S. Alabama at A-State in-depth preview
S. ALABAMA (2-6, 1-3) at A-STATE (4-4, 1-3)
2 p.m. Saturday
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
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : move A-State into a tie atop the Sun Belt’s West Division standings if ULM and Louisiana both lose their games against Georgia Southern and Troy, respectively . . . push A-State’s record back above .500 through nine games for the eighth consecutive year . . . improve the Red Wolves’ all-time record versus South Alabama to 6-1 . . . mark the eighth consecutive season it has won its Homecoming game . . . guarantee the Red Wolves’ a winning record at home for the 14th consecutive season (2005-18) . . . move its record to 22-5 over its last 27 games played in the month of November . . . would give Blake Anderson the fifth most wins ever by a head coach at A-State . . . give it 80 all-time Sun Belt Conference wins and give it 48 victories over its last 60 league games.
THE PRINCIPALS: The Red Wolves are no longer in control of their own destiny to reach the Sun Belt Conference championship game after dropping a 47-43 shootout last week at Louisiana. With the setback, A-State stands 1-3 in league play and is a game behind Louisiana and ULM in the West Division standings. Multiple scenarios still exist where A-State could reach the Sun Belt’s inaugural title game, but the Red Wolves would be guaranteed a spot if they win out and Louisiana loses two of its last four regular-season games. South Alabama comes into Saturday’s game under the direction of its first-year head coach Steve Campbell, who spent the previous four years as the head coach at FCS-member Central Arkansas. The Jaguars hold a 2-6 overall record and must win their final four games to become bowl eligible. They are tied for third place in the Sun Belt’s West Division with Arkansas State, having claimed their lone league victory over Texas State by a 41-31 score in Mobile.
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.
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).
FIVE YEARS RUNNING: Despite A-State being just eight games through its 2018 regular season, Blake Anderson is already the only head coach in Arkansas State history to win 35 or more games over his first five years at the school. Additionally, he is one of just three head coaches at A-State to ever direct the program to at least 35 wins in 59 or fewer games -- Bill Davidson also collected 35 victories in his first 59 games between 1971-76, while Bennie Ellender won 36 times over his first 59 games between 1963-69.
DOUBLE DIGITS: Although 31 of the Red Wolves’ 35 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 27 league wins along the way, which are the sixth most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches. Anderson has the opportunity to climb as high as third on that list this season.
THE ARKANSAS STATE - SOUTH ALABAMA SERIES: Arkansas State holds a 5-1 all-time record against South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference series that dates back to just 2012. Four of the six meetings have been decided by 10 points or less, including last year’s game that the Jaguars won 24-19 in Mobile.
A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 47 of its last 59 Sun Belt Conference games (.797 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 79-48. 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, 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.
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 62-15 (.805 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 37 of their last 45 home games. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 154-78-1 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.
HOMECOMING HISTORY: Arkansas State is 62-27-1 all-time in Homecoming contests. The Red Wolves have won 14 of their last 15 Homecoming games, including the last seven in a row, dating back to the 2003 season. The only setback during that time came 34-24 against Louisville in 2010. The Red Wolves played the Jaguars once before in their Homecoming game, a 2012 contest that saw A-State win 36-29.
THROUGH 8: Including this year, Arkansas State has held at least a .500 record through eight games the last eight seasons. The Red Wolves are 4-4 for the third time over that span (2018, 2016, 2013), while they were 5-3 four times (2017, 2015, 2014, 2012). A-State’s 6-2 record through eight games in 2011 remains their best since moving to FBS status in 1992.
RED WOLVES NOVEMBER: Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds a 21-5 record over its last 26 games played in the month of November. The Red Wolves posted a 2-1 record in the month a year ago and have four games scheduled for the month this season, which is their most since also playing four in 2016.
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 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 30 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.
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.
EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE: Based on gains of at least 15 yards passing and 12 rushing, Arkansas State has recorded at least nine explosive plays in all but one game this season and is averaging 10.5 per contest. The Red Wolves recorded a season-high 15 explosive plays against SEMO, followed by 14 versus Georgia State, 11 versus UNLV and Louisiana, 10 at Georgia Southern and nine against both Tulsa and Alabama. A-State has recorded 84 total explosive plays, including 45 covering at least 20 yards.
RUSHING RED WOLVES: Arkansas State has already rushed for at least 170 yards in six games, which are its most since hitting the mark in 10 outings in 2015. A-State has also posted at least 100 rushing yards in every game this year, marking the first time it has reached the century mark in eight consecutive games since the 2015 season as well (nine straight).
SCORING ON THE GROUND: Arkansas State’s five rushing touchdowns versus Louisiana were its most since also recording five against Texas State in 2015. Eight of the Red Wolves’ 12 rushing scores this season have come over the last two games.
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 99 of its last 110 games (.900 percentage). A-State has produced 300 yards in 54 of 59 games under head coach Blake Anderson, including the last 20 in a row.
400-PLUS: Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 38 times over its last 59 games (64 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach. A-State is ranked 24th in the nation this season with 462.8 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 16 of the last 25 contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 57 of their last 90 regular-season games (63 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 44 of their last 50 games when scoring at least 30 points.
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.
FAST START: The Louisiana game marked the fourth time this season Arkansas State has scored on its first possession (all touchdowns). A-State also found the end zone on its first drive versus Georgia State, UNLV and SEMO.
GOING FOR 100: True freshman running back Marcel Murray posted a career-high 121 rushing yards last game at Louisiana and is the first A-State player to hit the 100-yard mark in back-to-back games since Warren Wand last season (versus Texas State and ULM). If he records at least 100 this week versus South Alabama, he would be the first A-State player to rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games since Michael Gordon did so in four straight during the 2014 season.
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.
HANSEN EARNS SECOND WEEKLY HONOR: Senior quarterback Justice Hansen was named the Sun Belt Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 22 after accounting for five touchdowns and 333 yards total offense while also breaking the Arkansas State school record for career passing touchdowns during the Red Wolves’ 51-35 victory over Georgia State. He completed three touchdown passes, running his career total to 70 that gave him the sixth most in Sun Belt Conference history.
MERRITT ON THE RECEPTION: Junior receiver Kirk Merritt has either led A-State or tied for the team high in receptions five of the first eight games, hauling in a combined 46 receptions over that span. Merritt’s 46 receptions are the most by an A-State player over the first eight games of a season since J.D. McKissic (now with the Seattle Seahawks) had 47 in 2013. Merritt posted a career-high 11 catches against Georgia Southern that rank tied for the seventh most in school history for a single game. He has caught at least four passes in seven of the Red Wolves’ eight games as well and is currently leading the Sun Belt Conference with 5.8 receptions per game.
HITTING THE MARK: Junior quarterback Justice Hansen has thrown at least one passing touchdown in 23 of his last 25 games and two or more touchdown passes in 16 of his last 22 outings. He has thrown multiple scoring passes in 21 career games. The former Oklahoma transfer has thrown for at least 200 yards 24 times, 300 yards 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 22 of his last 27 games.
ECLIPSING 2,000: Running back Warren Wand has pushed his career rushing total to 2,632 yards, making him one of 10 players in A-State history to post 2,500 in a career. He is currently ranked 18th in the nation among active players in career rushing yards, while his 19 career rushing touchdowns are the 47th most.
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 34 of its last 37 games. A-State has ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation each of the last three seasons in tackles for loss.
GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK: A-State has ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation in sacks three of the last five years, posting a combined 161 sacks over that span. The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 31 of its last 32 games dating back to the 2016 season.
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 73 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 (84), Alabama (78), Ohio State (77) and Utah (76).
FORCING TURNOVERS: Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 48 of 59 games (81 percent) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen. The Red Wolves have ranked among the top 30 teams in turnovers gained three of the last five years as well (2014-18), and their combined 120 forced turnovers over that span are the fifth most in the nation.
DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE: Arkansas State has ranked among the top 21 teams in the nation in defensive touchdowns four 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 21 total defensive touchdowns over the last five seasons (2014-18).
BINGHAM ON THE STOP: Senior defensive end Ronheen Bingham recorded a career-high 13 tackles last game against Louisiana, marking the second time over the last four games he has posted double figure stops. He tallied a then career-high 10 against Georgia Southern four games ago. Bingham has recorded 32 of his 45 stops over the last four outings, averaging 8 per game over that span as he has climbed to No. 24 in the Sun Belt Conference in the stat.
CHAMBERS RECOGNIZED: Sophomore linebacker Tajhea Chambers was named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week after recording seven tackles and a career-high two fumble recoveries, including one he returned 34 yards for his first career touchdown, during Arkansas State’s 51-35 victory over Georgia State. The Gordon, Ga., native now has four career fumble recoveries to his credit, while his 48 tackles this season are the third most on the squad.
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 now ranked tied for second and tied for seventh in the Sun Belt Conference for interceptions and passes defended, respectively.
DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS: Senior safety Darreon Jackson recorded a career-high 13 tackles against Tulsa, which also tie the most this year by an A-State player through eight games. Jackson has now posted double-figure stops in four career games, all coming over the Red Wolves’ last nine outings. Jackson is currently ranked seventh in the Sun Belt Conference with 7.5 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 15 in the nation. In fact, the Red Wolves are ranked first in the nation in punt coverage by allowing -2.5 yards per return by its opponents. The kickoff coverage team is allowing just 17.4 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 164 return yards that leaves him just 49 shy of breaking into the top 10 single-season marks in A-State history. While his 9.1 yards per attempt ranks third in the Sun Belt Conference, it ranks Wand 32nd in the nation.
AMAZING GRACE: Junior punter Cody Grace has posted only one touchback in 89 punting attempts during his two-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just 10 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 in punt return defense. He has posted at least one punt inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in 18 of 19 career games 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 eight of his 10 field goal attempts. He made a career-high three against Appalachian State, including a career-long covering 47 yards. Grupe is ranked among the top five players in the Sun Belt Conference for field goals made (3rd), field goal percentage (3rd) and points by kicking (5th).