Game Notes: A-State prepares for Georgia State - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Game Notes: A-State prepares for Georgia State

 ON TAP: Arkansas State, the three-time defending Sun Belt Conference champions, continues league play and begins a three-game road swing Saturday at Georgia State.  The game, scheduled for a 1 p.m. (CT) kickoff is set to be televised by ESPN3.  Every A-State game can be heard live on 107.9 FM?in the Northeast Arkansas area, and the live radio broadcast can be accessed through the official A-State Athletics web site (AStateRedWolves.com).

THE PRINCIPALS:  Arkansas State has won back-to-back games for the first time this season to run its overall record above .500 at 3-2.  The Red Wolves claimed a win in their Sun Belt Conference opener last week for the second consecutive year, while Georgia State is still looking for its first ever conference win since joining the league in 2013.  The Panthers won their season opener 38-37 over Abilene Christian, but have since dropped their last four games that include identical 34-31 setbacks to SBC foes New Mexico?State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

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).

THE ARKANSAS STATE - GEORGIA STATE SERIES:  A-State and Georgia State will play for just the second time ever Saturday after the Red Wolves picked up a narrow 35-33 win over the Panthers last season in Jonesboro.

A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT:  Arkansas State has won 21 of its last 24 Sun Belt Conference games to run its all-time record in the conference to 55-39.  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.

GEORGIA RED WOLVES:  Arkansas State has seven players on its roster from the state of Georgia, including Ryan Eustace (Powder Springs), Kyle Harris (Lindale), Tres Houston (College Park), Ryan Jacobs (Evans), Dallas Kepler (Roswell), Khari Lain (Tyrone) and Troy Wyche (Riverdale).  The seven players on the Red Wolves' roster from Georgia are the most among all states outside of Arkansas behind just Alabama and Texas.

RED WOLVES OCTOBER:  Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State holds a 10-1 record over its last 11 games played in the month of October.  The Red Wolves went undefeated in the month during both the 2011 and 2012 seasons and 1-1 a year ago.

ROAD WARRIORS:  Arkansas State has won 10 of its last 11 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 and 2-1 in 2013.

AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . :  give it a winning record after six games for the first time since the 2011 season and just the fourth time since joining the FBS in 1992 (2011, 2008, 2006) . . . give the Red Wolves a 2-0 start in Sun Belt play for the second straight year, third time over last four seasons and sixth time since the football league was formed in 2001. . . improve its Sun?Belt Conference record since 2011 to 22-3 . . . snap a three-game road skid dating back to the 2013 season . . . make it 2-0 all-time versus Georgia State . . . make it 11-1 over its last 12 games played in the month of October . . . make it 11-1 over its last 12 conference road games . . . run its record to 32-13 over the last four seasons.

THROUGH FIVE:  Arkansas State has a winning record (3-2) after five games for the first time since the 2011 season and just the fifth time since joining the FBS?in 1992 (2014, 2011, 2008, 2006, 1998).  The Red Wolves' 3-2 record matches the 2011, 2008, 2006 and 1998 team's record as the program's best through five games since 1992.

STRONG IN THE SECOND:  Dating back to last season, eight of Arkansas State's last 11 victories have come when it was either tied or trailing at halftime.  Two of A-State's three 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.

STARTING FRESH:  The Red Wolves have had a new starting lineup on offense or defense in every game this season, and they have had 11 players make their first career start this season.  Six of them earned their first start against Montana State, including offensive linemen Jemar Clark, Devin Mondie and Tyler Greve, wide receiver Dijon Paschal, quarterback Fredi Knighten and defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones.  Defensive lineman Chuks Ota got his first career start against Tennessee, while defensive end Caleb Caston, wide receiver Booker Mays, defensive end Chris Odom and running back Johnston White made their way into the starting lineup against Miami.

NEW FACES:  Arkansas State has seen 29 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 (at Tennessee and at Miami, respectively).

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH:  Entering the opening week of the season, Arkansas State had 27 (29 this week) combined freshmen and sophomores on its depth chart to tie for the 10th most in the nation.  The Red Wolves' 10 seniors (11 this week) on the depth chart were tied for the 10th fewest in the country.

FOUR-YEAR WINS TOTAL:  Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013 and three this year, the Red Wolves have recorded 31 victories that are tied for the 21st most in the nation over the last four years.

HOME SWEET HOME:  With a 5-1 home mark last season, Arkansas State secured its ninth consecutive winning record at Centennial Bank?Stadium dating back to 2005.  A-State?is now 44-9 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.

.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.

UNBUCKLE THE BELT:  The Red Wolves stand 9-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers after picking up a 28-14 win over ULM?in their first league game this year.  A-State won its league opener for the second consecutive season for the first time since 2005 and 2006 when it defeated Florida International both years.

HOMECOMING HISTORY:  Arkansas State improved to 59-27-1 all-time in Homecoming contests with its 28-14 victory over ULM this season.  The Red Wolves have now won 11 of their last 12 Homecoming games dating back to the 2003 season.  A-State had a seven-game winning streak on its Homecoming snapped in 2010 with a 34-24 setback to Louisville, but knocked off North Texas (37-14 in 2011), South Alabama (36-29 in 2012), Idaho (48-24 in 2013) and ULM?in its last four Homecoming games.

HOME OPENERS:  With its 37-10 victory over Montana State, Arkansas State won its 10th consecutive home opener at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to the 2005 campaign.  The Red Wolves now stand 30-11 all-time in home openers at the stadium and are also 16-6 in such games since moving to the FBS in 1992.

SEASON OPENERS:  A-State won its season opener for the second consecutive year for the first time since 2008 and 2009.  The last time Arkansas State won its first two games of a season was 2008 when it defeated Texas A&M and Texas Southern to begin the year.

RED WOLVES TABBED SECOND IN PRESEASON SBC POLL:  The Red Wolves were picked second in the preseason coaches poll announced in conjunction with the league's annual Media Day. ?A-State received 102 points behind Louisiana-Lafayette, which received 121 points and all 11 first-place votes.

PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE:  Arkansas State placed 10 players on the 2014 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team, which tied Louisiana-Lafayette for the most in the league.  Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee was named the conference's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and he was joined on the first team by four other teammates.  The Red Wolves placed four offensive and six defensive players on the all-conference squad, while junior receiver J.D. McKissic also made the team as a return specialist.

CENTENNIAL SEASON:  Arkansas State kicked off its 100th season of football on Aug. 30 versus Montana State.  A-State now holds a 436-464-37 record since the inaugural season and has played in 10 bowl games.  A-State did not field a team from 1942-44 due to World War II.  Arkansas State also didn't have a team in 1918 as World War I was ending.  In honor of its 100th football season, the athletics department has created a microsite that can be viewed at AStateFootball100.com.

SUN BELT CHAMPIONS:  Arkansas State claimed its third consecutive Sun Belt Conference championship in 2013.  A-State has won 10 conference championships all-time.  It won the Southland Conference seven times (1986, 1985, 1978, 1975, 1970, 1969, 1968).  A-State also won the 2005 Sun Belt Conference title, but it was later vacated due to NCAA sanctions.  Prior to the 2011-13 seasons, the last time A-State won three straight conference championships was 1968-70 when it was a member of the Southland Conference.

A WINNING RECORD:  Arkansas State secured its third straight winning season in 2013 for the first time since 1985-87.  A-State won 10 games in both 2011 and 2012, while collecting eight victories last season.  The Red Wolves' 28 total victories from 2011-13 were the most over a three-year span since winning 29 games from 1985-87.

OVER .500 IN THE SUN BELT:  With a 5-2 conference record last season, A-State posted a winning Sun Belt record for the sixth time since the league's inaugural season in 2001.  A-State put together three straight winning records against conference opponents for the first time since 1984-86 when it was a member of the Southland Conference.

THREE-PEAT:  Last year, Arkansas State became the third program in Sun Belt history to claim at least a share of the conference championship in three consecutive seasons, joining Troy (2006-10) and North Texas (2001-04).  The Red Wolves also won three league championships in a row for the just the second time in school history, also claiming the Southland Conference titles from 1968-70.

TEN FORMER WALK-ONS EARN SCHOLARSHIP:  Head coach Blake Anderson announced during A-State's fall camp that 10 former walk-ons to the Red?Wolves football team have been awarded full athletics scholarships.  While some of the 10 have been placed on scholarship in the past, they have all been a walk-on member of the team at some point during their careers.  The list includes Brock Barnhill, Travis Bodenstein, William Boyd, Darius Buckley, Ryan Eustace, Charleston Girley, Ryan Jacobs, Booker Mays, TeDarius Turner and Raziel Velgis.

OFFENSIVE NOTES

SECOND HALF SURGE:  Arkansas State's last two games, both victories, have seen it post all its points in the second half.  The Red Wolves put up 21 points in the second half and overtime against Utah State and another 28 in the final two quarters against ULM.  The Red Wolves outscored Utah State and ULM in the second half by a combined 49-21.  Including overtime, A-State has put up 86 second-half points in comparison to 39 in the first half. ?In fact, A-State's 48 fourth-quarter points alone are more than it scored in the first and second quarters combined this year.

QUICK STARTS:  While the Red Wolves were held scoreless in the first half each of their last two games, that comes in stark contrast to their quick starts in three of their first three games when they scored a touchdown on one of their first two possessions.

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS:  Arkansas State recorded seven plays of over 20 yards its last game out versus ULM, matching its season high originally set against Montana State.  The Red Wolves' seven “explosive” plays against ULM accounted for 29% of their 24 total on the year.  The Red Wolves posted three of their four longest plays, 68-and-49-yard runs by Michael Gordon and a 44-yard completion by Fredi Knighten to J.D.?McKissic, during the game.

ATHLON SPORTS HONORS KNIGHTEN:  Junior quarterback Fredi Knighten was named Athlon Sports' Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week following his performance against ULM.  Knighten recorded 355 yards total offense and was responsible for four touchdowns, both career highs.  He also set career highs for rushing touchdowns (3) and passing yards (284) in the game.

300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 50 of its last 56 games.  A-State went over 300 in each of its first five games this season, including 547 yards versus Montana State, 331 against Tennessee, 329 at Miami, 316 versus Utah State and 572 against ULM.

TAKING OVER AT QB:  In four of his first five career starts, junior quarterback Fredi Knighten has posted over 200 yards total offense.  Most recently, Knighten piled up a career-high 355 yards against ULM.  He is ranked 49th in the nation in total offense with 263.2 yards per game.

A FLARE FOR THE DRAMATIC:  Sophomore RB?Michael Gordon was responsible for the two longest plays this season by an A-State player last week, posting runs of 68 and 49 yards against ULM.  Gordon is averaging 8.7 yards per rushing attempt this season.  Gordon's two runs over 40 yards give him six such carries for his career:

92 yd TD vs UAPB (2013);  68 yd vs ULM (2014);  64 yd TD vs Troy (2013);  49 yd vs ULM (2014);  42 yd TD vs Montana State (2014);  40 yd TD vs Texas State (2013)

ANOTHER 100:  Arkansas State junior running back Michael Gordon and junior receiver J.D. McKissic both added another 100-yard rushing and 100-yard receiving game, respectively, to their career totals last week.  Gordon tallied 168 rushing yards and McKissic 120 receiving, which were both the most by an A-State player this season.  Gordon went over 100 yards for the fifth time of his career and McKissic over 100 for the sixth time of his.

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 a team-high 260 rushing yards this season and his three rushing touchdowns are the most among all A-State running backs.

SPREADING THE WEALTH:  Just five games into the season, Arkansas State has already completed at least one pass to 17 players -- five more than all of last season.  Thirteen of those players have multiple receptions, including J.D. McKissic with a team-high 30.  The last time A-State had more than 17 players with a catch was 2011 when it had 18.

HOUSTON, WE DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM:  Junior wide receiver Tres Houston is off to a fast start this season, ranking second on the team in both receptions (17) and receiving yards (189).  Houston caught eight passes for 135 yards, both career highs, against Montana State and hauled in his first career receiving touchdown against Tennessee.  Houston had eight receptions for 44 yards all of last season.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD:  A-State has posted at least 30 points in 26 of its last 40 regular-season games dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 16 of their last 17 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.

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 (215).  He is ranked fourth for career receiving yards with 2,015 to his credit and has nine receiving touchdowns rank tied for ninth.  He is the only player in school history to have 70 or more receptions in two different seasons.  He is also currently ranked fifth in the nation in career receptions among active players, and he is the only junior among the top-10 leaders.

ON A ROLL:  A Freshman All-America selection in 2011 and Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-America in 2012, sophomore WR?J.D. McKissic has caught at least one pass in all 31 games of his career at A-State.  His 31 consecutive games with a reception are tied for the 12th longest streak in the nation.  He had a school-record 15 against Missouri last season.

GRISWOLD BREAKS OUT:  Senior tight end Darion Griswold enjoyed a break-out season last year,  catching 24 passes for 312 yards. His receptions total was the most in a season by an A-State tight end since Trevor Gillott recorded 24 in 2009 as well, while his 312 receiving yard were the most by a player at the position since David Johnson had 356 in 2008.

DEFENSIVE NOTES

SCORING DEFENSE:  A-State has held three opponents this season to 14 points or less, the most since holding three to no more than 14 in 2012. ?The last time A-State held more than three opponents to 14 points or less in a season was 2008 when it did so four times.  The Red Wolves have won 15 consecutive games when holding an opponent to 17 point or less.

GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK:  Arkansas State recorded a combined 18 sacks against its first five opponents, giving it a 3.60 average per game that ranks 13th 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 five games, A-State is already over halfway to its total (26) for all of last season.

PLAYING BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE:  Nineteen players have combined to record 34 tackles for loss over the first five games of the season, giving the Red Wolves a 6.8 average per game that ranks 31st in the nation.  Sophomore linebacker Xavier Woodson has a team-leading 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, posting at least a half-tackle for loss in four of five games.

WOODSON RECOGNIZED:  Sophomore linebacker Xavier Woodson picked up a pair of weekly honors from College Sports Madness (CSM) and College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) for his performance against ULM.  Woodson was named CSM's Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week and a national Honorable Mention Linebacker of the Week by the CFPA.  He recorded a team-high 10 tackles, career- high three tackles for loss and one sack in the Red Wolves' 28-14 win over ULM.

LEAVE NO STONE UNBLOCKED:  Junior defensive end Chris Stone has recorded one sack three consecutive games and four of five outings this season, giving him four on the season that ranks tied for second in the Sun Belt Conference and 28th in the nation.  Additionally, he has at least one tackle for loss in four of five games this year for a 4.5 total that ranks tied for eighth 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 matching that total over A-State first five games this season.

PICK IT OFF:  Four A-State players have combined for five interceptions this season, and the Red Wolves have picked off at least one pass in five of their last six games dating back to the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl.

UNDER 100:  The Arkansas State defense has yet to give up 100 yards rushing to an individual this season and is ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and 36th in the nation in rushing defense (123.4 ypg). ?The last player to rush for 100 yards against the A-State defense was Ball State's Jahwan Edwards in the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl.  A-State has held two teams, including ULM and Montana State, to under 100 yards total rushing.

LEE EARNS SBC WEEKLY HONOR:  Senior linebacker Qushaun Lee was named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in A-State's 21-14 victory over Utah State. ?Lee, who earned the weekly honor for the third time of his career, recorded a season-high 13 tackles, team-high 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a pass break-up.  His 13 tackles were just three shy of his career-high 16 (at South Alabama last season) and marked the 11th time of his career he recorded a double-figure stops total.

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.

LOADED SECONDARY:  Arkansas State's secondary has combined to start 122 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 and Charleston?Girley.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES

TWICE AS NICE:  Through its first five games this season, A-State has already 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 15 punts inside the 20-yard line this season for a 3.0 average per game.  He has pinned the opponent inside its own 20-yard line at least two times in every game this season, including three times last week versus ULM.  His 15 total are three more than the next closest player in the Sun Belt Conference.  Ferguson, who entered the season with eight career kicks inside the 20, is ranked fifth in the league in punting average with a 42.1 average per attempt.

ON THE RETURN:  Arkansas State ranked sixth in the nation in kickoff returns last year with a 25.18 average per return, and is picking up this year where it left off last season.  The Red Wolves have seen three players return at least one kickoff this season for a combined 25.6 average, which ranks 15th in the nation.  Junior J.D. McKissic has returned five kicks for 131 yards and a 26.2 average, but true freshmen Blaise Taylor and Daryl Rollins-Davis have also combined for nine returns covering 227 yards (25.2 average).  Rollins-Davis has a team-high eight returns for 189 yards (23.6 avg.) and Taylor one for 38 yards.
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