A-State at ULM in-depth preview

A-State at ULM in-depth preview

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A-STATE (4-4, 2-2) at ULM (3-4, 2-1)
2:30 p.m. Saturday
Malone Stadium, Monroe, La.
RADIO: EAB Red Wolves Network (107.9 FM, flagship)
TV: ESPNU
LIVE STATS: AStateStats.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

THE PRINCIPALS:  The Red Wolves snapped a two-game skid last week with a 38-14 homecoming victory over Texas State, evening both their overall and Sun Belt Conference records at 4-4 and 2-2, respectively. The Warhawks are coming off an open week, last playing Oct. 19 when they dropped a 52-7 road decision at Appalachian State. They will carry a 3-4 overall and 2-1 league record into the contest, while also holding a 2-1 record at Malone Stadium.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  improve its all-time record against ULM to 27-14 and give it 10 consecutive wins over the Warhawks . . . give it a .500 or better record through nine games for the ninth consecutive season . . . give it 54 wins over its last 68 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 . . . increase its winning streak in November contests to seven games . . . give it 27 wins over its last 35 Sun Belt Conference road games.

THE A-STATE-ULM SERIES:  Arkansas State has played ULM 40 previous times, which is the third most in school history among all opponents.  A-State leads the all-time series with the Warhawks 26-14 since the first meeting in 1959.  As Sun Belt foes, A-State leads the series 14-4 after picking up wins over ULM each of the last nine seasons, including a 31-17 victory in Jonesboro last year.  The Red Wolves current nine-game winning streak versus  the Warhawks is their longest versus any opponent in school history.

OLD TIES:  While Arkansas State and ULM are meeting as Sun Belt Conference opponents for the 19th consecutive season, it’s not the first time the two teams have shared a league.  Both the Red Wolves and Warhawks were members of the Southland Conference at the same time from 1982-86.

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).

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 43 or more games over his first six years at the school.  Additionally, he is one of just four head coaches at A-State to  ever direct the program to at least 43 wins in 71 or fewer games -- Bill Davidson also won 43 times over his first 71 games, Forrest England won 44 games over the same span between 1946-52 and Bennie Ellender won 47 times over his first 71 games between 1963-70.

DOUBLE DIGITS:  Including three of their four victories this season, 38 of the Red Wolves’ 43 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points.  The only exceptions were this year’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 1,819-842 in the 43 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 33 league wins along the way, which are the third most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches.

2017 SHOOTOUT:  The last time Arkansas State and ULM met at Malone Stadium in 2017, the game turned into a shootout with the two teams combining for 117 points (67-50) that were the most ever in an A-State game.  It also marked the only time in school history the Red Wolves allowed 50 points in a victory, while their 781 yards total offense still stands as both school and Sun Belt Conference records.  The Red Wolves 67 points in that game remain their most ever versus a Sun Belt opponent.

TWIN STATS:  Not only do Arkansas State and ULM both come into Saturday’s game averaging 427 yards total offense and allowing 492 yards per game, no more than 5.5 points separates their scoring offense and defense.  A-State is averaging 32.5 points per game to ULM’s 27.0, while the Red Wolves are allowing just 1.9 fewer points per game than the Warhawks.  Other statistical similarities include net punting (A-State 40.3 avg., ULM 39.6) and third down conversions (ULM 37 pct., A-State 35.8 pct).

A-STATE vs THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 53 of its last 67 Sun Belt Conference games (.791 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 85-50.  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.

NEXT MAN UP:  Partially due to injuries, including seven season-ending to Ryan Graham (RB), Isaiah Azubuike (RB), Logan Bonner (QB), Forrest Merrill (DL), Hunter Moreton (DL), Jerry Jacobs (CB) and Tony Adams (DL), the Red Wolves have used 36 different starters this season.  Just 12 teams have used more starters this season than A-State, including BYU (45), Old Dominion (42), UMass (41), New Mexico (40), Akron (39), Wyoming (39), Tennessee (38), North Carolina State (38), Houston (38), Troy (37), Oregon State (37) and Georgia Tech (37).  A-State has seen at least 17 players miss one or more games this year due to injury.

STOP THE BLEEDING:  Arkansas State was able to snap a two-game Sun Belt skid last week with a 38-14 win over Texas State, marking the third time since 2011 the Red Wolves avoided a three-game conference losing streak. A-State has not lost three consecutive games since the 2009 campaign.

RED WOLVES NOVEMBER:  Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds a 25-5 record over its last 30 games played in the month of November.  The Red Wolves have won their last six November games.  They have four games scheduled this month for the second consecutive season.

ROAD WARRIORS:  Arkansas State has won 26 of its last 34 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.

THROUGH EIGHT:  Arkansas State holds a .500 or better record through eight games for the ninth consecutive season dating back to the 2011 season.  A-State was also 4-4 at this time last season, while its best record under head coach Blake Anderson through eight games was 5-3 in 2017, 2015 and 2014.

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).

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.

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.

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.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
300-PLUS:
  Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards total offense in 111 of its last 123 games (.902 percentage).  A-State has produced 300 yards in 66 of 72 games during the Blake Anderson era.

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 49 times over its last 72 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 13 of their last 15 games.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  The Red Wolves have posted at least 30 points in 67 of their last 102 regular-season games (66 percent) dating back to the 2011 season.  The Red Wolves have won 52 of their last 60 games when scoring at least 30 points.

EATING UP THE CLOCK:  While Arkansas State put together only one drive consuming at least four minutes over its first six games, it actually had five drives that took over four minutes in the last two games combined.  The five drives actually featured three that took over six minutes, including a season-long 7:22 march down the field last week versus Texas State.  The last two games have seen the Red Wolves post their longest time of possession this year (37:20 vs Texas State and 33:10 vs Louisiana).

BIG NUMBERS:  Senior WR Omar Bayless picked up this season where he left off last year, recording over 100 receiving yards in seven of the last nine games dating back to 2018.  Including the Arizona Bowl and the first eight games this season, he has posted 67 receptions (7.4 rpg) for 1,199 yards (133.2 ypg) and 12 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 (1,070) and receiving touchdowns (12) and is ranked seventh in receptions (7.5 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 ninth 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, fifth longest in the nation this season and tied the fourth longest every by a Sun Belt player.

2,000-YARD CLUB:  Senior wide receiver Omar Bayless has joined an exclusive group of just five all-time A-State players to record 2,000 receiving yards in a career.  He went over the 2,000-yard mark during the Louisiana game and now has 2,192 for his career.  Bayless joined J.D. McKissic (2012-15), Lennie Johnson (1995-98), Robert Kilow (1998-2000) and Taylor Stockemer (2009-12) as Arkansas State players with 2,000 yards.  He has a school-record six 100-yard receiving games this season and seven total for his career.

GOOD HANDS:  Junior wide receiver Brandon Bowling has 23 catches this season, which is already more than he had for his first two seasons combined (15).  He also has 174 receiving yards, 66 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 tied for fifth in the Sun Belt Conference in receptions per game, junior wideout Jonathan Adams has already posted a career-best 40 catches this year -- 23 more than his previous best for a season (2018).  Including a career-high 105 receiving yards at Troy, he now has 463 receiving yards through seven games, which is the sixth most in the Sun Belt.  Adams posted a career-best 267 yards for all of last season.

WORKHORSE:  Sophomore running back Marcel Murray carried the ball a career-high 35 times versus Louisiana, which were just three attempts shy of the fifth most in school history.  He also finished the outing with a career-best 164 rushing yards.  With 114 yards on 22 attempts, the second most of his career, last game against Texas State, Murray now has four 100-yard games during his career.  His 57 rushing attempts the last two games are 24 more than he had in his other four games played this year combined.

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 against Troy.  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.

THROUGH THE AIR:  Averaging 250.6 passing yards per game this season to rank second in the Sun Belt, redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher has thrown for at least 299 yards in three of his first four career starts while also completing at least two touchdown passes in all four of those games.

DEFENSIVE NOTES
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 45 of their last 50 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 QB:  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 191 sacks over that span.  The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 43 of their last 45 games dating back to the 2016 season.

PICK IT OFF:  Arkansas State has posted at least one interception in six of the first eight 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 86 passes that rank tied for the eighth most in the nation.  Since 2014, San Diego State ranks No. 1 with 95 interceptions.

FORCING TURNOVERS:  Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 58 of its last 72 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 138 forced turnovers over that span are tied for the ninth 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.

PAGE TABBED SBC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK:  Sophomore CB Nathan Page was named the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week after posting a career-high two interceptions, a pass break-up and two tackles during A-State’s 38-14 win over Texas State.  He not only posted the first two interceptions of his career, his two picks tied the most by a Sun Belt player this season.  He became the first Arkansas State player to record multiple interceptions in a game since former defensive back Justin Clifton also had two against ULM on Nov. 17, 2018.  Page ranks tied for the third most passes defended in the Sun Belt this year.

TACKLING MACHINE:  Senior defensive back Darreon Jackson posted a career-high 15 tackles against Louisiana, which were the most by an A-State player since Ryan Carrethers and Qushaun Lee both posted 16 in a game during the 2013 season.  While it was his first time posting double-figure stops this season, he now has five career games with at least 10 tackles.

APPLYING PRESSURE:  Including 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 sacks.  He is ranked No. 30 in sacks (0.75 per game).

SPECIAL TEAMS
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.  Grupe is ranked tied third in the Sun Belt with 1.38 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 12 returns for 151 yards and a 12.6 average.  His long return has covered 34 yards against Texas State, and he posted a career-best 47 yards at UNLV on three attempts.

AMAZING GRACE:  Senior punter Cody Grace has posted just five touchbacks in 160 punting attempts during his three-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just 20 times (12 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 28 of 32 career games and multiple in all but eight.  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 in back-to-back weeks following the Red Wolves’ games against Troy and Georgi State.  He was also named the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week following the Georgia State contest.

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