NM State at A-State in-depth preview

NM State at A-State in-depth preview

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New Mexico St. (2-6, 1-3) at A-State (4-4, 4-0)
2 p.m. Saturday
Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro

RADIO: 92.7 FM Conway, 107.9 FM Jonesboro
LIVE STATS: AstateStats.com/AStateRedWolves.com
LIVE GAME NOTES: twitter.com/AStateGameDay

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : Improve A-State’s all-time record against New Mexico State to 5-6 . . . Give the Red Wolves their fourth consecutive win against the Aggies . . . Make it 5-0 in Sun Belt Conference play for the second consecutive season and third time school history (2016, 2015, 2011) . . . Extend its conference winning streak to 14 games . . . Improve its record in the month of November to 18-3 since the 2011 season, including wins the last six games in a row . . . Move A-State’s record against Sun Belt foes to 38-6 over its last 44 league games . . . Give the Red Wolves a winning record through nine games for the sixth consecutive year . . . Secure a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium for the 12th straight season . . . Put the Red Wolves within one win of becoming bowl eligible for the ninth time over the past 12 seasons . . . Give it a winning overall record for the first time this year.

THE PRINCIPALS:  Arkansas State will hold its annual Senior Day activities Saturday as part of its final home game of the 2016 season, which will also be the Red Wolves fifth outing at Centennial Bank Stadium over their last six contests.  A-State is coming off a 31-16 victory over Georgia State at the Georgia Dome, which was its first road game in over a month.  The Red Wolves are undefeated through their first four Sun Belt games for the second consecutive year and carry a 13-game winning streak against league opponents into Saturday’s game.  Not only is the Red Wolves’ conference winning streak tied for the fourth longest in the nation, A-State is the only FBS program in the country to win four conference championships over the last five seasons.  New Mexico State held a 2-3 overall record through its first five games, but has dropped its last three to Idaho, Georgia Southern and, most recently, Texas A&M.  The Aggies lone Sun Belt Conference victory came 37-31 at home over Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 1, and they will enter this weekend’s game coming off their second open week of the season.

THE A-STATE - NEW MEXICO STATE SERIES:  While Arkansas State and New Mexico State have played 10 times, including an initial meeting in 1993, Saturday’s game will be just the third between the two schools since 2003.  The Red Wolves stand 4-6 all-time against the Aggies with their four victories coming in 2015, 2014, 2003 and 1998.  A-State picked up a 52-28 win in Las Cruces last year, a 68-35 home victory in its 2014 regular-season finale and a 28-24 road win in 2003.  Arkansas State’s other victory in the series came in 1998 when it collected a 34-31 overtime win at Centennial Bank Stadium.  Although the last two games have been decided by at least 24 points, the contests have historically been very competitive with six of the 10 meetings decided by a touchdown or less.  Additionally, just the last two meetings have been decided by more than 14 points.

OLD TIES:  Along with Arkansas State, New Mexico State was a charter member of the Sun Belt Conference’s inaugural football season in 2001.  However, the Aggies moved to the Western Athletic Conference in 2005 before rejoining the Sun Belt again in 2014.  At the same time, the Red Wolves and Aggies were both also members of the Big West Conference from 1993-95.

HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, a 16-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 A-State to back-to-back winning seasons, a pair of bowl game appearances (2015 New Orleans Bowl and 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) and the 2015 Sun Belt Conference championship his first two seasons at the helm, which also saw the Red Wolves break the school records for total offense (6,174 yards in 2014), average yards total offense (476.5 yards per game in 2014), total plays (1,024 in 2014), points scored (520 in 2015), touchdowns scored (69 in 2015) and interceptions (26 in 2015).  During his first two years at the helm of the program, he saw 20 of his players earn 26 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 (2014) in his first season 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).

THREE YEARS RUNNING:  Even with at least four games remaining on the Red Wolves’ schedule, Blake Anderson is already the first head coach in Arkansas State history to win 20 or more games over his first three seasons at the school.  Additionally, he is the just the second head coach at A-State to win 20 games in 34 or fewer contests -- Bennie Ellender reached 20 victories in 31 games from 1963-66.

ABOVE AVERAGE:  The Red Wolves have averaged 35.00 points per game over the last three seasons, making Blake Anderson one of just 13 current head coaches with at least two full FBS seasons under their belt to average at least 35 points per game.
1. Jeff Brohm, WKU – 43.76 (1,619 points/37 games)
2. Mark Helfrich, Oregon – 43.50 (2,175 points/50 games)
3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – 40.16 (4,538 points/113 games)
4. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech – 39.00 (1,833 points/47 games)
5. Chris Petersen, Washington – 38.73 (5,422 pts/140 games)
6. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State – 37.20 (5,580 pts/150 games)
7. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State – 36.22 (3,296 points/91 games)
8. Todd Graham, Arizona State – 36.15 (5,097 pts/141 games)
9. Bryan Harsin, Boise State – 36.10 (1,733 points/48 games)
10. Bobby Petrino, Louisville – 36.09 (5,342 points/148 games)
11. Larry Fedora, North Carolina – 35.46 (4,043 pts/114 games)
12. Sonny Dykes, California – 35.12 (2,915 points/83 games)
13. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State – 35.00 (1,190/34 games)

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 37 of its last 43 Sun Belt Conference games (.860 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the conference to 70-42.  The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 24.  The Red Wolves have 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.

SENIOR DAY:  The Red Wolves will hold their annual Senior Day this Saturday, recognizing their senior class for their contributions to Arkansas State University and the football program.  This year’s 23 seniors make them A-State’s largest senior class since the 2011 team honored 24 seniors at its home finale.  Additionally, this year’s class includes 10 redshirt seniors who arrived on campus in 2012 and have been a part of three Sun Belt Conference championships and 38 victories during that time.  This year’s seniors:
1. Joseph Bacchus (Southaven, Miss.);  2. Brandon Berg (Tulsa, Okla.);  3. Cody Brown (Bellville, Texas);  4. Jemar Clark (McCrory, Ark.);  5. Ryan Eustace (Powder Springs, Ga.);  6. Quanterio Heath (Rison, Ark.);  7. J.D. Houston (Pelahatchie, Miss.);  8. Chris Humes (Hoover, Ala.);  9. Money Hunter (Prosper, Texas);  10. Colton Jackson (Ozark, Ark.);  11. Warren Leapheart (Morrilton, Ark.);  12. Robert Maxwell (Little Rock, Ark.);  13. Devin Mondie (Olive Branch, Miss.);  14. Austin Moreton (Fort Smith, Ark.);  15. Chris Odom (Arlington, Texas);  16. Waylon Roberson (Midland, Texas);  17. Chase Robison (Memphis, Tenn.);  18. Darrius Rosser (Marion, Ark.);  19. Kendall Sanders (Athens, Texas);  20. Jake Swalley (Overland Park, Kan.);  21. Paul Swanson (Spokane, Wash.);  22. Chad Voytik (Cleveland, Tenn.);  23. Xavier Woodson-Luster (Eufala, Ala.).

RED WOLVES NOVEMBER:  Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds a 17-3 record over its last 20 games played in the month of November.  The Red Wolves have won their last five games in the month dating back to the 2014 season.
HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 11 consecutive years (2005-15) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 54‐13 (.806 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 29 of their last 35 home games. The Red Wolves actual on‐field record all‐time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 146‐76‐1 since it opened in 1974. A‐State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.

ROAD WARRIORS:  Arkansas State has won 17 of its last 20 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 2011, 2012 and 2015, 2-1 in 2013 and 2-2 in 2014.  This year A-State is 1-0 after defeating Georgia State last week.

THROUGH EIGHT:  Arkansas State holds a .500 or better record through eight games for the sixth consecutive season and 10th time (2011-16, 2008, 2006, 2005, 2002) since gaining FBS status in 1992.  All 10 of those teams went on to win at least six games, while the last five seasons (2011-15) saw the program record seven or more victories.

4-0 IN THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State holds a 4-0 record in Sun Belt Conference play for the second consecutive year and third time in school history, also beginning league play with a 4-0 record in 2011.  The previous two A-State teams to start Sun Belt action with four consecutive victories went on to go undefeated in league play and claim the SBC championship.

THAT’S A FIRST:  The Red Wolves had 20 players participate in their first career game at A-State this season, including nine as starters.  There were 12 offensive players who saw their first action at A-State, including Chad Voytik (Sr., QB, starter), Kendall Sanders (Sr., WR, starter), Cam Echols-Luper (Jr., WR, starter), Armond Weh-Weh (Jr., RB), Christian Booker (Jr., WR), Justice Hansen (So., QB), Justin McInnis (So., WR), Omar Bayless (Fr.-R, WR), Darveon Brown (Fr.-R, WR), Avery Johnson (Fr.-R, TE), Troy Elliott (Fr., OL) and Dalton Ford (Fr.-R, OL).  There were six defensive players, including Dee Liner (Jr., DL, starter), BJ Edmonds (Fr., S),  Kyle Martin (Jr., CB), Trent Ellis-Brewer (Fr., DB), Antwon Turnage (Jr., LB) and Kyle Wilson (Jr., LB).  The remaining two were Sawyer Williams (Fr.-R, K) and Damon Foncham (Fr.-R, P).

FIVE-YEAR WINS TOTAL:  Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013, seven in 2014, nine last season and four this year, the Red Wolves have recorded 48 victories that are tied for the 29th most in the nation over the last six years.  

DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK:  Arkansas State has achieved one victory this season (vs. Georgia Southern) when entering halftime behind on the scoreboard, giving it five second-half comeback victories all-time under head coach Blake Anderson.  Three of Arkansas State’s victories last season came under the same circumstances.  During those three victories, A-State outscored its opponents by a combined 86-23 in the second half.  The Red Wolves also defeated Utah State during the 2014 season after entering the second half behind.

DOUBLE DIGITS:  All nine A-State victories last season came by at least 10 points, and the Red Wolves average margin of victory in its eight Sun Belt wins was 21.1 points.  Six of A-State’s seven wins in 2014  and three of its four this year also came by a double-figure margin, meaning 18 of the Red Wolves’ 20 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points.  The only exceptions were a 21-14 overtime win over Utah State in 2014 and a 27-26 victory over Georgia Southern this year.

FIVE ALIVE:  Arkansas State secured five consecutive winning seasons (2011-15) for not only the first as an FBS member, but also the first time at any level since 1949-53.  The only time A-State has ever strung together six straight winning seasons was 1912-17.  The Red Wolves piled up 44 victories from 2011-15 for its most over a five-year span in the program’s 102-year history.

SUN BELT CHAMPS:  Arkansas State won the 2015 Sun Belt Conference championship with an unblemished 8-0 record, giving it the league title for the fourth time over the last five seasons with a 33-6 conference record over that span.  A-State also won the league title 2011-13, including outright championships in 2011 and 2012.  It is just the second program in Sun Belt history with three (2015, 2011-12) outright titles, along with North Texas (2002-04).  Arkansas State is one of three programs to ever win at least four total Sun Belt Conference championships, joining North Texas (4) and Troy (5)

ALL-TIME CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS:  Including four of the last five Sun Belt Conference titles, Arkansas State has won 11 conference championships all-time.  A-State won the Southland Conference seven times (1986, 1985, 1978, 1975, 1970, 1969, 1968).  The Red Wolves also won the 2005 Sun Belt Conference title, but it was later vacated due to NCAA sanctions.

BOWL HISTORY:  Arkansas State has played in 13 bowl games all-time and holds a 4-8-1 record in those contests.  The Red Wolves have made a bowl game five consecutive years (2011-15) for the first time in school history.  They played in the New Orleans Bowl last season and in the GoDaddy Bowl the four years prior to that, winning two of them during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.  A-State also played in the 2005 New Orleans Bowl, which marked its first bowl appearance since 1970.  Arkansas State played in seven bowl games from 1951-70, including the Pecan Bowl (1968-70), Tangerine Bowl (1952 & 1951) and the Refrigerator Bowl (1951-52).  The Tangerine Bowl was played in Orlando, Fla., the Pecan Bowl in Arlington, Texas, and the Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Ind.

While Arkansas State rushed for over 100 yards only once in its four non-conference games, it has now reached the mark in three of its first four Sun Belt games.  There has been a stark contrast in A-State’s rushing production since beginning conference play as its 758 yards over the last four games more than doubles its total (323) over its first four outings.  The Red Wolves have actually rushed for at least 200 yards in two of their last four games, including a season-high 343 against Georgia Southern.  A-State has won its last 10 games when rushing for at least 200 yards.

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS:  Arkansas State increased its number of plays covering at least 20 yards each of its first four games this season, and the Red Wolves’ posted a season-high nine against both UCA and Georgia Southern.  A-State is averaging 5.5 explosive plays (20+ yards) per game and has at least eight in three of its last five contests.

PROTECTING THE FOOTBALL:  A-State was able to reverse its turnover trend its last three games, turning the ball over just twice after committing 12 combined over its previous three games.  The Red Wolves actually didn’t commit any turnovers last game against ULM and went their opening two games without a single turnover. The team entered the Utah State game as one of just seven teams in the nation that had not committed a single turnover.  Since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2001, A-State had gone back-to-back games without a turnover only one other time -- its final regular-season game and bowl game of the 2012 season.

TWO-MINUTE OFFENSE:  Fifteen of Arkansas State’s 30 scoring drives this season have taken less than two minutes and just five drives have consumed more than three minutes.  Last year’s team tended to score in the same manner, taking less than two minutes on 35 of its 58 touchdown drives for a 60.3 percentage that ranked among the 10 highest in the nation.

300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 75 of its last 85 games (.882 percentage).  A-State went over 300 yards in all 13 games during head coach Blake Anderson’s first season, reached the mark 11 times last year and has done so six times this season.

400-PLUS:  Arkansas State recorded a season-high 525 yards total offense against Georgia Southern and has hit the 400-yard mark 21 times over its last 34 games (62 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach.  A-State had increased its total offense each game this season prior to the South Alabama contest (first five games).

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  Arkansas State scored a season-high 51 points against ULM, which were its most since posting 55 against Texas State in its 2014 regular-season finale.  Including the last two contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 43 of their last 67 regular-season games (64 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 11 consecutive games and 31 of their last 35 when scoring at least 30 points.  A-State broke the school record in 2015 for both points scored (520) and touchdowns scored (69).  Additionally, the Red Wolves ranked 12th in the nation in scoring offense last year, averaging 40.0 points per game.

RANKING THE O-LINE:  With all five starters returning on the offensive line in 2016, the Red Wolves’ front five received high praise from Athlon Sports as the No. 27 ranked o-line unit in the nation.  A-State’s first-team unit has 106 combined starts between them entering the 2016 season.  Senior center Devin Mondie is a member of the Rimington Award Watch List, Colton Jackson has started 44 games during his career (all but two) and Jemar Clark joined them on the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team.

MORE OFFENSE, FEWER POINTS:  Despite outgaining both Utah State and Central Arkansas in total offense, the Red Wolves suffered setbacks against both teams.  It marked just the second and third times A-State lost a game under head coach Blake Anderson when it actually had more offensive yards, as the other came in 2014 against Louisiana-Lafayette (595-521).  The Red Wolves are now 16-3 in such games over the last three seasons (5-1 in 2014, 8-0 in 2015, 3-2 in 2016).

HANSEN EARNS SECOND SUN BELT WEEKLY HONOR:  Sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen was responsible for five touchdowns, including a career-high four passing, and threw for 303 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, leading Arkansas State to a 51-10 win over the Warhawks.  Hansen matched his career high for completions with 21 and didn’t throw an interception in 36 attempts while connecting on seven passes that went for at least 20 yards.  His four touchdown passes tied the fourth most in school history and the second most by a Sun Belt player this year, while also marking the third time over A-State’s last four games he has thrown for multiple scores.  Hansen’s 303 passing yards were the second most of his career, and he added 20 yards rushing to finish with 323 yards total offense.  He also scored his first career rushing touchdown, and the five touchdowns he was responsible for tied the most by a Sun Belt player this season.

HANSEN EARNS FIRST SUN BELT WEEKLY HONOR:  Sophomore quarterback Justice Hansen was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week after helping Arkansas State rally from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Georgia Southern 27-26.  Hansen recorded 243 yards total offense, including a career-high 61 rushing yards, and threw for a pair of scores.  With 2:41 remaining in the contest, Hansen engineered the game-winning drive that saw him produce two plays appearing on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top-10 Plays of the Day, including the game-winning touchdown that was tabbed No. 1.  Prior to throwing the go-ahead touchdown with nine seconds left on the clock, Hansen kept the drive alive on a 4th-and-16 from A-State’s own 24-yard line by scrambling for an 18-yard gain.  The touchdown pass to freshman wideout Omar Bayless was set up by a 29-yard completion from Hansen to Kendall Sanders. The A-State quarterback completed 16-of-27 passes for 182 yards, and his first touchdown pass covered six yards on a third-down play to tie the score 10-10 late in the second quarter.

MAKING A MOVE:  Junior Blake Mack changed positions from wide receiver to tight end this season, and he appears to have transitioned well as he already has 27 receptions for a team-high 476 yards and a touchdown.  His first two seasons combined at wide receiver, Mack posted 17 receptions for  235 yards.  He caught eight passes for 142 yards against UCA, which were both career highs, and was named a Mackey Award Honorable Mention Tight End of the Week for his performance.

FINDING THE END ZONE:  A former walk-on and Burlsworth Trophy nominee, junior running back Johnston White recorded a team and career-best 14 rushing touchdowns last season as a sophomore to give him 20 running scores during his career.  He recorded a season-high two rushing touchdowns last week against Georgia State and has at least one in 10 of his last 17 games played.  White’s 14 running scores last season tied the fifth most in school history.  His 23 career rushing touchdowns are the eighth most in school history.  Additionally, he is ranked 40th in the nation among active players in career rushing scores

WAND BREAKS 1,000:  Running back Warren Wand has run for a team-high 516 yards this season to go along with his 709 he recorded as a true freshman, pushing him over 1,000 for his career with 1,225 to his credit.  His 709 yards were the most by a true freshman at A-State since Lamont Zachery ran for 846 yards in 1996.

16 OR LESS: 
Arkansas State allowed 10 points or less two of its last three games and no more than 16 in all three outings.  It held USA and ULM to seven and 10 points, respectively, marking the first time it held back-to-back opponents to 10 points or less since 2006.  A-State has allowed 33 combined points against its last three opponents, its fewest over a three-game span since the 1987 season (12 combined points versus McNeese St., Louisiana Tech and Southern Illinois).  The Red Wolves have now won their last 37 games when holding their opponent to no more than 10 points.  A-State has won 22 consecutive games when holding its opponent to 17 points  or less.

HUMES TABBED SBC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK:  Senior Chris Humes, who moved from safety to cornerback this season, was named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week after he forced and recovered a fumble he returned 60 yards for a touchdown in A-State’s 17-7 victory over South Alabama.  Humes, who also recorded four tackles and 0.5 TFL, posted the Red Wolves’ first defensive score this season with 12:50 left in the second quarter to put the Red Wolves on top 7-0.  The fumble return tied the fourth longest in school history, and it also marked the first time an A-State player found the end zone on a fumble return since Nov. 5 of last season against Appalachian State.

BROWN EARNS WEEKLY RECOGNITION TWICE:  Senior safety Cody Brown was named College Sports Madness’ Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performances against both South Alabama and Georgia State.  Brown recorded a combined two interceptions, eight tackles, two pass break-ups and a blocked field goal in the contests.

ODOM CONTINUES TO SHINE:  Senior defensive end Chris Odom has come on strong this season, most recently posting four sacks and five tackles for loss over his last three games.  Odom tallied a career-high three sacks against South Alabama and with at least four games remaining, he has already posted career high totals for tackles (35), tackles for loss (8.0), sacks (6.0) and forced fumbles (2).  In fact, his tackles, TFL, sacks and FF are all more than he had combined for his entire career entering this season.

WILSON HONORED:  Junior linebacker Kyle Wilson was named College Sports Madness’ Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Georgia Southern.  He was not only part of Arkansas State’s defense that limited Georgia Southern to a season-low 365 yards total offense, he also recorded career highs for tackles (13) and tackles for loss (3.0).  Wilson’s TFL total was just a 0.5 tackle shy of the most by a Sun Belt Conference player this season, while his 13 tackles were the third most by an A-State player this year.

SWALLEY NAMED SEMIFINALIST:  Senior DL Jake Swalley has been tabbed as one of the William V. Campbell Trophy’s 156 semifinalists, announced Sept. 28 by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF).  The award recognizes an individual as the best football scholar-athlete in the nation.  Swalley, a general studies major, holds a cumulative 3.9 GPA and is on course to graduate in December.

DECEIVING AVERAGE:  While A-State’s defense is allowing 408.1 yards total offense per game to rank 70th in the nation, the Red Wolves’ opponents are averaging 333.8 over the last six games.  The 333.8 average total offense allowed would rank the Red Wolves 19th in the nation.  A-State gave up 556 yards to Toledo and 706 to Auburn, but has held its last six opponents to no more than 382 yards.

BETTER ON THIRD DOWN:  Arkansas State has allowed opponents to convert, on average, 34 percent of its third-down attempts the last six games, considerably lower than its 43 percent for the entire season that ranks 97th in the nation.  A-State’s third-down conversion percentage over the last six games would rank 24th in the country.

A LOSS ON THE PLAY:  The Red Wolves had seven players combine for seven tackles for loss last game against Georgia State, giving them at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in every game this year.  The squad has eight or more in three of their last four contests.  A-State had a season-high 11 TFL against ULM and has 60 for the season.  The Red Wolves are averaging 7.5 tackles for loss, which is a higher average than it had last season (6.6) when it recorded 86. The Red Wolves’ 86 TFL last year were the most since 2011 and tied the program’s third most since gaining FBS status in 1992.

PICK IT OFF:  While A-State has just six interceptions this year, five of them came over the last three games and it recorded a season-high two versus both ULM and Georgia State.  The Red Wolves led the nation in picks last year with a Sun Belt Conference record 26.  Fifteen different players combined for those 26 picks that were the third most in school history and the most by an A-State team since the 1969 squad posted a school-record tying 32 (tied with the 1961 team).

PICK-SIX:  Arkansas State recorded six interception returns for a touchdown last season, which was the second most in Sun Belt Conference history and just two shy of the NCAA record currently held by the 2011 Southern Miss and 2012 SMU teams.  While he coached on the offensive side of the ball, A-State head coach Blake Anderson was also a member of that 2011 Southern Miss team.  The current Sun Belt Conference record is seven, held by the 2011 Louisiana-Lafayette team.  The Red Wolves also posted a school-record 503 interception return yards, led by senior safety Money Hunter (then a junior) with 128 yards that ranked tied for the fifth most ever by an A-State player.  Hunter had two interception returns for a touchdown last season to tie the Sun Belt Conference record.  Additionally, he has three for his career to tie that Sun Belt record as well.

TURNOVER KINGS:  Arkansas State, which forced at least one turnover in six of its eight games this season, ranked second in the nation in turnovers gained last year with 34. That total included 26 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.  They turned eight of those turnovers into defensive touchdowns, which led the nation.  A-State’s 34 turnovers gained tied the 2002 team for the most by the Red Wolves since joining the FBS in 1992, and it was also the programs most at any level since 1988 when it had 39.  The Red Wolves have recorded at least one turnover gained in 29 of 34 games played under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.

DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS:  Senior linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster recorded a double-figure tackles total during three of A-State’s first eight games, including a career-tying 14 against both Toledo and Georgia Southern.  He has now reached double figures in the tackles column nine times during his career.  Woodson-Luster is ranked 34th in the nation among active players in career tackles with 261.

PLAYING IN THE BACKFIELD:  Junior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones recorded at least a half TFL in 10 games last season and in 20 of his last 25 contests dating back to his freshman year.  He also had a team and Sun Belt Conference high 9.0 sacks last season, and he has a team-high 22.0 for his career that ranks as the second most in school history.  He has tallied at least a half sack in 16 of his last 26 games. 

Junior cornerback Blaise Taylor was named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after he returned three punts for 98 yards, the most by a player in the league this season, and a touchdown during Arkansas State’s 31-16 road victory at Georgia State.  Taylor scored on a 68-yard return with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter to give the Red Wolves a 24-10 advantage.  The return was the second longest of his career and the longest by a Sun Belt player this year.  His 98 total return yards were the sixth most of his career and tied the 15th most in the nation this season.  The Business Administration major averaged 32.7 yards per attempt, which was the second highest in A-State history.

FONCHAM SHINES:  Freshman punter Damon Foncham recorded a career-long 60-yard punt against Georgia State and saw a career-high three of his seven attempts pin Georgia State inside its own 20.  Foncham finished the game with a career-best 48.1 average as well.

NICE RETURN:  Sophomore running back Daryl Rollins-Davis has nine kickoff returns this season for a team-high 286 yards, good enough for a 31.8 average that currently stands as the highest in school history for a single season.  Rollins-Davis had two returns for 51 yards last week against Georgia State and posted a career-long 78 yard kickoff return against ULM, which was also the longest this season by an A-State player.  He finished the ULM game with over 100 kickoff return yards for the second time of his career, and his 109 yards were also the second most of his career behind only his 126 versus Miami in 2014.

PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES:  Senior kicker J.D. Houston was successful on his 1-of-3 field goal attempts against Georgia State, making him 9-of-13 on the season and 21-of-27 during his two-year career at Arkansas State.  His career field goal percentage is .778, which ranks 29th in the nation among active players.

BLOCK PARTY:  Senior defensive end Chris Odom  recorded his first blocked kick (extra point) this season last week against Georgia State, but he posted a team-high three blocked kicks last season as a junior (tied third most in school history) and one as a sophomore.  Now with five career blocks, he has the second most in school history behind only Jimmy Lisko’s eight from 1972-75.  Odom recorded  two blocks during the 2015 Georgia State game, his first coming on a field goal and the second on an extra point attempt.  In the process, he became the seventh player in school history to record multiple blocks in the same game.

ON THE RETURN:  Junior cornerback Blaise Taylor  recorded 322 punt returns yards last season to lead the Sun Belt Conference and account for the second most in school history.  His three-year career has seen him pile up 669 punt return yards that are the second most in both A-State and Sun Belt history.  He has three punt returns for touchdowns (1 in 2014, 2015 and 2016), which are the second most in Sun Belt Conference history.

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