in the nation among quarterbacks who made their first career start in the season’s opening week.

ANOTHER IMPRESSIVE DEBUT:  Much like junior quarterback Logan Bonner, redshirt freshman Layne Hatcher put up monster numbers in his starting debut this season with 25 completions for 440 yards and four touchdowns against Troy.  His performance led to him being named one of eight Manning Award Stars of the Week.  Hatcher’s 440 passing yards were the second most in school history, while his four touchdown throws tied the seventh most ever by an A-State player.

THROUGH THE AIR:  Averaging 277.4 passing yards per game this season to rank second in the Sun Belt, redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher has thrown for at least 297 yards in six of his first seven career starts while also completing at least two touchdown passes in all seven of those games.

THREE AMIGOS:  The combination of wideouts Jonathan Adams, Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt has been one of the most dynamic not only in school history, but also in the nation this season.  The three have combined to:

-post more receiving touchdowns (30) than 116 teams have passing touchdowns

-record more receiving yards (2,736) than 82 teams have passing yards

-catch more passes (189) than 42 teams have completions

The Red Wolves are one of just five teams having at least three players with 50+ catches, one of five to have at least three with 625+ receiving yards and one of two having three or fewer players combining for at least 30 receiving touchdowns.

Dating back to the 2015 season, the Red Wolves have posted at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in 48 of their last 53 games.  A-State has ranked among the top 30 teams in the nation three of the last four seasons (2016-19) in tackles for loss.

GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK:  A-State has ranked among the top 27 teams in the nation in sacks four of the last six years (2014-19), posting a combined 201 sacks over that span.  The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 46 of their last 48 games dating back to the 2016 season.

PICK IT OFF:  Arkansas State has posted at least one interception in seven of the first 11 games this year, continuing to be an opportunistic defense over the last six seasons (2014-19) when the ball has been put in the air.  During that time span, A-State has intercepted 88 passes that rank as the ninth most in the nation.  Since 2014, San Diego State ranks No. 1 with 100 interceptions.

FORCING TURNOVERS:  Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 61 of its last 75 games dating back to the 2014 season.  The Red Wolves have ranked among the top 30 teams in the nation in turnovers gained three of the last six years (2014-19), and their combined 143 forced turnovers over that span are tied for the ninth most in the nation.

DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE:  Arkansas State has ranked among the top 21 teams in the nation in defensive touchdowns each of the last six seasons (2014-19).  In fact, the 2015 season saw the Red Wolves record an FBS-high eight touchdowns.  The Red Wolves have 25 total defensive touchdowns over the last six seasons.

HENDRICKS WATCH LIST:  Junior William Bradley-King was added on Nov. 18 to the Ted Hendricks Award’s updated Watch List, which honors the top defensive end in college football.  He is now part of this year’s 43-player list and is the fourth all-time A-State player to earn the recognition along with Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (2016, 2017), Chris Odom (2016) and Alex Carrington (2009).  Nationally, Bradley-King ranks 10th in forced fumbles, 19th in fumble recoveries and 17th in sacks.  He also leads the Sun Belt in sacks and forced fumbles, while also ranking second and tied for second in tackles for loss and fumbles recovered, respectively.

TACKLING MACHINE:  Senior defensive back Darreon Jackson posted a career-high 17 tackles against ULM, which were the most by an A-State player since Nathan Herrold posted 17 against South Alabama in 2012.  He followed that up with 16 stops against Coastal Carolina  and 11 versus Georgia Southern.  He has now recorded at least 11 tackles in four of the last five games.  Jackson now has eight career games with at least 10 tackles.  He is ranked second in the Sun Belt in tackles per game with a 10.2 average.  Additionally, he is the first Arkansas State player to record over 100 tackles (101) in a season since Qushaun Lee posted 110 in 2014.

FINISHING STRONG:  Since coming back from an injury, senior defensive lineman Kevin Thurmon’s production has continued to go up late in the season.  In fact, he has recorded half (23) of his 46 tackles, 5.0 of his 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 of his 4.5 sacks over the last three games.  He posted a career-high 11 tackles against Coastal Carolina, while also posting career-best numbers for both tackles for loss (3.0) and sacks (2.0) versus Georgia Southern.  His late-season push has him ranked 8th in the Sun Belt in sacks and 18th in tackles for loss.

Sophomore kicker Blake Grupe was named on Nov.  7 as one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award.  He is the fourth all-time A-State player ever named a semifinalist, joining Brian Davis (2012 & 2013), Josh Arauco (2008) and Jeff Caldwell (1994).  Also a 2019 Burlsworth Trophy nominee, Grupe ranks 32nd in the nation in field goal percentage (.824), 39th in field goals made per game (1.24 avg.) and 43rd in scoring (8.0 ppg).  Grupe’s streak of 11 consecutive field goals made, the third longest in school history, came to an end during the Georgia Southern game.

GRUPE EARNS WEEKLY SBC HONOR:  Sophomore Blake Grupe was named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after making both of his field goal attempts and scoring 12 points in the Red Wolves’ seven-point win over ULM.

ON THE RETURN:  Moving into a punt return role for the first time of his career, senior BJ Edmonds has recorded 17 returns for 188 yards and an 11.1 average.  His long return has covered 34 yards against Texas State, and he posted a career-best 47 yards at UNLV on three attempts.  He is ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and 12th in the nation for punt return average.

AMAZING GRACE:  Senior punter Cody Grace has posted just six touchbacks in 171 punting attempts during his three-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just 22 times (13 percent).  He helped A-State set a new NCAA record for punt return defense in 2018.  He has posted at least one punt inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in 31 of 35 career games and multiple in all but 10.  He was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist (top 10) each of the last two years (2017 & 2018).

SUN BELT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK:  Senior punter Cody Grace was named the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks following the Red Wolves’ games against Troy and Georgi State.  He was also named the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week following the Georgia State contest.

TAKE IT TO THE HOUSE:  Senior wide receiver Kirk Merritt posted a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Georgia Southern, giving the Red Wolves their first return for a score since Blaise Taylor found the end zone on a 98-yard return in the 2015 New Orleans Bowl.  Merritt has posted over 100 kickoff return yards each of the last two games and has seen his average per return climb to 29.5, which ranks second in the Sun Belt and first in school history.

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