A-State at Georgia St. in-depth preview

A-State at Georgia St. in-depth preview

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A-STATE (3-2, 1-0) at GEORGIA ST. (2-2, 0-1)
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Georgia State Stadium
RADIO: EAB Red Wolves Network (107.9 FM, flagship)
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  improve its all-time record versus Georgia State to 6-0 . . . give it 27 victories over its last 34 conference road games, including the last four in a row . . . give it a winning record after six games for the first time since 2017, but third time under head coach Blake Anderson (2014, 2017, 2019) . . . move its overall record to 4-2, matching its best ever (2006, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017, 2019) through six contests for the sixth time since moving to FBS status in 1992 . . . give it a 2-0 start in Sun Belt play for the fifth time in six years under head coach Blake Anderson and the 10th time since joining the league in 2001 . . . give it 53 wins over its last 65 Sun Belt games . . . move Blake Anderson into a tie for the second most Sun Belt Conference victories among the league’s all-time head coaches.

THE PRINCIPALS:  Arkansas State enters Saturday’s game with a 3-2 overall record and 1-0 mark in Sun Belt play after knocking off Troy 50-43 last week in its league opener.  Georgia State is coming off an open week, most recently falling 37-34 in overtime at Texas State on Sept. 21.  The Panthers hold a 2-2 overall record, including a season-opening win at Tennessee, and stand 0-1 in Sun Belt action.  This year matches the earliest meeting ever in Sun Belt play between the Red Wolves and Panthers as they also faced each other in A-State’s second conference game of the 2014 season.

THE ARKANSAS STATE-GEORGIA STATE SERIES:  Arkansas State holds a 5-0 all-time record against Georgia State in the series that dates back to just 2013.  The Red Wolves and Panthers met four consecutive years from 2013-16, but didn’t play each other in 2017.  The series resumed last year with a 51-35 A-State victory in Jonesboro.  While the Red Wolves claimed a narrow 35-33 victory in Jonesboro in the initial meeting, the last four games have all been decided by at least 14 points.

ROAD WARRIORS:  Arkansas State has won 26 of its last 33 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.  The Red Wolves have won their last three Sun Belt Conference road games.

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).

UNBUCKLE THE BELT:  Following their 50-43 win over Troy last week, the Red Wolves stand 13-6 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers.  A-State had a five-game winning streak (2013-17) in Sun Belt openers snapped last season with a 28-21 setback at Georgia State.  A-State, which played its first Sun Belt game on the road for the third consecutive year, is now 5-1 in league openers under head coach Blake Anderson.

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 is 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).

SIX YEARS RUNNING:  Blake Anderson is the only head coach in Arkansas State history to win 42 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 42 wins in 68 or fewer games -- Forrest England won 42 games over the same span between 1946-52 and Bennie Ellender won 44 times over his first 68 games between 1963-70.

DOUBLE DIGITS:  Including two of their three victories this season, 37 of the Red Wolves’ 42 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points.  The only exceptions were last week’s 50-43 win at Troy, 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 1,781-828 in the 42 wins under Anderson for a 22.7-point average scoring difference.

CLIMBING THE LADDER:  Blake Anderson has led the Red Wolves to a pair of Sun Belt titles and collected 32 league wins along the way, which are tied for the third most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches.

A-STATE vs THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 52 of its last 64 Sun Belt Conference games (.813 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 84-48.  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.

GEORGIA RED WOLVES:  Arkansas State has eight players on its roster from the state of Georgia, including four who have started at least one game this season.

RED WOLVES OCTOBER:  Although the Red Wolves dropped two of their three games played in October last season, they still hold a 23-4 record over their last 27 games played in the month.  A-State had won 11 games in a row during the month prior to falling to Appalachian State on Oct. 9 of last season.

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).

THROUGH FIVE:  Arkansas State holds a 3-2 record through five games for the third consecutive season and fourth time in six years under head coach Blake Anderson.  The Red Wolves current 3-2 record ties its best ever (1998, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017-19) through five games for the eighth time since moving to FBS status in 1992.  The last time A-State held a better record through five contests was 1986 when it started 4-0-1 before going on to compete in the Division I-AA (FCS) national championship game.

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 65-16 (.802 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 40 of their last 49 home outings.  The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 157-79-1 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.

PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT:  Including five first-team and six second-team selections, the Arkansas State placed a league-high 11 different players on the 2019 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team.  Representing Arkansas State on the first team were senior wide receiver Kirk Merritt, junior tight end Javonis Isaac, junior defensive end William Bradley-King, junior defensive lineman Forrest Merrill and junior cornerback Jerry Jacobs.  Earning a spot on the second team for the Red Wolves were senior wideout Omar Bayless, junior center Jacob Still, senior defensive lineman Kevin Thurmon, senior safeties Darreon Jackson and B.J. Edmonds and senior punter Cody Grace.  A-State’s 11 selections tied Appalachian State, which had 10 players comprise its 11 picks, for the most in the conference.  The Red Wolves’ 11 players on the preseason all-conference team are their most since 2016, when they also had 11.  They have now earned at least 11 selections four of the last six seasons as well.

WATCH ME, WATCH ME:  A-State has 11 players on at least one major watch list for the 2019 season, including seven who play on the offensive side of the ball (Omar Bayless, 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 70 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.

105TH SEASON:  Arkansas State kicked off its 105th season of football Aug. 31 at home against SMU.  A-State holds a 476-489-37 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.

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. 

300-PLUS:  Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards total offense in 108 of its last 120 games (.900 percentage).  A-State has produced 300 yards in 63 of 69 games during the Blake Anderson era.

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 47 times over its last 69 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 11 of their last 12 games.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  The Red Wolves have posted at least 30 points in 65 of their last 99 regular-season games (66 percent) dating back to the 2011 season.  The Red Wolves have won 51 of their last 58 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 five of the last six games dating back to 2018.  Including the Arizona Bowl and the first five games this season, he has posted 43 receptions (7.2 rpg) for 818 yards (136.3 ypg) and seven 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 (689) and is ranked fifth in receiving touchdowns (7) and ninth in receptions (7.2 pg).

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 seventh 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, third longest in the nation this season and tied the fourth longest every by a Sun Belt player.

GOOD HANDS:  Junior wide receiver Brandon Bowling has 19 catches this season, which is already more than he had for his first two seasons combined (15).  He also has 149 receiving yards, 41 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 37th in the nation in receptions per game, junior wideout Jonathan Adams has already posted a career-best 29 catches this year -- 12 more than his previous best for a season (2018).  With a career-high 105 receiving yards at Troy, he now has 356 receiving yards through five games, which is the 40th most in the country.  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.  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.

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 43 of their last 47 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 188 sacks over that span.  The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 40 of their last 42 games dating back to the 2016 season.

PICK IT OFF:  Arkansas State has posted an interception in four of the first five 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 83 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), Ohio State (89), Utah (88), Iowa (85), Alabama (85) and Appalachian State (85).

FORCING TURNOVERS:  Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 56 of its last 69 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 134 forced turnovers over that span are tied for the sixth 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 24 total defensive touchdowns over the last six seasons.

ON THE STOP:  Junior linebacker Tajhea Chambers recorded a career-high 11 tackles against Southern Illinois while also posting his first career interception.  His performance came one week after he tallied a team-high and career-tying 10 tackles at Georgia.  He is ranked tied for 13th in the Sun Belt Conference in tackles with 7.0 tackles per game.  He has now posted at least 10 tackles in three career games.

APPLYING PRESSURE:  After posting career-best numbers for both sacks (2.0) and tackles for loss (4.0) against Southern Illinois, junior defensive end William Bradley-King finds himself ranked among the top 30 players in the nation in both statistical categories.  He is ranked No. 10 in sacks (1.00 per game) and No. 30 in tackles for loss (1.4 per game).

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.  He most recently hit both of his field goals against Troy and connected on six extra point attempts to score 12 points.  Grupe is ranked third in the Sun Belt with 1.4 field goals per game.

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.  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 143 punting attempts during his three-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just 18 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 26 of 29 career games and multiple in all but seven.  He was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist (top 10) each of the last two years.

SUN BELT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK:  Senior punter Cody Grace was named the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Troy.  He not only averaged 49.4 yards per punt with three of his five attempts pinning Troy inside its own 20-yard line, he completed a 15-yard pass to junior receiver Brandon Bowling in the third quarter to convert a momentum-changing fake punt. Following a Troy field goal that gave the Trojans their first lead of the game at 34-31, the Red Wolves ensuing drive stalled at their own 44-yard line before Grace extended the drive on a key fourth-down play. The Red Wolves found the end zone just two plays later with 7:50 remaining in the third quarter, reclaiming a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the outing.  Grace punted five times with a long of 58 yards, and his 49.4 average per attempt nearly matched his career high of 50.0 recorded just the week prior.

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