ULM at A-State in-depth preview
La.-Monroe (3-1, 2-0) at A-State (2-2, 0-0)
6 p.m. Saturday, Centennial Bank Stadium
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 completed the non-conference portion of its regular-season schedule with a 21-14 overtime victory over Utah State on Nov. 20, giving it a 2-2 record heading into Sun Belt Conference play. ULM is off to a 3-1 start and is 2-0 in league play with home victories over Idaho and, most recently, Troy. The Warhawks defeated Wake Forest 17-10 in their home opener and have non-conference games remaining against SEC members Kentucky and Texas A&M.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : give it a winning record after five games for the first time since the 2011 season and just the fifth time since joining the FBS in 1992 (2011, 2008, 2006, 1998) . . . improve its Sun Belt Conference record since 2011 to 21-3 . . . give it five consecutive wins over ULM and run its all-time record against the Warhawks to 22-14 . . . give it five straight home wins dating back to last season . . . make it 19-2 over its last 21 home games . . . give it four consecutive Homecoming victories and make it 11-1 over its last 12 Homecoming games . . . make it 10-1 over its last 11 games played in the month of October . . . give it back-to-back years with a win in its Sun Belt Conference opener for the first time since 2005 and 2006 . . . run its record to 31-13 over the last four seasons.
DB ARTEZ BROWN
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.
STARTING STRONG: Blake Anderson is A-State's 30th all-time head coach, but became just the 11th to claim a victory in his first ever game at the school. Last season Bryan Harsin became the first A-State head coach to win his initial game since Larry Lacewell in 1979, snapping a streak of seven head coaches to drop their debuts. A-State's head coaches to win their first game at the school include Anderson, Harsin, Lacewell, Bill Davidson (1971), Gene Harlow (1955), Glen Harmeson (1954), Bill Adams (1939), Jack Dale (1931), Bill Stanley (1924), Foy Hammons (1919) and Clint Young (1913).
THE ARKANSAS STATE - ULM SERIES: A-State has played ULM 35 times, which is the fifth most in school history among all opponents. Arkansas State leads the all-time series with ULM 21-14 since the first meeting in 1959. As Sun Belt foes, the Red Wolves lead the series 9-4 after picking up a win over the Warhawks the last four seasons, including a 42-14 victory in Monroe last year.
A-STATE vs ULM ALL-TIME SERIES: A-State leads 21-14
A-STATE vs ULM ALL-TIME SBC SERIES: A-State leads 9-4
A-STATE at ULM (SBC SERIES ONLY): A-State leads 4-3
ULM at A-STATE (SBC SERIES ONLY): A-State leads 5-1
OLD TIES: While Arkansas State and ULM have met the past 13 seasons as Sun Belt Conference opponents, it is not the first time the teams have shared a league. Both the Red Wolves and Warhawks were members of the Southland Conference at the same time from 1982-86.
A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 20 of its last 23 Sun Belt Conference games to run its all-time record in the conference to 54-39. The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 22 and, with the exception of newcomers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, have defeated ever 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.
HOMECOMING HISTORY: Arkansas State is 58-27-1 all-time in Homecoming contests. The Red Wolves have won 10 of their last 11 Homecoming games dating back to the 2003 season. A-State had a seven-game winning streak on its Homecoming snapped in 2010 with a 34-24 setback to Louisville, but knocked off North Texas (37-14 in 2011), South Alabama (36-29 in 2012) and Idaho (48-24 in 2013) in its last three Homecoming games.
RED WOLVES OCTOBER: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State holds a 9-1 record over its last 10 games played in the month of October. The Red Wolves went undefeated in the month during both the 2011 and 2012 seasons and 1-1 a year ago.
COMING OFF THE OPEN WEEK: Arkansas State is coming off the first of two open weeks this season. Since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2001, the Red Wolves hold a 10-7 record in games played after an open week. At the same time, A-State has won nine of its last 11 games played following an open week.
UNBUCKLE THE BELT: The Red Wolves stand 8-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers after picking up a 41-34 win over Troy in their first league game last year. However, A-State dropped its conference opener in 2012 against Western Kentucky, 26-13. The last time A-State won its Sun Belt Conference opener in back-to-back years was 2005 and 2006 when it defeated Florida International both years.
.500 NON-CONFERENCE: Arkansas State completed the non-conference portion of its regular-season schedule with a 21-14 overtime victory over Utah State on Nov. 20. The Red Wolves have now completed their regular season non-conference schedule with a .500 record for the third time over the last four years. They have also won two non-conference games during the regular season the last four years.
WORKING OVERTIME: Arkansas State's 21-14 triumph over Utah State marked its first overtime victory since defeating Florida Atlantic 3-0 in 2005. With the win, the Red Wolves improved to 3-4 all-time in overtime games dating back to 1998.
STOP THE BLEEDING: Coming off losses at Tennessee and Miami, the Red Wolves avoided dropping three consecutive games for the first time since the 2010 campaign when it defeated Utah State. A-State has lost back-to-back games just twice over the last four seasons.
STARTING FRESH: The Red Wolves have had a new starting lineup on offense or defense in every game this season, and they have had 11 players make their first career start this season. Six of them earned their first start against Montana State, including offensive linemen Jemar Clark, Devin Mondie and Tyler Greve, wide receiver Dijon Paschal, quarterback Fredi Knighten and defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones. Defensive lineman Chuks Ota got his first career start against Tennessee, while defensive end Caleb Caston, wide receiver Booker Mays, defensive end Chris Odom and running back Johnston White made their way into the starting lineup against Miami.
RB MICHAEL GORDON
NEW FACES: Arkansas State has seen 28 total players, including 14 true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen, achieve their first game experience this season at A-State. Seven of those true freshmen are listed on the two-deep, including defensive lineman Chuks Ota and defensive end Caleb Caston -- the only two to start a game this year (at Tennessee and at Miami, respectively).
HOME SWEET HOME: With a 5-1 home mark last season, Arkansas State secured its ninth consecutive winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. A-State is now 43-9 at Centennial Bank Stadium since the 2005 season and has won 18 of its last 20 home games. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 135-72-1 since it opened in 1974. A-State's six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.
FOUR-YEAR WINS TOTAL: Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013 and two this year, the Red Wolves have recorded 30 victories that are tied for the 23rd most in the nation over the last four years.
PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE: Arkansas State placed 10 players on the 2014 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team, which tied Louisiana-Lafayette for the most in the league. Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee was named the conference's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and he was joined on the first team by four other teammates. The Red Wolves placed four offensive and six defensive players on the all-conference squad, while junior receiver J.D. McKissic also made the team as a return specialist.
WALK-ON 100: Redshirt freshman and walk-on running back Johnston White not only recorded the first 100-yard rushing game of his career versus Utah State, it was the first 100-yard game of the season by an A-State player. Johnston has posted 183 rushing yards over the Red Wolves' last two games and ranks eighth in the Sun Belt Conference in rushing yards per game (59.2). He currently leads the team in both rushing (237 yards) and touchdowns (3).
OPENING DRIVE: A-State scored a touchdown on one of its first two offensive possessions in three of its first four games this season. The Red?Wolves' opening drive versus Tennessee covered 40 yards, while their first drive versus Montana State covered 75. A-State's second drive at Miami that netted a touchdown covered 65 yards. Arkansas State's first possession versus Utah State saw it reach the Aggies' 19-yard line before it turned the ball over on a fumble.
SPREADING THE WEALTH: Just four games into the season, Arkansas State has already completed at least one pass to 17 players -- five more than all of last season. Eleven of those players have multiple receptions, including J.D. McKissic with a team-high 22. The last time A-State had more than 17 players with a catch was 2011 when it had 18.
HOUSTON, WE DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM: Junior wide receiver Tres Houston is off to a fast start this season, ranking second on the team in both receptions (16) and receiving yards (164). Houston caught eight passes for 135 yards, both career highs, against Montana State and hauled in his first career receiving touchdown against Tennessee. While his receptions total dropped to two at Miami, he completed his first career touchdown pass in the game. Houston had eight receptions for 44 yards all of last season.
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 49 of its last 55 games. A-State went over 300 in each of its first four games this season, including 547 yards versus Montana State, 331 against Tennessee, 329 at Miami and 316 versus Utah State.
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: A-State has posted at least 30 points in 26 of its last 39 regular-season games dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 16 of their last 17 games when scoring at least 30 points.
TAKING OVER AT QB: In three of his first four career starts, junior quarterback Fredi Knighten has posted over 200 yards total offense. Knighten piled up a career-high 312 yards against Montana State before coming back to record 231 vs. Tennessee and 222 at Miami. The 2014 GoDaddy Bowl MVP recorded a career-high 22 completions against the Hurricanes and is ranked 44th in the nation in completions per game (20.3).
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 (207). He is ranked fifth for career receiving yards with 1,895 to his credit and has nine receiving touchdowns rank tied for ninth. He is the only player in school history to have 70 or more receptions in two different seasons. He is also currently ranked fifth in the nation in career receptions among active players, and he is the only junior among the top-10 leaders.
ON A ROLL: A Freshman All-America selection in 2011 and Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-America in 2012, sophomore WR?J.D. McKissic has caught at least one pass in all 30 games of his career at A-State. His 30 consecutive games with a reception is tied for the 13th longest streak in the nation. He had a school-record 15 against Missouri last season. McKissic also has five career 100-yard receiving games.
100-YARD RUSHER: Junior RB Michael Gordon accumulated over 100 yards rushing a team-high four times last season, including two of the last three regular-season games. Gordon posted 606 of his 754 rushing yards in conference games, averaging 86.6 yards per contest that ranked second in the league.
GRISWOLD BREAKS OUT: Senior tight end Darion Griswold enjoyed a break-out season last year, catching 24 passes for 312 yards. His receptions total was the most in a season by an A-State tight end since Trevor Gillott recorded 24 in 2009 as well, while his 312 receiving yard were the most by a player at the position since David Johnson had 356 in 2008.
A FLARE FOR THE DRAMATIC: Sophomore RB Michael Gordon was responsible for three of the four longest runs by A-State last year, including a 92-yard outburst against UAPB that was the second longest in school history. Gordon posted a 64-yard touchdown run against Troy and had a 40-yard touchdown rush against Texas State as well. He had a 42-yard run against Montana State during the season-opening week, giving him four career carries that went for at least 40 yards -- and he also scored a touchdown on all four.
TRY-THIS-ON FOR SIZE: Senior cornerback Andrew Tryon recorded a career-high eight tackles versus Utah State, and he has now posted at least six stops in three of A-State's four games. His 23 tackles this season are just 15 shy of his career-high 38 set in 2012 as a sophomore. He also has four pass break-ups, which are tied with Artez Brown for the most on the team.
PICK IT OFF: Four A-State players have combined for five interceptions this season, and the Red Wolves have picked off at least one pass in their last five consecutive games dating back to the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl. Senior safety Sterling Young collected his sixth career interception during the Red Wolves' last game against Utah State.
UNDER 100: The Arkansas State defense has yet to give up 100 yards rushing to an individual this season and is ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference in rushing defense (136.2 ypg). The last player to rush for 100 yards against the A-State defense was Ball State's Jahwan Edwards in the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl.
LEE EARNS SBC WEEKLY HONOR: Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee was named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in A-State's 21-14 victory over Utah State. Lee, who earned the weekly honor for the third time of his career, recorded a season-high 13 tackles, team-high 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a pass break-up. His 13 tackles were just three shy of his career-high 16 (at South Alabama last season) and marked the 11th time of his career he recorded a double-figure stops total.
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.
GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK: Arkansas State recorded a combined 14 sacks against its first four opponents, giving it a 3.50 average per game that ranks 16th 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 just four games, A-State is already over halfway to its total (26) for all of last season.
PLAYING BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: Seventeen players have combined to record 27 tackles for loss over the first four games of the season, giving the Red Wolves a 6.8 average per game that ranks 35th in the nation. Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee and junior defensive end Chris Stone are responsible for a team-leading 3.5 tackles each behind the line of scrimmage.
LOADED SECONDARY: Arkansas State's secondary has combined to start 117 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 and Charleston Girley.
LEAVE NO STONE UNBLOCKED: Junior defensive end Chris Stone made a habit of disrupting the opponent's backfield last season, recording a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss that ranked 11th in the Sun Belt Conference. Stone recorded at least one tackle for loss in seven games last season and posted a career-high two in two different games. He had three tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Stone has 3.5 tackles for loss and a team-high three sacks this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
TWICE AS NICE: Through its first four games this season, A-State has already seen two different players named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. Junior punter and kicker Luke Ferguson was named both the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week and a College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) national Honorable Mention Specialist of the Week for his performance against Montana State. Senior cornerback Artez Brown earned the recognition for his performance against Utah State, most notably for blocking a Utah State field goal attempt to force overtime.
BIG BOOT: Junior punter Luke Ferguson punted seven times against both Tennessee and Utah State, which were the most of his career and the most by an A-State player since Ryan Wilbourn punted seven times for 314 yards versus Middle Tennessee in 2007. He had a career-high 303 punting yards versus the Volunteers as well. Ferguson has recorded at least two punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line every game this season. He has 12 total for an average of three per game.
ON THE RETURN: Arkansas State ranked sixth in the nation in kickoff returns last year with a 25.18 average per return, and is picking up this year where it left off last season. The Red Wolves have seen three players return at least one kickoff this season for a combined 25.6 average, which ranks 15th in the nation. Junior J.D. McKissic has returned five kicks for 131 yards and a 26.2 average that ranks 26th in the nation, but true freshmen Blaise Taylor and Daryl Rollins-Davis have also combined for nine returns covering 227 yards (25.2 average). Rollins-Davis has a team-high eight returns for 189 yards (23.6 avg.) and Taylor one for 38 yards.