Appalachian St. at A-State in-depth preview

Appalachian St. at A-State in-depth preview

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Appalachian St. (4-5, 3-2) at A-State (6-3, 4-1)

2 p.m. Saturday, Centennial Bank Stadium
RADIO: 107.9 FM Jonesboro, 93.3 FM Little Rock

A-STATE vs. APPALACHIAN ST: Saturday's game will mark the first meeting between Arkansas State and Appalachian State.

THE PRINCIPALS: Arkansas State, which became bowl eligible last week for the fourth consecutive season and seventh time over the last 10 years, enters Saturday's game needing one more victory to secure its fourth straight campaign with a winning record. The Red Wolves carry a six-game home winning streak into the contest, while the Mountaineers are 1-3 on the road this season. However, their lone road victory at Troy started a three-game winning streak that has brought Appalachian State within one game of .500 with a 4-5 record.


AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : give it seven victories, matching (2012) for its second most ever through 10 games since joining the FBS in 1992 . . . secure its fourth consecutive season with a winning record . . . secure its seventh season with a winning Sun Belt Conference record since the league was formed in 2001 . . . give it seven straight home wins . . . give it a three-game winning streak, matching its longest of the season . . . improve its Sun Belt Conference record to 25-4 since 2011 . . . make it 13-1 over its past 14 games played in the month of November . . . give it 21 wins over its past 23 home games . . . run its record to 35-14 over the last four seasons.

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.

OUT OF THE GATE: 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).

FAST START: Out of 30 all-time head coaches at Arkansas State, Blake Anderson has become one of just seven to win at least six games in his first season at the school. The other head coaches to win at least six games in their first season as head coach at A-State are Bryan Harsin (2013), Gus Malzahn (2012), Hugh Freeze (2011), Steve Roberts (2002), Gene Harlow (1955) and Jack Dale (1931).

MIRROR IMAGES: Statistically speaking, Arkansas State and Appalachian State are very similar in a number of categories. In fact, they are ranked back-to-back in sequential order in 11 statistical categories among all Sun Belt Conference teams.

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 24 of its last 28 Sun Belt Conference games (.857 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the conference to 57-40. 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 a 12-1 record over its last 13 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 4-0 home record this year, Arkansas State has secured its 10th consecutive year with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. A-State is now 45-9 (.833 winning pct.) at Centennial Bank Stadium since the 2005 season and has won 20 of its last 22 home games. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 137-72-1 since it opened in 1974. A-State's six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.

BOWL ELIGIBLE: With a 6-3 overall record, A-State has 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 three times (2011, 2012 and 2014). The earliest Arkansas State has ever been bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 after eight games.

THROUGH NINE: Arkansas State has a winning record (6-3) after nine games for the fourth consecutive year, but just the sixth time since joining the FBS in 1992 (2011-14, 2006, 2005). The Red Wolves' 6-3 record matches the 2012 team as the program's second best record through nine games since joining the FBS. The 2011 team was 7-2 through nine contests.

A WINNING EFFORT: Arkansas State needs one more victory to secure a winning record for the fourth consecutive season, but just the fifth time since joining the FBS in 1992. The last time A-State posted four straight winning seasons was 1984-87. That stretch saw Arkansas State win 37 games, the most in school history over a four-year period. The Red Wolves have won 34 games from 2011-14.

OVER .500 IN THE SUN BELT: With a 4-1 Sun Belt Conference record, A-State needs one more league win to secure a winning SBC record for the seventh season (including the last four in a row) since the conference's inaugural year in 2001. The last time A-State had a winning record against conference opponents in four consecutive years was 1984-87.

FOUR-YEAR WINS TOTAL: Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013 and six this year, the Red Wolves have recorded 34 victories that are tied for the 21st most in the nation over the last four years.

NUMBER 100: Arkansas State needs one more victory for its 100th all-time win as an FBS member (joined in 1992). The Red Wolves actually hold 109 on-field victories as an FBS member, but 10 wins were later vacated due to NCAA sanctions.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES: Arkansas State has run more plays than its opponent in six games and at least matched its opponent's total in seven. The Red Wolves' offense is averaging 81.3 plays per game, while their defense is facing an average of 72.6 for a positive difference of 8.7 plays per game. To put that in perspective, the fifth highest differential in the nation is 11.5 plays per game by New Mexico. Among the teams that have played no more than nine games, Arkansas State's 732 plays run are the sixth most in the nation. A-State's fast-paced offense is partially responsible for the differential, but the defense has done a good job getting off the field in third-and-fourth down situations as well, ranking among the top 19 teams in the nation in conversion percentage defense in both categories.

STRONG IN THE SECOND: Dating back to last season, nine of Arkansas State's last 14 victories have come when it was either tied or trailing at some point during the third quarter. Half of A-State's six 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 93-45 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 16 players make their first career start this season, including:
OFFENSIVE LINE: Jemar Clark, Devin Mondie, Tyler Greve, Kyle Harris

WIDE RECEIVER: Dijon Paschal, Booker Mays
A-BACK: Brandon Cox
QUARTERBACK: Fredi Knighten
RUNNING BACK: Johnston White
DEFENSIVE LINE: Chuks Ota, Clifford Thomas, Chris Odom
DEFENSIVE END: Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, Caleb Caston, Carderious Dean
DEFENSIVE BACK: Sterling Wright

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.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: Arkansas State has 29 combined freshmen and sophomores on its depth chart to tie for the fourth most in the nation, along with Wake Forest, Alabama and Tennessee. Oklahoma State has the most with 35. The Red Wolves' 11 seniors on the depth chart are tied for the 21st fewest in the country. Temple has the fewest with five.

.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.

WORKING OVERTIME: Arkansas State's 21-14 triumph over Utah State marked its first overtime victory since defeating Florida Atlantic 3-0 in 2005. With the win, the Red Wolves improved to 3-4 all-time in overtime games dating back to 1998.

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 six 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 seven games this year, including the last six in a row. Including overtime, A-State has put up 172 second-half points in comparison to 134 in the first. The Red Wolves have outscored their opponents 72-52 in the third quarter and 93-45 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 seven games when they scored a touchdown on one of their first three possessions. The Red Wolves have scored a touchdown on one of their first two possessions in six contests.

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: Arkansas State recorded 28 of its 45 (62 percent) plays of over 20 yards this season in its last five games. The Red Wolves had seven plays versus both ULM and Louisiana-Lafayette, six versus Idaho, five against Georgia State and three more against South Alabama that covered at least 20 yards, giving them a 5.6 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 54 of its last 60 games. A-State went over 300 in each of its first nine games this season, including a season-high 618 at Georgia State.

400-PLUS: Arkansas State has recorded at least 400 yards total offense in six games this season, including the last five in a row. Additionally, the Red Wolves have recorded at least 500 yards total offense in four games this year. A-State is averaging 461.1 yards total offense per game, which ranks 30th in the nation.

PASCHAL SHINING: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Dijon Paschal has come on strong in Sun?Belt Conference play, ranking 10th in the league in receptions (4.4 pg) and fourth in receiving yards (86.4 ypg). Paschal has posted 22 of his 28 catches and 432 of his 510 receiving yards against Sun Belt opponents. Including all games (conference and non-conference), Paschal is ranked 10th in the league in receiving yards (56.7 ypg). ?His 18.2 yards per reception average is the highest in the conference among the top 10 leaders in receiving yards. The next closest is Idaho's Joshua McCain with 15.0 yards per catch.

TAKING OVER AT QB: In eight of his first nine career starts, junior quarterback Fredi Knighten has posted over 200 yards total offense. Knighten has recorded at least 300 yards total offense in four of the last five games, including a career-high 405 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette. He is averaging 330.2 yards total offense over the last five games. He is now ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and 24th in the nation with 290.2 yards total offense per game.

QUARTERBACK KEEPER: Junior quarterback Fredi Knighten is averaging 60.8 rushing yards per game, which 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. Knighten currently has 547 rushing yards this season.

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 five games. Gordon is averaging 7.6 yards per rushing attempt, which is ranked sixth 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 has recorded four 100-yard rushing games this season, giving him eight total for his career. He ran for 77 yards last week against South Alabama, snapping a streak of four consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Over the last five games, Gordon is averaging 134.4 rushing yards per game. His 108.1 yards per game for the entire season ranks second in the Sun Belt Conference and 22nd 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 (as of Nov. 7). As of Nov. 7, five players in the nation had three rushing touchdowns of at least 50 yards, while Georgia Southern's Matt Brieda had 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 versus Utah State, it was the first 100-yard game of the season at the time by an A-State player. Johnston has posted 326 rushing yards this season and his five rushing touchdowns are the second most among all A-State running backs.

SPREADING THE WEALTH: Arkansas State has completed at least one pass to 20 players -- eight more than all of last season. Sixteen 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: Nine games through the regular season, junior wide receiver Tres Houston ranks second on the team in receptions (36) and third in receiving yards (399). 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 30 of its last 44 regular-season games (68 percent) dating back to the 2011 season, including the last four in a row. The Red Wolves have won 19 of their last 21 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 (9th: 27.7 average per attempt), receiving yards (24th: 2,196), all-purpose yards (32nd: 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.

: Ja'Von Rolland-Jones has put up impressive numbers the last four games, recording 10 of his 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 of his 7.0 sacks over that span. Additionally, he has posted 17 of his 27 tackles over the last four games as well. He tallied a school-record-tying four tackles for loss against Idaho during the stretch.

LOCK IT DOWN: The Arkansas State defense is not only ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference in both third and fourth down percentage defense, they are among the nation's leaders in both categories. A-State is ranked 12th and 19th in the nation in 3rd and 4th down percentage defense, respectively. They have allowed just a .314 conversion percentage on third downs and a .294 percentage on fourth downs.

FORCING TURNOVERS: Arkansas State recorded a season-high eight turnovers gained versus Idaho and four more last week against South Alabama, giving it 22 total for the season that ranks 12th in the nation. The Red Wolves have recorded seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries over the last two games. One of the fumbles recovered was returned a school-record 93 yards by junior corner Rocky Hayes for a touchdown, while corner Artez Brown had a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown.

SCORING DEFENSE: Arkansas State has held five opponents to 14 points or less, including South Alabama last week. The last time A-State held five or more opponents to 14 points or less in a season was 1986 when it did so 10 times. The Red Wolves have won 17 consecutive games when holding an opponent to 17 point or less.

GETTING TO THE QB: Arkansas State recorded a combined 31 sacks against its first nine opponents, giving it a 3.4 average per game that ranks seventh 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 nine games, A-State has already passed its total (26) for all of last season. The last time the Red Wolves had more than 31 sacks in a season was 2011 when it had 35.

PLAYING BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: Twenty-two players have combined to record 62 tackles for loss over the first nine games of the season, giving the Red Wolves a 6.9 average per game that ranks 33rd in the nation. A-State needs nine more tackles for loss over its final three regular-season games (3.0 average per game) to match its total (71) last season.

AMONG THE LEAGUE LEADERS: Sophomore linebacker Xavier Woodson leads the team and is ranked tied for 10th in the Sun Belt Conference in tackles, averaging 7.8 per game. He has 70 total tackles are seven more than the Red Wolves' second leading tackler Qushaun Lee. Woodson is averaging 5.8 solo tackles per game, which ranks 27th 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 six of nine outings this season, giving him 5.5 on the year that ranks sixth in the Sun Belt Conference. Additionally, he has at least one tackle for loss in seven of nine games this year for a 7.0 total that ranks tied for 14th 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 nine games this season.

PICK IT OFF: Seven A-State players have combined for 13 interceptions this season, and the Red Wolves have picked off at least one pass in eight of their last 10 games dating back to the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl. The Red Wolves' 13 interceptions are tied for the most in the Sun Belt Conference and rank tied for the 11th most in the nation. A-State had a season-high four interceptions versus Idaho and three last week against South Alabama.

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 142 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 Charleston?Girley.

Through its first nine 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 2.2 average per game. He has pinned the opponent inside its own 20-yard line at least one time in all but one game this season. His 20 total are the second most in the Sun Belt Conference. He has placed 44.4 percent (20 of 45) of his punts inside the 20. Ferguson, who entered the season with eight career kicks inside the 20, is ranked fourth in the league and 51st in the nation in punting average with a 42.0 average per attempt.


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