App State at A-State in-depth preview
APPALACHIAN ST. (3-1, 1-0) at A-STATE (3-2, 0-1)
7 tonight, Centennial Bank Stadium
RADIO: 107.9 FM Jonesboro, 106.7 & 99.3 FM in Central Ark.
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay
THE PRINCIPALS: While the Red Wolves have secured a winning record against non-conference opponents for the first time since 1995, they dropped their Sun Belt Conference opener for the first time since 2012. A-State’s second attempt to notch its first conference win of the season will come against an Appalachian State team that holds a 3-1 overall record and is receiving votes in both the Coaches Poll (34) and AP Poll (2). One of the most anticipated Sun Belt games entering the season, the matchup will feature the two teams picked in the league’s preseason coaches poll to win the West (Arkansas State) and East (Appalachian State) divisions.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : make it 4-2 to match its best ever record through six games since joining the FBS in 1992 (2018, 2017, 2014, 2011, 2008, 2006) . . . move its record to 23-2 over its last 25 games played in October and mark its 12th consecutive victory in the month . . . give the Red Wolves nine consecutive victories in midweek games (Tue.-Thur.) and make them 20-6 in all midweek games played since it joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2001 . . . move its all-time record against Appalachian State to 2-1 and give it two straight wins over the Mountaineers . . . would tie Blake Anderson with Steve Roberts for the fifth most wins ever by a head coach at A-State . . . give its 79 all-time Sun Belt Conference wins and give it 47 victories over its last 57 conference games.
MIDWEEK MADNESS: Historically, A-State has performed well in midweek games (Tue.-Thur.) since joining the Sun Belt Conference. The Red Wolves hold a 19-6 record in all midweek games since its 2001 inaugural year in the league. They have won 15 of their last 18 midweek contests, including the last eight in a row.
THE A-STATE - APPALACHIAN STATE SERIES: Although Arkansas State and Appalachian State have shared the Sun Belt Conference since 2014, the two teams are set to meet for just the third time ever and first time since the 2015 season. The Mountaineers claimed a narrow 37-32 road victory in the initial 2014 meeting, but the Red Wolves bounced back to win the following year in Boone by a 40-27 margin. Like this season, Appalachian State was receiving votes in both the AP and Coaches top-25 polls at the time of the 2015 meeting.
HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 13 consecutive years (2005-17) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 61-14 (.813 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 36 of their last 43 home games. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 153-77-1 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.
HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, an 18-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 the Red Wolves to Sun Belt Conference championships in 2015 and 2016, as well as four consecutive winning seasons and bowl-game appearances (2017 Camellia Bowl, 2016 Cure Bowl, 2015 New Orleans Bowl, 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) during his first four seasons leading the program. Under his direction, the Red Wolves have set nine new single-season school records for average yards total offense (494.8 yards per game in 2017), first downs (322 in 2017), first downs passing (190 in 2017), passing yards (4,106 in 2017), passing touchdowns (38 in 2017), points scored (520 in 2015), touchdowns scored (69 in 2015), total offense (6,174 yards in 2014) and total plays (1,024 in 2014). During his first four years at the helm of the program, he saw 41 of his players earn 64 All-Sun Belt Conference selections -- the most in the league over that span.
FIVE YEARS RUNNING: Despite A-State being just five games into the 2018 season, Blake Anderson is already the only head coach in Arkansas State history to win 34 or more games over his first five seasons at the school. Additionally, he is one of just three head coaches at A-State to ever direct the program to at least 34 wins in 56 or fewer games -- Bennie Ellender also collected 34 victories in his first 56 games between 1963-69, as did Bill Davidson between 1971-76.
DOUBLE DIGITS: Although 30 of the Red Wolves’ 34 victories under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points, the Red Wolves have already won two games this season by a single-digit margin. The previous four seasons combined under Anderson saw A-State claim just two wins by less than 10 points, including a 21-14 overtime victory against Utah State in 2014 and 27-26 outcome versus Georgia Southern in 2016.
CLIMBING THE LADDER: Blake Anderson has led the Red Wolves to a pair of Sun Belt titles and collected 26 league wins along the way, which are the fifth most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches. Anderson has the opportunity to climb as high as second on that list this season.
A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 46 of its last 56 Sun Belt Conference games (.821 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 78-46. The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 25. A-State has defeated every team in the conference 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 its inaugural football season.
SUN BELT CHAMPS (5 of 7): Arkansas State is the only FBS program in the nation to win five conference championships over the last seven years. The Red Wolves most recently 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.
UNBUCKLE THE BELT: Following its 28-21 setback at Georgia Southern, the Red Wolves now stand 12-6 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers. A-State had a five-year winning streak snapped in Sun Belt openers, dropping its first league game of the season for the first time since the 2012 season.
THROUGH 5: Arkansas State has a winning record after five games for the seventh time since joining the FBS in 1992. The Red Wolves’ 3-2 record matches the 2017, 2014, 2011, 2008, 2006 and 1998 records as the program’s best through five games since 1992.
RED WOLVES OCTOBER: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State holds a 22-2 record over its last 24 games played in the month of October. The Red Wolves have won their last 11 games in the month, going undefeated in October each of the last three seasons.
BOUNCING BACK: While Arkansas State fell 28-21 at Georgia Southern in its Sun Belt Conference opener, the Red Wolves have not dropped back-to-back conference games in the same season since 2014.
REACHING 1,000: Saturday’s game against Appalachian State will mark the 1,000th game in the history of the Arkansas State football program. A-State’s program is currently in its 104th season, has played in 15 bowl games and won 12 conference titles. The program’s first season was played in 1911, but A-State did not field a team from 1942-44 due to World War II and also in 1918 as World War I was ending.
WINNING NON-CONFERENCE RECORD: With a 3-1 record, Arkansas State secured a winning record this season against non-conference opponents for the first time since 1995 when it went 3-2. Additionally, with wins against Tulsa and UNLV, the Red Wolves won back-to-back non-conference games against FBS opponents for the first time ever since moving to FBS status in 1992.
RON CARROLL WORKS No. 500: Now in his 43rd season as Arkansas State’s head certified trainer, A-State Hall of Honor inductee (2005) Ron Carroll reached a milestone number in his career when the Red Wolves played Georgia Southern this year. A part of eight all-time A-State conference championships and eight bowl games, Carroll will worked his 500th all-time Arkansas State game on Sept. 29, 2018. Carroll has not only worked every A-State football contest since his first in 1976, he has never missed a fall practice and missed only one spring practice in 2013 to have his gallbladder removed. Since being named A-State’s first certified athletic trainer at the age of 24, he has worked with 11 head football coaches and 11 athletics directors. Now 66 years old, Carroll has also since been married (1979), has three children and is expecting his seventh grandchild this October.
ROAD WARRIORS: Arkansas State has won 23 of its last 29 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 finale. The Red Wolves went 4-0 in conference road games in 2011, 2012 and 2015, 3-1 in 2016 and 2017, 2-1 in 2013 and 2-2 in 2014.
WATCH ME, WATCH ME: Arkansas State has six different players on at least one major watch list for the 2018 season, including four who play on the offensive side, two on defense and one on special teams. All combined, A-State has a player on 13 different major watch lists.
BOWL ELIGIBLE: Arkansas State has obtained bowl-eligible status each of the last seven years (2011-17) and 10 times over the last 13 seasons. Since joining the FBS in 1992, Arkansas State has become bowl eligible in nine games or less five times (2011, ‘12, ‘14, ‘15, ‘17). The earliest A-State ever became bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 through eight games.
SEVEN STRAIGHT: Arkansas State has secured a winning record in a school-record seven consecutive seasons (2011-17). The next longest streak was six straight seasons from 1912-17. The Red Wolves piled up 59 victories from 2011-17 for its most over a seven-year span in the program’s 103-year history.
TOP 30: Senior quarterback Justice Hansen was named on Oct. 5 as a “top 30” candidate for the 2018 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. The senior from Edmond, Okla., was named a “top 20” candidate for the award last season as a junior.
JUSTICE SERVED: Senior quarterback Justice Hansen was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 3, recognizing his record-setting performance against Southeast Missouri State. He set a school record with six touchdown passes and finished the night 26-of-36 passing with 423 yards. All six touchdowns went to different receivers, and he became the first Sun Belt quarterback to toss six or more touchdown passes since Giovanni Vizza of North Texas had eight against Navy on Nov. 10, 2007.
MERRITT ON THE RECEPTION: Junior receiver Kirk Merritt has either led A-State or tied for the team high in receptions four of the first five games, hauling in a combined 29 receptions over that span. Merritt’s 29 receptions are the most by an A-State player over the first five games of a season since J.D. McKissic (now with the Seattle Seahawks) had 30 in 2014. He most recently finished the Georgia Southern game with a career-high 11 catches that rank tied for the seventh most in school history for a single game. He has caught at least five passes four of the Red Wolves’ five games and is currently ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference with 5.8 receptions per game.
THREE RECEIVERS SET NEW CAREER HIGHS: Sophomore wideout Jonathan Adams Jr. made his first career start against Georgia Southern and responded with career-best numbers for both receptions (4) and receiving yards (74). He joined juniors Kirk Merritt (92) and Omar Bayless (84) as A-State players to post a career-high receiving total in the contest.
EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE: Based on gains of at least 15 yards passing and 12 rushing, Arkansas State has recorded at least nine explosive players in every game this season and is averaging 10.8 per contest. The Red Wolves recorded a season-high 15 explosive plays against SEMO, followed by 11 versus UNLV, 10 at Georgia Southern and nine against both Tulsa and Alabama. A-State has recorded 54 total explosive plays, including 28 covering at least 20 yards.
RUSHING RED WOLVES: Arkansas State has already rushed for at least 170 yards in four games, which matched its total for all of last season. A-State reached the mark in four consecutive outings (first four games) for the first time since doing so in five straight during the 2015 season.
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 96 of its last 107 games (.897 percentage). A-State has produced 300 yards in 51 of 56 games under head coach Blake Anderson, including the last 17 in a row.
400-PLUS: Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 36 times over its last 56 games (64 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach. The Red Wolves went over 400 yards in nine of its 12 games last season. A-State is ranked 33rd in the nation this season at 471.6 yards per game, one year after it posted a school-record 494.8 average that ranked 10th in the nation.
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: Including 14 of the last 22 contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 55 of their last 87 regular-season games (63 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 43 of their last 48 games when scoring at least 30 points.
HITTING THE MARK: Junior quarterback Justice Hansen has thrown at least one passing touchdown in 21 of his last 22 games and two or more touchdown passes in 15 of his last 19 outings. He has thrown multiple scoring passes in 20 career games. The former Oklahoma transfer has thrown for at least 200 yards 21 times, 300 11 times and 400 five times during his three-year career at A-State. Dating back to the 2015 season, Hansen has passed for at least 200 yards in 19 of his last 24 games.
ECLIPSING 2,000: Running back Warren Wand has pushed his career rushing total to 2,500 yards, making him one of 10 players in A-State history to post 2,500 in a career. He is currently ranked 16th in the nation among active players in career rushing yards, while his 18 career rushing touchdowns are the 40th most.
BINGHAM SHINES: Senior defensive end Ronheen Bingham recorded career-high numbers for tackles and tackles for loss with 10 and 3.0, respectively, while also adding one sack during Arkansas State’s road game at Georgia Southern. His 10 tackles topped his previous best by five stops and he was just a 1/2 tackle for loss shy of matching the highest number in a single game by a Sun Belt Conference player this year. A Bennettsville, S.C., native, Bingham’s lone sack moved his total on the year to 3.0, tying Forrest Merrill for the most on the team.
BRADLEY-KING COLLECTS WEEKLY HONOR: Sophomore defensive end William Bradley-King was named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week after his dominating performance in the Red Wolves’ 27-20 victory over UNLV. He recorded his second career forced fumble while setting career highs with nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. With the Red Wolves leading 27-20, Bradley-King recorded a strip-sack on fourth down that ended UNLV’s final possession and secured the victory for Arkansas State. The Kansas City, Mo., native also posted a sack on the final play of the first half, helping preserve a six-point A-State lead by not allowing UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers to get off a pass to the end zone. He additionally came up with tackles on two third-down plays that forced UNLV punts during the game.
JACOBS HONORED BY CSM: College Sports Madness named junior cornerback Jerry Jacobs its Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week following his two-interception performance against UNLV. Jacobs became the first A-State player to intercept multiple passes in a game since Kyle Martin had two against ULM in the Red Wolves’ 10th game of last season. Jacobs is ranked tied for second in the conference in interceptions and tied for 14th in passes defended.
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 32 of its last 34 games. A-State posted a season-high 13 tackles for loss in 2017 versus Texas State and has now recorded at least 10 in six of the last 12 games.
GETTING TO THE QB: A-State has ranked among the top 29 teams in the nation in sacks four of the last five years, posting a combined 156 sacks over that span. The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 29 consecutive games dating back to the 2016 season.
UNDER 300: Arkansas State held five opponents under 300 yards total offense each of the previous two years (2016-17), matching its combined total for the two seasons prior to that (2014-15). Dating back to the 2016 campaign, the Red Wolves have held 10 of their last 21 opponents to under 300 yards total offense.
PICK IT OFF: A-State has proved to be an opportunistic defense the last five seasons (2014-18) when the ball has been put in the air, intercepting a combined 71 passes over that time that rank as the fifth most in the nation over that span. The only teams with more interceptions are San Diego State (79), Ohio State (75), Alabama (75) and Louisville (73).
FORCING TURNOVERS: Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 46 of 56 games (82 percent) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen. The Red Wolves have ranked among the top 39 teams in turnovers gained four of the last five years as well (2014-18), and their combined 116 forced turnovers over that span are the fourth 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 five seasons (2014-18) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen. In fact, the 2015 season saw the Red Wolves record an FBS-high eight touchdowns. The Red Wolves have 20 total defensive touchdowns over the last five seasons (2014-18).
DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS: Senior safety Darreon Jackson recorded a career-high 13 tackles against Tulsa, which are also the most this year by an A-State player through four games. Jackson has now posted double-figure stops in four career games, all coming over the Red Wolves’ last six outings. Jackson is currently ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference with 8.4 per game.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
COVERAGE GAME: Arkansas State’s punt and kickoff coverage units have been successful early this season as both rank among the top 23 in the nation. In fact, the Red Wolves are ranked first in the nation in punt coverage by allowing -3.25 yards per return by its opponents. The kickoff coverage team is allowing just 16.6 yards per return, which is a significant improvement over its 21.4 average and No. 74 ranking a year ago.
ON THE RETURN: Stepping into a punt return role for the first time of his career, senior running back Warren Wand has already recorded 157 return yards that leaves him just 56 shy of breaking into the top 10 single-season marks in A-State history. While his 10.7 yards per attempt ranks third in the Sun Belt Conference, it ranks Wand 23rd in the nation.
AMAZING GRACE: Junior punter Cody Grace has posted only one touchback in 75 punting attempts during his two-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just eight times (11 percent). He has played a big part in the Red Wolves ranking No. 1 in the nation this season and No. 2 a year ago. He has posted at least one punt inside the opponent’s 20-yard line every game of his career (16) and multiple in all but four.
GRUPE ON THE KICK: Since taking over place kicking duties in the third game (Tulsa) of the season, redshirt freshman Blake Grupe has made four of his five field goal attempts. He made a career-high two against both Tulsa and Georgia Southern, while also booting a career-long 45-yarder against the Eagles.