A-State vs S. Illinois in-depth preview

A-State vs S. Illinois in-depth preview

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A-STATE (1-2) hosts Southern Illinois (2-1)
6 p.m. Saturday
Allison Field at Centennial Bank Stadium
RADIO: EAB Red Wolves Sports Network (107.9 FM, flagship)
Matt Stolz (pxp), Tim Allison (analyst), Brad Bobo (sideline)
TV: ESPN3
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

THE PRINCIPALS:  Arkansas State enters Saturday’s game with a 1-2 record, most recently dropping a 55-0 decision at No. 3 Georgia.  Southern Illinois holds a 2-1 record after knocking off UT Martin 28-14 last week in Carbondale.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  improve its all-time record versus Southern Illinois to 29-9-1 and give it seven consecutive wins over the Salukis . . . give it 15 wins over its last 16 games played against FCS opponents . . . run its all-time record against current Missouri Valley Football Conference members to 37-12-1 . . . give it 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 the sixth time since moving to FBS status in 1992 (1995, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2019) . . . give the Red Wolves a 2-2 or better record through four games for the second consecutive season and fourth time ins six years under head coach Blake Anderson.

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 five 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 five 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).

SIX YEARS RUNNING:  Blake Anderson is the only head coach in Arkansas State history to win 40 or more games over his first six years at the school.  Additionally, he is one of just four head coaches at A-State to  ever direct the program to at least 40 wins in 66 or fewer games -- Bil Davidson also won 40 times over his first 66 games between 1971-77, Forrest England won 41 games over the same span between 1946-52 and Bennie Ellender won 42 times over his first 66 games between 1963-70.

FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS:  The Arkansas State Athletics Department family was saddened to learn of the passing late Monday night, Aug. 19, of Wendy Anderson, wife of sixth-year head football coach Blake Anderson.  Wendy’s courageous battle with cancer will continue to serve as an inspiration to many across the nation, and the outpouring of support far and wide for the Andersons and the A-State family has been overwhelming.  Anderson took a leave of absence to be with his family until Sept. 7, when he returned to the sidelines to lead A-State to a 43-17 win over UNLV.  Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator David Duggan served as the Red Wolves’ interim head coach from Aug. 19 until Anderson’s return on Sept. 7.

COURAGE AWARD:  A-State head football coach Blake Anderson was named on Sept. 18 as the first weekly nominee for the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, presented annually since 2002 to one recipient for displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through a hardship.  Anderson becomes the second Arkansas State coach or player to be a nominee for the honor, joining former defensive lineman Brandon Rollins in 2005.  Rollins, from Texarkana, Texas, was a finalist for the award after fully recovering from an elevator accident that occurred prior to the 2003 season,  causing multiple injuries while also requiring numerous surgeries.

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).

DOUBLE DIGITS:  Including six of its eight victories in 2018, 36 of the Red Wolves’ 40 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points.  The only exceptions were 29-20 and 27-20 victories last season over Tulsa and UNLV, a 21-14 overtime win against Utah State in 2014 and a 27-26 victory over Georgia Southern in 2016.  A-State has outscored its opponents 1,690-757 in the 40 wins under Anderson for a 23.3-point average scoring difference.

CLIMBING THE LADDER:  Blake Anderson has led the Red Wolves to a pair of Sun Belt titles and collected 31 league wins along the way, which are tied for the fourth most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches.

THE A-STATE-SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SERIES:  While Arkansas State has faced Southern Illinois 38 times in school history, the fourth most among all opponents, the Red Wolves and Salukis have not met since the 1995 season.  A-State holds an all-time 28-9-1 record versus SIU, including a 14-4 home record, 13-5-1 road mark and 1-0 record in Little Rock (1975).    A-State has won the last six games in the series (1989-95), including a 14-9 home win in 1995.  The last SIU victory in the series came 45-43 in 1988 in Carbondale.  The two teams played for the first time in 1915, when Arkansas State claimed a 16-0 win in Jonesboro.

A-STATE vs MVFC:  Arkansas State is set to face a Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent for the first time since 2015, when it defeated Missouri State 70-7 at Centennial Bank Stadium.  However, prior that 2015 meeting, the last time A-State played a MVFC member was 1998, when it also played the Bears.  The Red Wolves hold a 36-12-1 all-time record against current members of the league.  The Red Wolves have played Southern Illinois more than any other member of the conference and hold a 28-9-1 record versus the Salukis.  A-State has also played Illinois State (4-0-0, last 1989), Indiana State (1-1, 1976), Missouri State (3-1, last 2015) and Northern Iowa (0-1, 1987).

A-STATE vs FCS:  Arkansas State is playing an FCS member for the ninth consecutive season and 11th time over the last 12 years.  Dating back to the 2002 campaign, the Red Wolves have won 14 of their last 15 games against FCS foes.  A-State has posted 770 points to its FCS opponents’ 147 during those 15 contests for an average margin of 41.5 points per game.  The Red Wolves’ lone setback during that time came in 2016, 28-23 against Central Arkansas of the Southland Conference.

THROUGH THREE:  Arkansas State holds a 1-2 record through three games for the 12th time over the last 18 seasons, including two of the last three years.  The Red Wolves held a 2-1 record after three games last season and went on to secure a winning record (3-1) against non-conference opponents 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.

HOME SWEET HOME:  Arkansas State has strung together 14 consecutive years (2005-18) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005.  The Red Wolves are now 64-16 (.800 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 39 of their last 48 home outings.  The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 156-79-1 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.

WATCH ME, WATCH ME:  A-State has 10 players on at least one major watch list for the 2019 season, including six who play on the offensive side of the ball (Logan Bonner, Dahu Green, Javonis Isaac, Kirk Merritt, Marcel Murray, Jacob Still), three on the defensive (Tajhea Chambers, Darreon Jackson, Jerry Jacobs) and one on special teams (Cody Grace).  The Red Wolves have at least one player on 11 different watch lists.

EIGHT STRAIGHT:  Arkansas State has secured a winning record in a school-record eight consecutive seasons (2011-18).  The next longest streak was six straight seasons from 1912-17.  The Red Wolves have piled up 67 victories from 2011-18 for its most over an eight-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.

105TH SEASON:  Arkansas State kicked off its 105th season of football Aug. 31 at home against SMU.  A-State holds a 474-489-37 record since the inaugural season and has played in 16 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.

A-STATE vs THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 51 of its last 63 Sun Belt Conference games (.810 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 83-48.  The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 26.  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.

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 eight years (2011-18) and 11 times over the last 14 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.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
300-PLUS:  Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards total offense in 106 of its last 118 games (.898 percentage).  A-State has produced 300 yards in 61 of 67 games during the Blake Anderson era.

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 45 times over its last 67 games (67 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 nine of their last 10 games.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  The Red Wolves have posted at least 30 points in 63 of their last 97 regular-season games (65 percent) dating back to the 2011 season.  The Red Wolves have won 49 of their last 56 games when scoring at least 30 points.

BIG NUMBERS:  Senior WR Omar Bayless has picked up this season where he left off last year, recording over 100 receiving yards in three of the last four games dating back to 2018.  Including the Arizona Bowl and the first three games this season, he has posted 30 receptions (7.5 rpg) for 464 yards (116 ypg) and five touchdowns.  His four touchdown  receptions versus SMU tied the school and Centennial Bank Stadium records, while his career-high 149 receiving yards against UNLV were the 24th most in A-State history.  Bayless is currently  ranked third in the nation in receiving touchdowns, eighth in receptions and 10th in receiving yards.

GOOD HANDS:  Junior wide receiver Brandon Bowling has 17 catches this season, which is already more than he had for his first two seasons combined (15).  He also has 132 receiving yards, 24 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.  He is currently ranked 41st in the nation in receptions with 5.7 per game.

PRODUCTION INCREASE:  Ranked 26th in the nation in receptions per game, junior wideout Jonathan Adams has already posted a career-best 19 catches this year -- two more than his previous best for a season (2018).  With a career-high 85 receiving yards last week at Georgia, he now has 205 receiving yards through just three games.  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 last week.

HOT START:  Through the first three games of the season, junior quarterback Logan Bonner is ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference in both passing yards (244.0 ypg) and total offense (244.7 ypg), while also posting six touchdown passes that are tied for the second most in the league.  Nationally, he ranks 15th in completions per game (24.7 pg), 30th in passing touchdowns (6), 33rd in points responsible for (42) and 37th in passing yards (732).

HITTING THE CENTURY MARK:  In just his second game at A-State, junior running back Ryan Graham posted his first career 100-yard rushing game with the Red Wolves.  He piled up 103 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries against UNLV, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt.  It was the first 100-yard rushing game of the season by any A-State player as well.

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 41 of their last 45 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 184 sacks over that span.  The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 38 of their last 40 games dating back to the 2016 season.

PICK IT OFF:  Arkansas State has intercepted a pass on the opening possession in two of the first three games, continuing to be an opportunistic defensive over the last six seasons (2014-19) when the ball has been put in the air.  During that time span, A-State has intercepted 81 passes that rank tied for the seventh most in the nation with Louisiana Tech.  The only teams with more interceptions are San Diego State (90), Iowa (85), Utah (85), Ohio State (85), Alabama (83) and Appalachian State (82).

FORCING TURNOVERS:  Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 54 of its last 67 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 130 forced turnovers over that span are the eighth 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 23 total defensive touchdowns over the last six seasons.

ON THE STOP:  Junior linebacker Tajhea Chambers recorded a team-high 10 tackles against Georgia, which also tied his career high for a single game.  He is currently ranked ninth in the Sun Belt Conference in tackles with 22 to his credit.

TAKE IT TO THE HOUSE:  Not only did senior cornerback Jeremy Smith record his first career interception last against UNLV, he took it 35 yards to the end zone to give A-State an early 7-0 lead.  It was the first interception return for a touchdown by an A-State player since former defensive back Justin Clifton had a 43-yard return against ULM on Nov. 17 of last season.

FORCE IN THE TRENCHES:  Junior defensive lineman Forrest Merrill came up with a career-tying 2.5 sacks against UNLV, while also finishing the game with a career-tying eight tackles.  Through two games, he has posted 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS
CAREER DAY FOR GRUPE:  Sophomore kicker Blake Grupe made three field goals and scored 13 points, both career highs, against UNLV.  His three field goals tied the 10th most in school history for a single game, while his 13 points tied the ninth most for points by kicking

ON THE RETURN:  Moving into a punt return role for the first time of his career, senior BJ Edmonds has recorded five returns for 68 yards and a 13.6 average that ranks as the 16th best in the nation.  His long return has covered 20 yards, and he posted a career-best 47 yards at UNLV on three attempts.

AMAZING GRACE:  Senior punter Cody Grace has posted just two touchbacks in 134 punting attempts during his three-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just 15 times (11 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 25 of 27 career games and multiple in all but six.  He was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist (top 10) each of the last two years.

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