S. Alabama at A-State in-depth preview
S. Alabama (5-3, 4-2) at A-State (5-3, 3-1)
2 p.m. Saturday, Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
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 enters Saturday's game needing one more victory to become bowl eligible for the seventh time over the past 10 seasons. A-State needs one more victory at Centennial Bank Stadium to secure its 10th consecutive season with a winning home record. Like the Red Wolves, South Alabama has performed well away from Ladd-Peebles Stadium with a 3-1 road record, but A-State has also won 19 of its past 21 home games.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : give it six victories, matching (2012) its second most ever through nine games since joining the FBS in 1992 . . . give it six straight home wins . . . make it bowl eligible after nine games for just the third time since joining the FBS in 1992 . . . improve its Sun Belt Conference record since 2011 to 24-4 . . . make it 3-0 all-time vs. South Alabama . . . make it 12-1 over its last 13 games played in the month of November . . . give it 20 wins over its last 22 home games . . . run its record to 34-14 over the last four seasons.
Soph RB MICHAEL GORDON
THE A-STATE - SOUTH ALABAMA SERIES: Arkansas State holds a 2-0 all-time record against South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference series that dates back to just 2012. The Red Wolves picked up a 36-29 home win over the Jaguars in 2012 and escaped last year's meeting with a narrow 17-16 win in Mobile.
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).
A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 23 of its last 27 Sun Belt Conference games (.852 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the conference to 56-40. The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 23 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.
RED WOLVES NOVEMBER: Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds an 11-1 record over its last 12 games played in the month of November. The Red Wolves won 10 consecutive games in the month of November before falling to Western Kentucky in their 2013 regular-season finale.
HOME SWEET HOME: With a 3-0 home record this year, Arkansas State needs one more home victory to secure its 10th consecutive year with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. A-State is now 44-9 (.830 winning pct.) at Centennial Bank Stadium since the 2005 season and has won 19 of its last 21 home games. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 136-72-1 since it opened in 1974. A-State's six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.
BOWL ELIGIBLE: With a 5-3 overall record, A-State needs one more victory to become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season and seventh time over the last 10 years. Since joining the FBS in 1992, Arkansas State has been bowl eligible after nine games just twice?(2011 and 2012). The earliest Arkansas State has ever become bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 after eight games.
THROUGH EIGHT: Arkansas State has a winning record (5-3) after eight games for the first time since the 2012 season and just the fourth time since joining the FBS in 1992 (2014, 2012, 2011, 2006). The Red Wolves' 5-3 record matches the 2012 and 2006 teams as their second best record through eight games since joining the FBS. The 2011 team was 6-2 through eight contests.
FOUR-YEAR WINS TOTAL: Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013 and four this year, the Red Wolves have recorded 33 victories that are tied for the 22nd most in the nation over the last four years.
STRONG IN THE SECOND: Dating back to last season, nine of Arkansas State's last 13 victories have come when it was either tied or trailing at some point during the third quarter. Three of A-State's five victories this season have come under the circumstances, while its six last year were its most ever since returning to NCAA?Division I-A (now FBS) status in 1992.
FINISHING IN THE FOURTH: Arkansas State has outscored its opponents 86-38 in the fourth quarter this season for a +48-point scoring margin that ranks tied for ninth in the nation. The Red Wolves have at least matched their opponents fourth-quarter scoring output in every game and have outscored six teams in the quarter. The A-State defense has also kept the opposing offense off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter in four games.
STARTING FRESH: The Red Wolves have had a new starting lineup on offense or defense in every game this season. They have had 15 players make their first career start this season, which is tied for 13th most in the nation.
NEW FACES: Arkansas State has seen 30 total players, including 14 true freshmen and nine redshirt freshmen, achieve their first game experience this season at A-State. Eight 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.
.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.
ROAD WARRIORS: Arkansas State has won 12 of its last 14 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 at Western Kentucky in its 2013 regular-season finale. The Red Wolves went 4-0 in conference road games in both 2011 and 2012, 2-1 in 2013 and are 2-1 this season.
SECOND HALF SURGE: All five Arkansas State victories this season have seen it score at least 21 points in the second half, and the Red Wolves have put up more points in the second half than the first in four of them. The Red Wolves have posted at least 17 second half points in six games this year, including the last five in a row. Including overtime, A-State has put up 151 second-half points in comparison to 110 in the first. The Red Wolves have outscored their opponents 58-52 in the third quarter and 86-38 in the fourth.
QUICK STARTS: While the Red Wolves were held scoreless in the first half against both Utah State and ULM, that comes in stark contrast to their quick starts in their other six games when they scored a touchdown on one of their first two possessions.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: Arkansas State recorded 25 of its 42 (59 percent) plays of over 20 yards this season in its last four games. The Red Wolves had seven plays versus both ULM and Louisiana-Lafayette, six versus Idaho and five more against Georgia State that covered at least 20 yards, giving them a 6.3 average per game over that span.
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 53 of its last 59 games. A-State went over 300 in each of its first eight games this season, including a season-high 618 at Georgia State.
500-PLUS: Arkansas State has recorded at least 572 yards total offense in three of its last four games, increasing its average to 468.8 yards per game that ranks 29th in the nation. A-State has posted at least 500 yards total offense in four games for the year.
TAKING OVER AT QB: In seven of his first eight career starts, junior quarterback Fredi Knighten has posted over 200 yards total offense. Knighten has recorded at least 300 yards total offense in the last four straight games, including a career-high 405 versus Louisiana-Lafayette. He is averaging 346.2 yards total offense over the last four games. He is now ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and 24th in the nation with 293.3 yards total offense per game.
QUARTERBACK KEEPER: While junior quarterback Fredi Knighten's 467 rushing yards this season are 57 shy of former A-State quarterback Adam Kennedy's 524 posted last year, his 58.4 average per game is the highest by an A-State quarterback since Roy Johnson averaged 71.1 in 1991. Johnson recorded 782 yards rushing in 1991, but the highest total since then by an A-Sate quarterback was 588 by Ryan Aplin in 2011.
Jr QB FREDI KNIGHTEN
A FLARE FOR THE DRAMATIC: Sophomore RB Michael Gordon is responsible for five of the 10 longest plays this season by an A-State player, and all five were posted in one of the last four games. Gordon is averaging 8.6 yards per rushing attempt, which is ranked third in the nation. Gordon had one run over 40 yards versus Idaho to give him 10 such carries for his career:
92 yd TD vs UAPB (2013); 70 yd TD vs ULL?(2014); 68 yd vs ULM (2014); 64 yd TD vs Troy (2013); 53 vs GSU?(2014); 50 vs GSU (2014); 49 yd vs ULM (2014); 44 yd TD vs Idaho (2014); 42 yd TD vs Montana State (2014); 40 yd TD vs Texas State (2013)
ANOTHER 100: Arkansas State junior running back Michael Gordon added another 100-yard rushing game to his career totals with 105 yards versus Idaho. It was his fourth consecutive 100-yard performance after also recording 168 against ULM, a career-high 188 versus Georgia State and 134 at Louisiana-Lafayette. Gordon has surpassed 100 yards rushing eight times during his career, and he is averaging 148.8 yards per game over the Red Wolves last four outings. His 113.3 yards per game for the entire season is ranked 17th in the nation.
GOING THE DISTANCE: Junior RB Michael Gordon and junior QB Fredi Knighten have both recorded two touchdown runs covering at least 50 yards, which is tied for the sixth most in the nation. Five players in the nation have three rushing touchdowns of at least 50 yards, while Georgia Southern's Matt Brieda has the most with six.
WALK-ON 100: Redshirt freshman and walk-on running back Johnston White not only recorded the first 100-yard rushing game of his career vs. Utah State, it was the first 100-yard game of the season at the time by an A-State player. Johnston has posted 303 rushing yards this season and his four rushing touchdowns are the second most among all A-State running backs.
SPREADING THE WEALTH: Just eight games into the season, Arkansas State has already completed at least one pass to 20 players -- eight more than all of last season. Fifteen of those players have multiple receptions, including J.D. McKissic with a team-high 43. The 20 players with a reception are the most ever by A-State since joining the FBS in 1992. The next closest was 19 in 2006.
HOUSTON, WE DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM: Eight games through the regular season, junior wide receiver Tres Houston ranks second on the team in receptions (30) and third in receiving yards (358). Houston caught eight passes for 135 yards, both career highs, against Montana State and has hauled in two touchdown passes (vs Tennessee and ULL). Houston had eight receptions for 44 yards all of last season.
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: A-State has posted at least 30 points in 29 of its last 43 regular-season games (67 percent) dating back to the 2011 season, including the last three in a row. The Red Wolves have won 18 of their last 20 games when scoring at least 30 points.
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.
ACTIVE DUTY: Junior wide receiver J.D. McKissic is among the active career leaders in several statistical categories, including receptions (6th: 228), kickoff return average (10th: 27.7 average per attempt), receiving yards (22nd: 2,196), all-purpose yards (29th: 3,416).
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 (228). He is ranked third for career receiving yards with 2,184 to his credit and has nine receiving touchdowns that rank tied for ninth. He is the only player in school history to have 70 or more receptions in two different seasons.
ON A ROLL: A Freshman All-America selection in 2011 and Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-America in 2012, junior WR J.D. McKissic has caught at least one pass in all 34 games of his career at A-State. His 34 consecutive games with a reception is the 12th longest streak in the nation. He had a school-record 15 catches against Missouri last season.
TRIO OF HONORS: Redshirt freshman defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones picked up a trio of honors this week, including Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week, College Football Performance Awards national Honorable Mention Defensive Lineman of the Week, and College Sports Madness Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
MORE ON ROLLAND-JONES: Ja'Von Rolland-Jones recorded a career-high eight tackles, five tackles for loss that tied the most by a Sun Belt Conference player this season, a school-record tying four sacks and one pass break-up against Idaho. His five tackles for loss were the third most in the nation this season, while his four sacks tied the third most in the country this year and also tied the third most in Sun Belt Conference history. His eight tackles were the third most on the team and the most among the Red Wolves' defensive linemen. The Mesquite, Texas, native has now posted 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, both team highs, this season. Rolland-Jones ranks fourth in the Sun Belt Conference and 22nd in the nation in sacks, while his tackles for loss total ties the fourth most in the league and are tied for 41st in the country.
FORCING TURNOVERS: Arkansas State recorded a season-high eight turnovers gained last week versus Idaho, giving it 18 total for the season that ranks tied for 19th in the nation. The Red Wolves recorded four interceptions and four fumbles recovered in the contest. One of the fumbles recovered was returned a school-record 93 yards by junior corner Rocky Hayes for a touchdown. Cornerback Artez Brown was also responsible for a career-high two interceptions.
SCORING DEFENSE: Arkansas State has held four opponents to 14 points or less -- the most since holding four to no more than 14 in 2008. ?The last time A-State held more than four opponents to 14 points or less in a season was 1986 when it did so 10 times. The Red Wolves have won 16 consecutive games when holding an opponent to 17 point or less.
GETTING TO THE QB: Arkansas State recorded a combined 27 sacks against its first eight opponents, giving it a 3.4 average per game that ranks 12th 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 eight games, A-State has already passed its total (26) for all of last season. The last time the Red Wolves had more than 27 sacks in a season was 2011 when it had 35.
PLAYING BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: Twenty-one players have combined to record 55 tackles for loss over the first eight games of the season, giving the Red Wolves a 6.9 average per game that ranks 34th in the nation. A-State needs 16 more tackles for loss over its final four regular-season games (4.0 average per game) to match its total (71) last season.
AMONG THE LEAGUE LEADERS: Sophomore linebacker Xavier Woodson leads the team and is ranked sixth in the Sun Belt Conference in tackles, averaging 8.6 per game. He has 69 total tackles, 13 more than the Red Wolves' second leading tackler Qushaun Lee. Woodson is averaging 6.4 solo tackles per game, which ranks 14th in the nation. He has posted a double-figure tackles total three times this season and four times during his career, including a career-high 14 versus Louisiana-Lafayette.
LEAVE NO STONE UNBLOCKED: Junior defensive end Chris Stone has recorded at least a half-sack in five of eight outings this season, giving him 4.5 on the year that ranks seventh in the Sun Belt Conference. Additionally, he has at least one tackle for loss in six of eight games this year for a 6.0 total that ranks tied for 17th in the Sun Belt. Last season, he posted a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss that ranked 11th in the league. He entered the season with four career sacks, already topping that total over A-State's first eight games this season.
PICK IT OFF: Seven A-State players have combined for 10 interceptions this season, and the Red Wolves have picked off at least one pass in seven of their last nine games dating back to the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl. The Red Wolves' 10 interceptions are the third most in the Sun Belt Conference and rank tied for the 26th most in the nation. A-State had a season-high four interceptions last game vs Idaho.
UNDER 100: A-State has held three teams, including Georgia State, ULM and Montana State, to under 100 yards rushing this season. The Red Wolves have allowed a player from just two teams this year to rush for over 100 yards individually.
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 in 2013. Lee has recorded a double-figure stops total 11 games during his career.
LOADED SECONDARY: Arkansas State's secondary has combined to start 137 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, Sterling Wright and harleston Girley.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
TWICE AS NICE: Through its first seven games this season, A-State has 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.
INSIDE THE 20: Junior punter Luke Ferguson has recorded a career-best 20 punts inside the 20-yard line this season for a 2.5 average per game. He has pinned the opponent inside its own 20-yard line at least one time in every game thi season. His 20 total are the most in the Sun Belt Conference. He has placed 47.6 percent (20 of 42) of his punts inside the 20, which is the seventh highest percentage in the nation. Ferguson, who entered the season with eight career kicks inside the 20, is ranked fourth in the league and 50th in the nation in punting average with a 42.1 average per attempt."