GAME 8: Arkansas State (5-2, 4-0) at South Alabama (3-6, 2-3)
Nov. 11, 2017 | Ladd-Peebles Stadium
Mobile, Ala. | 4:00 p.m.
Radio: EAB Red Wolves Sports Network (107.9 FM, flagship)
Live Stats: AStateStats.com/AStateRedWolves.com
Live Game Notes: twitter.com/AStateGameDay
ON TAP: Back-to-back Sun Belt champion Arkansas State wraps up a two-game road swing Saturday at South Alabama as it continues league action against the Jaguars. The outing will appear on ESPN3, and every Red Wolves’ football game 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.
THE PRINCIPALS: A-State, the only FBS team in the nation to win five conference championships over the last six seasons, is off to a 4-0 start in Sun Belt Conference play for the third consecutive season and stands alone atop the league standings. The Red Wolves also hold a 5-2 overall record, matching their best ever through seven games since joining the FBS in 1992. While A-State needs one more victory to become bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive season, South Alabama holds a 3-6 record and must win its final three games to reach bowl eligibility. The Jaguars are set to play their final home game of the season and hold a 2-3 record at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. With a 2-3 Sun Belt record as well, they are currently tied for seventh place in the league standings.
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 passing touchdowns (26 in 2017). 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 in his first season (2014) 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).
FOUR YEARS RUNNING: Even with at least four games remaining on A-State’s 2017 schedule, Blake Anderson is already the first head coach in Arkansas State history to win 29 or more games over his first four seasons at the school. Additionally, he is the only head coach at A-State to win 29 games in 46 or fewer contests -- Bill Davidson is the next closest, reaching 29 victories in 48 games from 1971-75.
DOUBLE DIGITS: A-State’s five wins this season came by double figures, and seven of its eight victories 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-digit margin, meaning 27 of the Red Wolves’ 29 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 - SOUTH ALABAMA SERIES: Arkansas State holds a 5-0 all-time record against South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference series that dates back to just 2012. The first two meetings were decided by a combined eight points, while 10 points or less have separated the two teams in three of the five outings.
Year (Score), Location
2016, (A-State 17, USA 7), Jonesboro
2015, (A-State 49, USA 31), Mobile
2014, (A-State 45, USA 10), Jonesboro
2013, (A-State 17, USA 16), Mobile
2012, (A-State 36, USA 29), Jonesboro
ALABAMA RED WOLVES: Arkansas State has 10 players on its roster from the state of Alabama, the second most among all states outside of Arkansas. Additionally, while Blaise Taylor’s hometown is Waco, Texas, he attended Auburn High School in Auburn, Ala. Out of those 11 players, seven have started at least one game and 10 are listed on A-State’s current depth chart. The 11 players include BJ Edmonds (Mobile), Larry Wooden (Hoover), Caleb Bonner (Reform), Dee Liner (Muscle Shoals), Trent Ellis-Brewer (Daphne), Brandon Byner (Bessemer), Griffin Riggs (Auburn), Alex Novak (Fairhope), Lanard Bonner (Birmingham), Dijon Paschal (Tallassee) and Blaise Taylor (Auburn).
A-STATE vs. THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 44 of its last 51 Sun Belt Conference games (.863 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 77-43. The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 24. A-State has 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.
ROAD WARRIORS: Arkansas State has won 22 of its last 26 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 to 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, 2-2 in 2014 and 3-1 a year ago. A-State defeated Georgia Southern and New Mexico State in its first two conference road games played so far this season.
HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 13 consecutive years (2005-17) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 58‐13 (.817 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 33 of their last 39 home games, including the last seven in a row that stands tied for the sixth longest current streak in the nation. The Red Wolves actual on‐field record all‐time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 150‐76‐1 since it opened in 1974. A‐State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985.
RED WOLVES NOVEMBER: Dating back to the 2011 season, Arkansas State holds a 19-4 record over its last 23 games played in the month of November. A-State had a seven-game winning streak during November snapped in its last game of the month in 2016.
THROUGH SEVEN: Arkansas State’s 5-2 record matches its best ever through seven games since joining the FBS in 1992. The only other time A-State was 5-2 through seven games was in 2011, when the Red Wolves went on to finish with a 10-3 record.
4-0 IN THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State holds a 4-0 record in Sun Belt Conference play for the third consecutive year and fourth time in school history (2011, 2015-17). The three previous A-State teams to start Sun Belt action with four straight victories went on to claim the SBC championship with a combined 23-1 league record.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : run its all-time record versus South Alabama to 6-0 . . . make it bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive year and 10th time over the last 13 seasons . . . tie the 2011 season for fewest amount of games played (8) to become bowl eligible . . . guarantee the Red Wolves at least a .500 record for the seventh consecutive season and 11th time since joining the FBS in 1992 . . . give it 23 victories over its last 27 Sun Belt Conference road games . . . move its record to 20-4 in games played in the month of November since 2011 . . . make it 6-2 to match its best ever record through eight games since joining the FBS in 1992 (2011, 2017) . . . extend its winning streak against Sun Belt opponents to six games and improve its record to 45-7 over its last 52 SBC games . . . make it 5-0 in Sun Belt action for the third consecutive season and fourth time in school history (2011, 2015-17) . . . give the Red Wolves 58 victories over the last seven 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, eight last year and five this season, the Red Wolves have recorded 57 victories that are tied for the 27th most in the nation over the last seven seasons.
THAT’S A FIRST: The Red Wolves have seen 15 players start their first career game as a member of the A-State program this season. Eight of those 15 gained their first start against Nebraska, while an additional two made their first start against UAPB and Georgia Southern and one versus SMU, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana. The list includes four offensive linemen, two wide receivers, four defensive linemen, one linebacker, one cornerback and three safeties. The players are Jaypee Philbert (LT), Dalton Ford (LG), Jacob Still (C), Lanard Bonner (RT), Justin McInnis (WR), Kendrick Edwards (WR), BJ Edmonds (S), Darreon Jackson (S), Javier Carbonell (DL), Caleb Bonner (LB), Michael Johnson (S), Hunter Moreton (DL), Ronheen Bingham (DE), Kyle Martin (CB) and Christian Howard (DL). The Red Wolves have used a different defensive starting lineup all seven games and a different offensive starting lineup three times.
ON THAT NOTE: Not only did A-State have 15 players make their first start with the Red Wolves, 29 different players took their first snap ever as a member of the team. The squad’s current 2-deep features 21 of 56 players (38 percent) listed who had never played a snap as an A-State player entering this season.
44-POINT MARGIN: Arkansas State’s 44-point margin of victory (47-3) over Louisiana was its second largest ever against a Sun Belt Conference opponent. The largest was a 45-0 win over Middle Tennessee in the final regular-season game of the 2012 season. Additionally, the Red Wolves’ 44-point win versus Louisiana represented the largest margin of victory by either team in the series that dates back to 1953.
MIDWEEK MADNESS: Historically, A-State has performed well in midweek games (Tue.-Thurs.) since joining the Sun Belt Conference. The Red Wolves hold a 19-6 record in all midweek games since its 2001 inaugural year in the league. They have won 15 of their last 18 midweek contests, including the last eight in a row.
UNBUCKLE THE BELT: With its 43-25 win over Georgia Southern this season, the Red Wolves now stand 12-5 all-time in Sun Belt Conference openers. A-State has won its last five Sun Belt openers for its longest streak ever as a member of the conference, and its longest as a member of any league since winning its first Southland Conference game five straight years from 1966-70.
PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: Back-to-back league champion Arkansas State was tabbed third 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 regular-season 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 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.
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 kicked off its 103rd season of football Sept. 2 at Nebraska. A-State holds a 462-479-37 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.
“1” OF A KIND: Named a William V. Campbell Trophy finalist and Wuerffel Trophy semifinalist last week, 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. He was 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
BLAKEMACK: John Mackey
JA’VON ROLLAND-JONES: Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, Ted Hendricks, Senior Bowl
BLAISE TAYLOR: Paul Hornung, Wuerffel Trophy, William V. Campbell Trophy, Senior CLASS Award
WARREN WAND: Doak Walker
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards of total offense in 86 of its last 97 games (.887 percentage). A-State went over 300 yards in all 13 games during head coach Blake Anderson’s first season, while also reaching the mark 11 times in 2015, 10 times in 2016 and seven times this season (41 of 46 games under Anderson).
400-PLUS: Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 29 times over its last 46 games (63 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach. The Red Wolves went over 400 yards in six of its first seven games this season for the first time ever as an FBS member (1992).
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: Including 11 of the last 13 contests, the Red Wolves have now posted at least 30 points in 52 of their last 78 regular-season games (67 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 40 of their last 45 games when scoring at least 30 points.
QUARTERLY REPORT: A-State has scored at least three points in 24 of 28 quarters (86%), including 11 of 12 (92%) versus Sun Belt opponents. During the Blake Anderson era, the next highest percentage through 28 quarters played came during the first seven games of the 2014 season (21 of 28; 75%). The Red Wolves scored in 43 of 52 quarters for the entire 2014 season as well for an .827 percentage that is the highest under Anderson. This year’s team has scored its most points in the fourth quarter (72), but has posted at least 65 in each quarter.
QUICK STRIKE: Twenty-two of A-State’s 43 scoring drives this season have taken less than two minutes (51%) and only one has lasted longer than 3:49. Additionally, 20 of its 34 touchdown-scoring drives have taken two minutes or less, increasing the percentage to 59 percent.
EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE: A-State has recorded at least five explosive plays (20+ yards) in five of its first seven games, including a season-high eight against Louisiana. Out of its 37 total explosive plays, 17 have gone for touchdowns (46%) and 17 have also covered at least 30 yards.
NOW THAT’S JUSTICE: Junior quarterback Justice Hansen was named College Sports Madness’ Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week following each of A-State’s first two games this season. Most recently, he was named the Co-Offensive Sun Belt Conference player of the Week and a Davey O’Brien Award “Great 8” Performer of the Week following the Louisiana game. The week prior, he was tabbed a Manning Award Star of the Week nominee for his performance against Coastal Carolina. He is the only player in the league to rank among the top three players in passing efficiency (1st), passing touchdowns (1st), total offense (2nd) and passing yards avg. (2nd).
SCHOOL-RECORD PERFORMANCE: Junior quarterback Justice Hansen recorded a school-record 46 completions for 415 yards and three touchdowns against Nebraska. He completed 67 percent of his passing attempts, while his 46 completions also tied the second most in Sun Belt Conference history and are currently the second most in the nation this season. His 415 yards were the second most of his career and fourth most in school history.
HITTING THE MARK: Junior quarterback Justice Hansen has now thrown multiple touchdown passes 13 times during his career, including the last nine games in a row dating back to last season. He has thrown for at least 200 yards 14 times, 300 six times and 400 twice. Dating back to last season, Hansen has passed for at least 200 yards his last eight games and in 12 of his last 14.
MULTIPLE WEAPONS: At least nine different A-State players caught at least one pass in four of A-State’s first seven games, including six wide receivers that have set career highs for either receptions, receiving yards and/or receiving touchdowns.
MAKING A MOVE: Junior Blake Mack changed positions from wide receiver to tight end last season, and he has transitioned well with 63 receptions for a team-high 1,016 yards and nine touchdowns during that time. Mack has scored a touchdown in six of his last nine games, including five of seven this season. His first two seasons combined at wide receiver, Mack posted 17 receptions for 235 yards.
MORE ON MACK: Junior Blake Mack’s 1,016 receiving yards accumulated since he changed positions to tight end are the second most in school history by a player at the position, trailing only Steve Lockhart’s 1,216 yards accumulated between 1968-71. Additionally, Mack’s 63 receptions are the third most by an A-State tight end behind Darion Griswold (65 from 2012-15) and Lockhart (79). It should be noted that Mack’s career totals at both the tight end and wide receiver positions are 80 receptions for 1,251 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 27 running scores during his career. White’s 27 career rushing touchdowns are the sixth most in school history.
ABOVE AVERAGE: Senior wide receiver Chris Murray recorded five receptions for a career-high 188 yards and career-best two touchdowns, averaging a Sun Belt Conference record 37.6 yards per catch to help lead Arkansas State to a 43-25 road victory over Georgia Southern. Murray’s receiving yards tied the fourth most in school history and were the most by an Arkansas State player since 1999. They are also the third most by a Sun Belt Conference player this season, as well as the 26th most in the nation. He caught three passes that covered at least 51 yards, including touchdown receptions of 56 and a career-long 57 yards.
MOVING FORWARD: Junior running back Warren Wand has attempted 49 rushes this season and has yet to lose you any yards on a carry. As a team, the Red Wolves are ranked 30th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed with 4.86 per game.
APPROACHING 2,000: Running back Warren Wand finished the Coastal Carolina game with nine rushing yards, pushing his career rushing total to 1,873 yards, leaving him 127 away from becoming the 13th player in A-State history to post 2,000 in a career. He recorded 709 yards in 2015 for the most by a true freshman at A-State since Lamont Zachery ran for 846 in 1996. He entered the season 1,588 yards, the most over a freshman and sophomore season since Reggie Arnold ran for 2,136 combined yards in 2006 and 2007.
NEBRASKA GAME NOTABLES: Arkansas State scored 36 points against Nebraska, which was its most ever against a team currently in a Power 5 conference. A-State’s second highest total was 34 points scored against then-ranked No. 5 Oregon in 2012 (HC Gus Malzahn) and 34 versus Indiana in 2010 (HC Steve Roberts) . . . The Red Wolves also recorded 32 first downs, which tied the sixth most in school history and were their most since posting a school-record tying 34 against New Mexico State in 2011.
A LOSS ON THE PLAY: Dating back to the 2015 season, the Red Wolves have posted at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in 24 consecutive games. A-State posted a season-high 12 tackles for loss versus Louisiana. The Red Wolves are ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and fifth in the nation in tackles for loss with 8.5 per game. Arkansas State led the nation in tackles for loss per game last season with a 9.6 average.
THE NATION’S BEST: A-State recorded a season-high seven sacks against New Mexico State to tie the seventh most in school history and run its season total to 26 for a 3.71 average that ranks No. 1 in the nation. The Red Wolves ranked sixth in country in sacks per game last year with a 3.31 average.
UNDER 300: Arkansas State has held three opponents, including the last two, under 300 yards total offense. The Red Wolves limited New Mexico State to a season-low 256 yards, which was also the fewest allowed by the Red Wolves this year. A-State has allowed an average of just 263 yards total offense to its opponent the last two games.
PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES: A-State is ranked 12th and second in the nation in third (29%) and fourth-down (14%) percentage defense, respectively, while also leading the Sun Belt Conference in both stats. Since beginning league play, the Red Wolves have not allowed a third-down percentage better than .272 in any of its last four games. The Red Wolves’ defense has also been able to get off the field on six of seven fourth-down attempts by its opponents for the entire season.
FORCING TURNOVERS: While Arkansas State didn’t create a turnover against Nebraska or SMU, it has forced 14 in its other five games combined to rank 50th in the nation. The Red Wolves forced a season-high five turnovers against UAPB, which were their most since the ninth game of the 2015 season. Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 38 of 46 games (83%) under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen.
SHUTTING ‘EM OUT: The A-State defense hasn’t allowed any points in the third quarter in five of its first seven games, including the UAPB contest and all four Sun Belt games. The Red Wolves have allowed their fewest points in the third quarter this season, giving up just 14 so far. The next closest is 30 points allowed in the first quarter.
DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE: Arkansas State has ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation in defensive touchdowns each of the last three seasons (2014-16) 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. With defensive touchdowns in back-to-back weeks vs CCU and ULL, A-State is ranked 20th in the nation this season with two. The Red Wolves have 18 total defensive touchdowns over the last four seasons (2014-17).
DOUBLE-FIGURE STOPS: Senior linebacker Kyle Wilson (2), junior nickel Justin Clifton (2) and sophomore safety BJ Edmonds (2) have combined to post double-figure tackles six times this season. Clifton has recorded at least 10 stops five times during his career, while Wilson has hit the mark three times and Edmonds twice. Wilson is currently ranked tied for sixth (8.0 tpg) in the Sun Belt in tackles, Edmonds 12th (7.3 tpg) and Clifton 24th (6.1 tpg).
BREAK IT UP: Thanks in part to a season-high 2 pass break-ups against both SMU and Louisiana, which also tied his career highs, junior defensive back Justin Clifton is tied for the most on the team (7) and ranked tied for fifth in the Sun Belt Conference (1.0 per game). Through just seven games he has already surpassed his total for pass break-ups (6) entering this season, giving him 13 for his career.
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 38.5 to his credit, but is now also within 5.5 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 30 of his last 37 contests dating back to his freshman year, and he has 55.0 during his career, which is the 23rd most in NCAA history.
CASTON STEPPING UP: Just seven games into the season, senior defensive end Caleb Caston has already put up his single-season best numbers for tackles (23), tackles for loss (7.5), sacks (5.0), fumble recoveries (2) and forced fumbles (1). His previous highs were 12 tackles (2015), 3.0 TFL (2016), 2.0 sacks (2014, 2016) and 1 fumble recovery (2014, 2015). He is currently second on the team in sacks and TFL, while also ranking among the top seven players in the Sun Belt Conference in both statistical categories.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
PUNT/RETURN GAME: The Red Wolves are currently ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation in both punt return defense and punt returns. A-State’s punting unit is allowing just 2.0 yard per return to rank sixth in the nation, while its own 17.1 average per return also ranks sixth.
THE PUNTER FROM DOWN UNDER: Versus New Mexico State, sophomore punter Cody Grace recorded a career-high five punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, giving him at least one in every game this season. He also finished with 338 punting yards on eight attempts, both career highs as well.
ELITE KICKOFF COVERAGE: While Arkansas State ranks 43rd in the nation in kickoff return defense at 19.48 yards per return, it has ranked among the top four teams in the nation in kickoff return defense two of the last three years (2014-16) and among the top 18 teams all three seasons under special teams coordinator Luke Paschall entering this year. 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 (2015-16), 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 four punt returns for a touchdown and has gone over 100 return yards three times, including a career-high 114 yards against New Mexico State earlier this season.
SUN BELT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Senior cornerback Blaise Taylor was named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after helping lead Arkansas State to a 37-21 road victory over New Mexico State, recording a school and Sun Belt Conference-record nine punt returns for a career-high 114 yards that were also the third most ever by an A-State player and fifth most in Sun Belt history. Taylor averaged 12.9 yards per attempt on his nine returns that were also the most by an FBS player this year. He recorded over 100 punt return yards in a game for the third time of his career and, in the process, became just the second player in Sun Belt history to go over 1,000 career yards. Taylor’s 114 yards were the most by a Sun Belt player and seventh most in the nation this season, while also giving him four of the top-10 single-game totals in Arkansas State history. He had a long return of 54 yards, which was the second longest in the Sun Belt this year behind only his 63-yard return against Nebraska.