GAME 1: Arkansas State (0-0) at Nebraska (0-0)
Sept. 2, 2017 | Memorial Stadium
Lincoln, Neb. | 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Radio: EAB Red Wolves Sports Network (107.9 FM, flagship)
Television: Big Ten Network
Live Stats: AStateStats.com/AStateRedWolves.com
Live Game Notes: twitter.com/AStateGameDay
ON TAP: Arkansas State is set to open its fourth season under head coach Blake Anderson Saturday, Sept. 2, at 7:00 p.m. when it faces a Nebraska team receiving votes in both the Associated Press (4) and Coaches (23) Top 25 Polls. The contest at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln will be televised by the Big Ten Network and can be heard live on 107.9 FM in the Northeast Arkansas area. The live radio broadcast can also be accessed on the official A-State Athletics web site (AStateRedWolves.com) and the A-State Athletics app.
BY THE NUMBERS . . .
1 or more turnovers gained by A-State in 33 of 39 games under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.
1 of just two programs in league history owning five Sun Belt Conference championships.
1 touchdown pass needed by Justice Hansen to tie the 10th most in school history.
1 touchdown reception needed by Dijon Paschal to tie the seventh most in school history.
1 sack needed by Ja’Von Rolland-Jones to tie the 19th most in NCAA FBS history.
1 victory needed to give Blake Anderson his 25th career victory as head coach at Arkansas State.
3 completions needed by Justice Hansen to become the 4th player in A-State history w/200 in a season.
5 different watch lists (Bednarik, Nagurski, Hendricks, Senior Bowl, College Gridiron Showcase NFL) for Ja’Von Rolland-Jones.
5 Sun Belt Conference championships (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016) over the last six seasons.
5 head coaches over the last 8 years (Steve Roberts, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, Bryan Harsin, Blake Anderson).
6 current A-State players have already earned their degree.
6 straight bowl game appearances (2011-16) -- a school record.
6 consecutive winning seasons (2011-16) by A-State for the first time since 1912-17.
7 players named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team (8 selections).
7 or more victories each of the last six seasons (2011-16) -- first time in school history.
7 different players named to at least one major award watch list.
8 of last 11 years w/at least one NFL Draft selection.
9 of the last 12 seasons (2005-16) have seen A-State reach bowl eligibility, including the last six in a row.
9.6 tackles for loss per game last season by A-State was the highest average in the nation.
11 Sun Belt Conference Team Academic Awards over the last 14 years, including 2015.
12 consecutive seasons with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium (2005-16).
13 players named 2017 All-Sun Belt Conference by at least one preseason publication.
19.2 yards per reception by Blake Mack in 2016 ranked 17th in the nation.
22 of A-State’s 24 victories under HC Blake Anderson have come by a double-figure margin.
25 career rushing touchdowns by Johnston White are the seventh most in school history.
30.5 career sacks by Ja’Von Rolland-Jones are both school and Sun Belt Conference records.
30 or more points scored by A-State in 46 of its last 71 regular-season games (65 percent).
40 Sun Belt Conference victories over the last six (2011-16) seasons (40-7 league record).
52 victories by A-State over the last six seasons ranks tied for the 23rd most in the nation.
200 or more yards passing by Justice Hansen five of the last seven games and seven times total.
292 or less yards total offense allowed by the Red Wolves’ defense the last four games, dating back to 2016.
300 or more yds total offense in 79 of last 90 games (88 pct.), including all but 5 games under Blake Anderson.
781 career punt return yards by Blaise Taylor are the most in school history & 2nd most in Sun Belt history.
THE PRINCIPALS: The Red Wolves won eight of their last nine games last season, including a 31-13 victory over UCF in the Cure Bowl, to finish their 2016 campaign with an 8-5 record. A-State, the only program in the nation to win five conference titles over the last six seasons, returns eight All-Sun Belt Conference selections from a year ago, including Player of the Year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones. Those selections account for the bulk of the team’s nine returning starters. Nebraska is coming off a 9-4 season that also saw it post a 6-3 Big Ten record under head coach Mike Riley, who is entering his third season as head coach. The Huskers ended their 2016 campaign with a 38-24 setback to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, a 17-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 Sun Belt Conference championships (2015 and 2016), as well as three straight winning seasons and bowl game appearances (2016 Cure Bowl, 2015 New Orleans Bowl and 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) his first three years at the helm. Under his direction, the Red Wolves have also set new 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 three years at the helm of the program, he saw 29 of his players earn 45 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: Blake Anderson is the first head coach in Arkansas State history to win 24 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 24 games in 39 or fewer contests -- Bennie Ellender reached 24 victories in 37 games from 1963-67.
DOUBLE DIGITS: Seven of A-State’s eight wins last season came by at least 10 points. Additionally, all nine of its wins during the 2015 season and six of its seven in 2014 came by a double-figure margin, meaning 22 of the Red Wolves’ 24 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 in 2016.
THE ARKANSAS STATE - NEBRASKA SERIES: Saturday’s game will be the third meeting ever been Arkansas State and Nebraska, although this will be the first time the two teams have played when the Huskers weren’t ranked in one of the college football Top 25 polls. The two teams first met in 2009 in Steve Roberts’ eighth season as head coach at A-State, and the Huskers claimed a 38-9 victory over A-State at Memorial Stadium. During Gus Malzahn’s lone season as the Red Wolves head coach in 2012, Nebraska claimed a 42-13 win at Memorial Stadium.
A-STATE vs. THE BIG TEN CONFERENCE: The last time Arkansas State played a Big Ten Conference opponent was the last time they played Nebraska in 2012. The game actually marked the fourth straight season the Red Wolves played a member of the league, also catching Iowa in 2009, Indiana in 2010 and Illinois in 2011. A-State stands 0-10 against current members of the league with their most games against Illinois, and now Nebraska, with three.
FOR STARTERS: A-State defeated Montana State 37-10 in its 2014 season opener and first game ever under head coach Blake Anderson, but has since dropped its last two season openers -- a 55-6 road loss at then-ranked No. 8 USC in 2015 and a 31-10 home setback to Toledo last year. Since moving to FBS status in 1992, the Red Wolves have posted just a 5-20 record in season openers. In addition to its season-opening win in 2014, it also began the 2013 (62-11 vs. UAPB), 2008 (18-14 at Texas A&M), 2006 (14-6 vs. Army) and 1995 (21-17 vs. Utah State) seasons with wins.
PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: Back-to-back league champion Arkansas State has been tabbed third after in the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Coaches Poll after receiving one first-place vote and 122 total points. The Red Wolves finished just five points behind Troy, while Appalachian State was chosen the favorite with 136 points. Although A-State has won five of the last six Sun Belt Conference championships, it has never been picked to win the league in the preseason coaches poll. At the same time, A-State has been picked to finish among the top three teams in the league nine of the last 12 years.
SEVEN RED WOLVES NAMED PRESEASON ALL-SBC: The 2017 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team featured seven Arkansas State players, including senior defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones as the Defensive Player of the Year. The Red Wolves had eight total selections, including senior cornerback Blaise Taylor as a first-team return specialist and second-team defensive back. Joining Taylor and Rolland-Jones as first-team choices were senior tight end Blake Mack, senior linebacker Kyle Wilson and junior defensive back Justin Clifton. Representing A-State on the second team were senior wide receiver Dijon Paschal and senior defensive lineman Dee Liner, in addition to Taylor. The Red Wolves eight total selections were the third most in the league behind Appalachian State's 12 and Troy's nine.
SUN BELT CHAMPS: Arkansas State claimed the 2016 Sun Belt Conference championship, giving it back-to-back titles with a combined 15-1 league record over that span. A-State also won the league title 2011-13, making it one of just two programs in league history with at least five all-time SBC titles -- Troy is the other with five as well. Arkansas State is the only FBS program in the nation to win five conference titles over the last six seasons, and the Red Wolves hold a 40-7 Sun Belt record during that time. The Red Wolves’ 7-1 Sun Belt record this season matched the 2012 squad for their third best record ever in the league -- Arkansas State went 8-0 in both 2011 and 2015.
BOWL ELIGIBLE: With a 7-5 overall record, A-State was bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive season in 2016 and ninth time over the last 12 years. Since joining the FBS in 1992, Arkansas State became bowl eligible in 10 games or less for the sixth time (2011-16). The earliest A-State ever became bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 through eight games.
SIX STRAIGHT: Arkansas State has secured six consecutive seasons (2011-16) with a winning record for the first time since 1912-17. The Red Wolves have piled up 52 victories from 2011-16 for its most over a six-year span in the program’s 103-year history. A-State has never produced seven consecutive winning seasons.
SIX-YEAR WINS TOTAL: Including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, eight more in 2013, seven in 2014, nine in 2015 and eight last year, the Red Wolves have recorded 52 victories that are tied for the 23rd most in the nation over the last six seasons.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : snap a two-game skid in season openers, and make it 3-2 in such games over the last five years . . . give the Red Wolves their first victory over Nebraska and a Big Ten opponent . . . mark its second win over a high resource (Power 5) conference team since moving to FBS status in 1992, and its first since defeating Texas A&M in 2008 while the Aggies were a member of the Big 12 Conference . . . give the Red Wolves 53 victories over the last seven seasons . . . extend its winning streak to three games and give it nine victories over its last 10 games played . . . mark A-State’s 25th win under head coach Blake Anderson.
TOP 25: Arkansas State was receiving votes in both the Associated Press (2 points) and Coaches (6 points) Top 25 polls at the end of the 2015 regular season, making it the fourth season since 2011 that A-State was included among “others receiving votes” at one point during the year. The Red Wolves also earned votes in 2011, 2012 and 2013. A-State’s most ever points in the Associated Press (28) and Coaches (23) Top 25 came in the 2012 final polls.
103RD SEASON: Arkansas State is set to kick off its 103rd season of football Sept. 2 at Nebraska. A-State holds a 458-477-37 record since the inaugural season and has played in 13 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.
HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 12 consecutive years (2005-16) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 55‐13 (.809 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 30 of their last 36 home games. The Red Wolves actual on‐field record all‐time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 147‐76‐1 since it opened in 1974. A‐State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.
“1” OF A KIND: Research indicates that senior cornerback and return specialist Blaise Taylor is the only current FBS player in the nation to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before the start of his true senior season, which has brought him national notoriety. He was recently featured in a Sports Illustrated article written by Bruce Feldman, drawing attention to his many accolades in the class room. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and received his MBA this summer.
WATCH ME, WATCH ME: Arkansas State has seven different players on at least one of the major watch lists for the 2017 season, including three who play on the offensive side of the ball and four on the defensive. All combined, A-State has a player on 10 different major watch lists.
JUSTIN CLIFTON: Jim Thorpe
JUSTICE HANSEN: Johnny Unitas Golden Arm
DEE LINER: Senior Bowl
BLAKE MACK: John Mackey
JA’VON ROLLAND-JONES: Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, Ted Hendricks, Senior Bowl
BLAISE TAYLOR: Paul Hornung, Wuerffel Trophy
WARREN WAND: Doak Walker
I ACCEPT YOUR CHALLENGE: Arkansas State will open its season with back-to-back games against teams from a high resource (Power 5) conference for the second time in three seasons, and for the seventh time since moving to FBS stats in 1992. A-State is one of just five Group of 5 programs beginning the season with two consecutive games against high resource conference teams, joining South Alabama (Sun Belt), Western Michigan (Mid-American), Colorado State (Mountain West) and Middle Tennessee (Conference USA). A-State last opened with two such games in 2015 when it played then-ranked No. 8 USC followed by Missouri.
THAT’S A FIRST: Arkansas State’s current depth chart features seven players slated to start their first career game at Arkansas State, including four offensive linemen, one wide receiver and a pair of safeties. The list includes Jaypee Philbert (LT), Dalton Ford (LG), Jacob Still (C), Landard Bonner (RT), Justin McInnis (WR), BJ Edmonds (S), Darreon Jackson (S).
ON THAT NOTE: Not only does A-State have seven players expected to make their first start with the Red Wolves, the squad’s 2-deep also features 20 of 53 players (38 percent) listed who have never played a snap as a member of the team. The list includes eight offensive, eight defensive and four special teams players.
TWO-MINUTE OFFENSE: Twenty-nine of Arkansas State’s 53 scoring drives last season took less than two minutes (54.7 percent) and just 11 drives consumed more than three minutes (20.7 percent). The Red Wolves’ 2015 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 79 of its last 90 games (.877 percentage). A-State went over 300 yards in all 13 games during head coach Blake Anderson’s first season, reached the mark 11 times in 2015 and has did so 10 times last season.
400-PLUS: Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 23 times over its last 39 games (59 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach.
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: Including five of the last six contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 46 of their last 71 regular-season games (65 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 15 consecutive games and 35 of their last 39 when scoring at least 30 points.
NOW THAT’S JUSTICE: Since taking over as starting quarterback in the 2016 Central Arkansas game, sophomore Justice Hansen has helped lead the Red Wolves to an 8-2 record. During that span, Hansen has recorded at least two hundred passing yards six times, while also throwing multiple touchdown passes in six outings. He threw 19 touchdown passes (all but one over the last nine games), which tied for the fourth most in school history for a single season.
MAKING A MOVE: Junior Blake Mack changed positions from wide receiver to tight end last season, and he appears to have transitioned well as he recorded 34 receptions for a team-high 652 yards and three touchdowns. His first two seasons combined at wide receiver, Mack posted 17 receptions for 235 yards.
FINDING THE END ZONE: A former walk-on and Burlsworth Trophy nominee, senior running back Johnston White recorded a team and career-best 14 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore and now has 25 running scores during his career. He has at least one in 12 of his last 22 games played. White’s 25 career rushing touchdowns are the seventh most in school history.
WAND BREAKS 1,000: Running back Warren Wand ran for a team-high 879 yards last season to go along with his 709 he recorded as a true freshman, pushing him over 1,000 for his career with 1,588 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. His 1,588 yards are the most by an A-State player over his freshman and sophomore seasons since Reggie Arnold ran for 2,136 combined yards in 2006 and 2007.
16 OR LESS: Arkansas State has allowed 16 points or less in six of its last eight games and given up a combined 109 points over that span (13.6 per game), which is the lowest total for eight consecutive games by the Red Wolves in their FBS history. Additionally, it is their lowest total at any level since allowing 103 over an eight-game stretch during the 1986 season. The Red Wolves have won their last 38 straight games when holding their opponent to no more than 10 points. A-State has won 25 consecutive games when holding its opponent to 17 points or less.
A LOSS ON THE PLAY: Dating back to the 2016 season, the Red Wolves have posted at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in 17 consecutive games. Arkansas State led the nation in tackles for loss per game last season with a 9.6 average.
PLAYING IN THE BACKFIELD: Senior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones already holds the A-State and Sun Belt Conference records for sacks in a career with 30.5 to his credit, but is now also within 13.5 of tying the NCAA FBS record currently held by Terrell Suggs (Arizona State, 2000-02). He has also recorded at least a half TFL in 25 of his last 30 contests dating back to his freshman year, and he has 45.5 during his career.
DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE: Arkansas State has ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation each of the last three seasons under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen. In fact, the 2015 season saw the Red Wolves record an FBS-high eight touchdowns. A-State posted four defensive touchdowns in 2014 to rank No. 14, while also recording four in 2016 that ranked eighth. The Red Wolves have 16 total defensive touchdowns over the last three seasons.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
ELITE KICKOFF COVERAGE: Arkansas State has ranked among the top four teams in the nation in kickoff return defense two of the last three years and among the top 18 teams all three seasons under special teams coordinator Luke Paschall. A-State allowed just a 16.1 average last season to rank 3rd in the nation, while the 2015 squad ranked 18th (18.7 avg.) and the 2014 team No. 4 (16.3 avg.).
BLOCK THAT KICK: Arkansas State has recorded nine blocked kicks over the past two seasons, including five last year that ranked as the fifth most in the nation and four in 2015 to rank the Red Wolves No. 7. The totals over the last two seasons include two blocked punts (both last season) and seven blocked field goals/extra points.
ON THE RETURN: Senior cornerback Blaise Taylor has become one of the most prolific punt return men in both Arkansas State and Sun Belt Conference history, ranking No. 1 at A-State in career punt return yards and No. 2 among all-time Sun Belt players. He has three punt returns for a touchdown and has gone over 100 return yards twice, including a career-high 111 yards against New Mexico State in 2015.