A-State at SMU in-depth preview
A-STATE (1-1) at SMU (2-1)
6 p.m. Saturday
Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas
RADIO: 93.7 FM Little Rock, 107.9 FM Jonesboro
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com/AStateRedWolves.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay
THE PRINCIPALS: A-State enters Saturday’s game with a 1-1 record after claiming a 48-3 victory over UAPB in its home opener that saw the Red Wolves pile up over 490 yards total offense for the second consecutive game. The Mustangs dropped a 56-36 decision to then-ranked No. 20 TCU last week, suffering their first setback of the season after claiming victories over Stephen F. Austin and North Texas.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : move its all-time record versus SMU to 2-1 . . . make it 2-1 in games played against AAC members . . . mark the first time since 1995 the Red Wolves finished their non-conference schedule with a winning record . . . make Blake Anderson the fastest head coach in school history to reach 26 victories (42 games) . . . give it a 2-1 or better record through three games played for the first time since 2013 . . . improve its record to 13-1 over its last 14 games played against teams in the state of Texas . . . give the Red Wolves 54 victories over the last seven seasons.
THE ARKANSAS STATE - SMU SERIES: The Red Wolves and Mustangs have met just twice before, playing a home-and-home series in 2006 and 2007. The series is even at 1-1 with SMU claiming a 55-9 win in Dallas in 2006 before A-State turned the tables a year later with 45-28 victory in Jonesboro.
A-STATE vs. THE AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE: Arkansas State holds an all-time record of 28-37-5 against current members of the American Athletic Conference. However, the Red Wolves are set to face a team competing as a member of the league at the time of the game for just the third time in school history. Their only two other such games came in 2013 when they fell to Memphis 31-7 and last season when they defeated UCF 31-13 in the Cure Bowl. A-State has also played the following current AAC teams, although they weren’t members of the league at the time of the game: Cincinnati (1-1), East Carolina (0-2), Navy (0-1), SMU (1-1) and Tulsa (2-2). The Red Wolves hold an all-time 23-29-5 record against Memphis.
LONE STAR SUCCESS: Dating back to the 2007 season, Arkansas State has won 12 of its last 13 games against teams from the Lone Star state. The Red Wolves fell to Texas in their 2007 season opener, but came back to sweep their games over SMU and North Texas that year. A-State knocked off Texas A&M, Texas Southern and North Texas in 2008 and also defeated the Mean Green in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. A-State has taken three of four meetings against Texas State since 2013 to run its record to 12-1 over its last 13 games played against teams from the state.
TEXAS RED WOLVES: Arkansas State has 14 players on its roster from the state of Texas, the most of all states outside of Arkansas. Included among those 14 players are 11 listed on the Red Wolves current depth chart. Additionally, nine of 14 are from the Dallas area, including Nehemiah Wagner (Mesquite), Bubba Ogbebor (Frisco), Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (Mesquite), Logan Bonner (Rowlett), Sawyer Williams (Allen), Troy Elliott (Flower Mound), Brandon Bowling (McKinney), Donovan Ransom (Garland) and Damon Foncham (Plano).
BY THE NUMBERS . . .
1 or more turnovers gained by A-State in 34 of 41 games (83%) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.
1 of just two programs in league history owning five Sun Belt Conference championships.
1 touchdown reception needed by Dijon Paschal to tie the seventh most in school history.
1 sack needed by Ja’Von Rolland-Jones to tie the 19th most in NCAA FBS history.
1 victory needed to make Blake Anderson the fastest HC in school history to reach 26 wins (42 games).
2 or more touchdown passes by Justice Hansen the last four consecutive games.
5 different watch lists (Bednarik, Nagurski, Hendricks, Senior Bowl, College Gridiron Showcase NFL) for Ja’Von Rolland-Jones.
5 Sun Belt Conference championships (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016) over the last six seasons.
5 head coaches over the last 8 years (Steve Roberts, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, Bryan Harsin, Blake Anderson).
5 or more tackles for loss recorded by A-State in 19 consecutive games.
6 current A-State players have already earned their degree.
6 straight bowl game appearances (2011-16) -- a school record.
6 consecutive winning seasons (2011-16) by A-State for the first time since 1912-17.
7 players named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team (8 selections).
7 or more victories each of the last six seasons (2011-16) -- first time in school history.
7 different players named to at least one major award watch list.
8 of last 11 years w/at least one NFL Draft selection.
9 of the last 12 seasons (2005-16) have seen A-State reach bowl eligibility, including the last six in a row.
9.6 tackles for loss per game last season by A-State was the highest average in the nation.
11 Sun Belt Conference Team Academic Awards over the last 14 years, including 2015.
12 consecutive seasons with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium (2005-16).
12 victories over its last 13 games played against teams located in the state of Texas.
13 players named 2017 All-Sun Belt Conference by at least one preseason publication.
14 players on A-State’s roster from the state of Texas (the most of any state outside of Arkansas).
23 of A-State’s 25 victories under HC Blake Anderson have come by a double-figure margin.
25 career rushing touchdowns by Johnston White are the seventh most in school history.
30 or more points scored by A-State in 48 of its last 73 regular-season games (66 percent).
30.5 career sacks by Ja’Von Rolland-Jones are both school and Sun Belt Conference records.
36 points scored against Nebraska was A-State’s most ever vs a team currently in a Power 5 conference.
40 Sun Belt Conference victories over the last six (2011-16) seasons (40-7 league record).
53 victories by A-State over the last six seasons ranks tied for the 25th most in the nation.
107 consecutive games played without A-State being shutout.
155 points allowed over the last 10 games are the fewest since allowing 145 over a 12-game stretch in 1985.
292 or less yds total offense allowed by A-State’s defense five of the last six games, dating back to 2016.
300 or more yds total offense in 81 of last 92 games (88 pct.), including all but 5 games under Blake Anderson.
400 yards or more of total offense in A-State’s first two games for the first time since the 2013 season.
880 career punt return yards by Blaise Taylor are the most in school history & 2nd most in Sun Belt history.
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 interceptions (26 in 2015). 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 (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).
FOUR YEARS RUNNING: Even with at least nine games remaining on its 2017 schedule, Blake Anderson is already the first head coach in Arkansas State history to win 25 or more games over his first four seasons at the school. Additionally, he is the just the second head coach at A-State to win 25 games in 41 or fewer contests -- Bennie Ellender reached 25 victories in 40 games from 1963-67.
DOUBLE DIGITS: A-State’s first win 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 23 of the Red Wolves’ 25 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.
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 one this season, the Red Wolves have recorded 53 victories that are tied for the 25th most in the nation over the last seven seasons.
THAT’S A FIRST: The Red Wolves have seen 10 players start their first career game as a member of the A-State program over the last two games. Eight of those 10 gained their first start against Nebraska, while an additional two made their first start against UAPB. The list includes four offensive linemen, one wide receiver, one defensive lineman, one linebacker and three safeties. The players are Jaypee Philbert (LT), Dalton Ford (LG), Jacob Still (C), Lanard Bonner (RT), Justin McInnis (WR), BJ Edmonds (S), Darreon Jackson (S), Javier Carbonell (DL), Caleb Bonner (LB) and Michael Johnson (S).
ON THAT NOTE: Not only did A-State have 10 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 20 of 53 players (38 percent) listed who had never played a snap as an A-State player entering this season.
HOME OPENERS: Arkansas State knocked off UAPB 48-3 last week to snap a two-game skid in home openers, but at the same time the Red Wolves have still won their first game at Centennial Bank Stadium in 11 of the last 13 seasons dating back to 2005. Arkansas State now stands 31-13 all-time in home openers at the stadium and is also 17-8 in such games since moving to FBS status in 1992.
HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 12 consecutive years (2005-16) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 56‐13 (.811 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 31 of their last 37 home games, including the last five in a row. The Red Wolves actual on‐field record all‐time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 148‐76‐1 since it opened in 1974. A‐State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.
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 have 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.
TOP 25: Arkansas State was receiving votes in both the Associated Press (2 points) and Coaches (6 points) Top 25 polls at the end of the 2015 regular season, making it the fourth season since 2011 that A-State was included among “others receiving votes” at one point during the year. The Red Wolves also earned votes in 2011, 2012 and 2013. A-State’s most ever points in the Associated Press (28) and Coaches (23) Top 25 came in the 2012 final polls.
103RD SEASON: Arkansas State kicked off its 103rd season of football Sept. 2 at Nebraska. A-State holds a 459-478-37 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: 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, which has brought him national notoriety. He was recently 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.
WATCH ME, WATCH ME: Arkansas State has seven different players on at least one of the major watch lists for the 2017 season, including three who play on the offensive side of the ball and four on the defensive. All combined, A-State has a player on 10 different major watch lists.
JUSTIN CLIFTON: Jim Thorpe
JUSTICE HANSEN: Johnny Unitas Golden Arm
DEE LINER: Senior Bowl
BLAKE MACK: John Mackey
JA’VON ROLLAND-JONES: Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, Ted Hendricks, Senior Bowl
BLAISE TAYLOR: Paul Hornung, Wuerffel Trophy
WARREN WAND: Doak Walker
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 81 of its last 92 games (.880 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 twice this season (36 of 41 games under Anderson).
400-PLUS: Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 25 times over its last 41 games (61 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach. The Red Wolves went over 400 yards in each of its first two games this season for the first time since 2013 (vs. UAPB and at Auburn).
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: Including seven of the last eight contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 48 of their last 73 regular-season games (66 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 36 of their last 41 games when scoring at least 30 points.
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. He is the only player in the league to rank among the top three players in total offense (2nd), passing yards avg. (2nd), passing touchdowns (2nd) and pass efficiency (3rd).
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 most in the nation this season. His 415 yards were the second most of his career, fourth most in school history and is currently tied for the seventh most in the nation this season.
HITTING THE MARK: Including the UAPB game, junior quarterback Justice Hansen has now thrown multiple touchdown passes eight times during his career, including the last four games in a row dating back to last season. He has thrown for at least 200 yards nine times, 300 four times and 400 twice. Dating back to last season, Hansen has passed for at least 200 yards his last three games and in seven of his last nine.
MULTIPLE WEAPONS: At least nine different A-State players caught at least one pass against both Nebraska and UAPB, including six wide receivers that set career highs for either receptions and/or receiving yards. Chris Murray hauled in a team-high nine catches for 90 yards against Nebraska, which were both career highs. Kendrick Edwards made his A-State debut with eight catches for 100 yards versus the Huskers, while Christian Booker and Omar Bayless both posted a career- high seven receptions each against Nebraska. Justin McInnis finished the Nebraska game with a career-high three catches as well, while also recording a career-best 84 receiving yards against UAPB. True freshman Jonathan Adams, Jr. made his first appearance against UAPB and caught two passes for 33 yards and a touchdown.
MAKING A MOVE: Junior Blake Mack changed positions from wide receiver to tight end last season, and he has transitioned well with 42 receptions for a team-high 714 yards and five touchdowns during that time. His first two seasons combined at wide receiver, Mack posted 17 receptions for 235 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 25 running scores during his career. White’s 25 career rushing touchdowns are the seventh most in school history.
APPROACHING 2,000: Running back Warren Wand finished the UAPB game with 62 rushing yards on nine carries for a 6.9 average. He pushed his career rushing total to 1,719 yards, leaving him 281 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.
16 OR LESS: Arkansas State has allowed 16 points or less in seven of its last 10 games and given up a combined 155 points over that span (15.5 per game), which is the lowest total for 10 consecutive games by the Red Wolves in their FBS history. Additionally, it is the most at any level in school history since the 1985 season when A-State had a 12-game stretch where it allowed 145 points. The Red Wolves have won their last 39 straight games when holding their opponent to no more than 10 points. A-State has won 26 consecutive games when holding its opponent to 17 points or less.
A LOSS ON THE PLAY: Dating back to the 2016 season, the Red Wolves have posted at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in 19 consecutive games. Arkansas State led the nation in tackles for loss per game last season with a 9.6 average.
FORCING TURNOVERS: While Arkansas State didn’t create a turnover against Nebraska in its season opener, it came back to force five in its game against UAPB. Its five total turnovers gained (3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries) where the Red Wolves most since the ninth game of the 2015 season (4 INT/1 FR vs. ULM). A-State’s three interceptions were also its most since recording three against New Mexico State in the 11th game of the 2015 season.
IMPRESSIVE START: Sophomore safety B.J. Edmonds made the most of his first career start, recording a career-high nine tackles against Nebraska. He topped his previous high of eight set against Louisiana-Monroe last season. He also added a pass break-up against the Husker. He came back against UAPB to post four tackles, giving him 13 on the season that ranks tied for the second most on the squad.
REACHING DOUBLE DIGITS: Senior linebacker Kyle Wilson recorded a team-high 10 tackles against Nebraska, which were just three shy of his career high. While he reached double digits for just the second time of his career, he also recorded nine tackles against Auburn last season. Wilson also finished the Nebraska game with one tackle for loss, which counted as A-State’s first safety since its 2011 season opener at Illinois - a span of 77 games. Wilson posted his first career interception against UAPB last week and leads the team in tackles with 14 on the year.
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 30.5 to his credit, but is now also within 13.5 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 25 of his last 32 contests dating back to his freshman year, and he has 45.5 during his career.
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. The Red Wolves have 16 total defensive touchdowns over the last three seasons.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
WILLIAMS STREAKS COME TO A CLOSE: After taking over placekicking duties for A-State in last season’s Cure Bowl, sophomore Sawyer Williams connected on his first three field goal attempts and was a perfect 8-of-8 on his extra points through the Nebraska game. He missed his only field goal attempt against UAPB to end his consecutive makes streak, while also making 6-of-7 extra points to make him 14-of-15 on his career. He currently leads the Sun Belt Conference in points by kicking with 8.0 points per game.
ELITE KICKOFF COVERAGE: Arkansas State 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. 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 nine blocked kicks over the past two seasons (2015-16), 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 two seasons include two 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 twice, including a career-high 111 yards against New Mexico State in 2015.