Red Wolves

Following a pair of home games to begin its 2021 campaign, Arkansas State returns to action Saturday with its first road test of the season at Pac-12 foe Washington. The contest will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, and every A-State football game can be heard live on 107.9 FM in the Northeast Arkansas area. The live broadcast can also be accessed on the official A-State Athletics web site (AStateRedWolves.com).

Playing two consecutive home games to start a season for the first time since 1987, the Red Wolves knocked off Central Arkansas 40-21 to start the year before falling 55-50 against Memphis the following week in a game that came down to the final play. A preseason Top-25 team, Washington will enter the contest with an 0-2 record after falling 13-7 at home against Montana and 31-10 at Michigan.

Butch Jones was announced as the Red Wolves’ 31st all-time head football coach on December 12, 2020. Jones not only brought 11 years of head-coaching experience at the NCAA FBS level with him to Jonesboro after previous stops leading the football programs at Tennessee (2013-17), Cincinnati (2010-12) and Central Michigan (2007-09), but he also spent the last three seasons (2018-20) working as part of Nick Saban’s staff at national-power Alabama. During Jones’ first 11 seasons serving as a head coach, his teams combined to win four conference championships, played in eight bowl games and finished ranked in the AP Top 25 five times. He has coached a combined 77 all-conference honorees and 27 NFL Draft picks.

Butch Jones is A-State’s 31st all-time head coach, but became just the 11th to claim a victory in his first ever game at the school. Each of the two head coaches (Blake Anderson and Bryan Harsin) immediately preceding Jones won their initial games, but Harsin in 2013 was actually the first to do so 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 Jones (2021), Anderson (2014), Harsin, Lacewell, Bill Davidson (1971), Gene Harlow (1955), Glen Harmeson (1954), Bill Adams (1939), Jack Dale (1931), Bill Stanley (1924) and Clint Young (1913). Among the same group, Davidson was the last to win his first two games in 1971.

The ASU-Washington series

The Red Wolves are traveling to Seattle this week for their first ever matchup against Washington, which is their first against a Pac-12 member since playing USC in 2015.

Arkansas State is set to face a current member of the Pac-12 for just the third time in school history. The Red Wolves’ only other two meetings against a current member of the league came in their 2012 season opener at No. 5 Oregon (L, 57-34)and in 2015 at No. 8 USC (L, 55-6).

Research indicates that Butch Jones is one of nine FBS head coaches in the nation with a son currently playing at an FBS institution. Adam Jones, one of Jones’ three sons, is currently a redshirt freshman wide receiver for the Red Wolves after transferring from Central Michigan to A-State after Jones accepted the Red Wolves’ head coaching position. Jones’ oldest son, Alex, is also in his first season in an offensive quality control position for the Red Wolves. His youngest son, Andrew, is a member of the freshman football team at Valley View in Jonesboro.

An A-State victory would …Give the Red Wolves their first victory in school history over a Pac-12 member, mark the second straight season it has defeated a Power 5 conference opponent (W 35-31 at Kansas State last year) and it give the Red Wolves three victories over a P5 team since moving to FBS status in 1992 (also won 18-14 at Texas A&M in 2008), give the Red Wolves a winning record after three games for the first time since 2018 and just the sixth time since moving to FBS status in 1992 (2021, 2018, 2013, 2008, 2003, 1995).

Quarterbacks James Blackman (306) and Layne Hatcher (276) combined to pass for a school-record 582 yards that were also the third most in Sun Belt history last week versus Memphis, marking the fifth consecutive game dating back to last season that the Red Wolves have thrown for at least 300 yards. A-State has also completed at least four touchdown passes in each of its last five games, including its first two this season and last three of 2020. Both Hatcher and Blackman came off the bench versus UCA and Memphis, respectively, to throw four touchdown passes.

Not only did A-State set the school record for passing yards (582) last week versus Memphis, they also broke the school record for first downs in a game with 35. The Red Wolves finished the contest with 98 plays, the second most in school history, and 680 yards of total offense for the fourth most ever by an A-State team. Wide receiver Jeff Foreman finished the outing with a career-best eight receptions for 198 yards, which were the sixth most in school history for a single game. Foreman has posted at least 100 receiving yards in four of the Red Wolves’ last five games, dating back to last season. Additionally, Te’Vailance Hunt caught nine passes covering 123 yards, giving A-State three receivers this year with at least 100 receiving yards in a game. Corey Rucker had 138 yards against UCA.

Rushing Red Wolves

Although A-State was unable to hit the century mark with 98 rushing yards last week versus Memphis, five A-State players combined to post 194 rushing yards in the Red Wolves’ season opener. The 194 yards were just five shy of the team’s season-best total for all of last season. Running backs Alan Lamar, Marcel Murray and Johnnie Lang Jr. each ran for at least 36 yards against the Bears.

A-State running back Johnnie Lang Jr. posted three punt returns for 44 yards against UCA, surpassing the team’s 11 total punt return yards for all of last season. Lang averaged 14.7 yards per attempt with a long return covering 29 yards. A-State didn’t attempt a punt return last week versus Memphis.

Running back Alan Lamar posted six kickoff returns for 113 yards against Memphis, marking the first time an A-State player eclipsed 100 return yards since Roshauud Paul posted 126 against Appalachian State last season – a span of seven games. Paul’s total marked the only time last season an A-State player went over 100 yards in kickoff returns. Lamar’s six returns tied the seventh most in school history for a single game.

A-State won the turnover battle in each of its first two games this season, posting two interceptions against UCA and two fumble recoveries against Memphis while turning the ball over only once (fumble vs UCA). A-State held a -4 turnover margin last season, posting 12 turnovers gained to its 16 turnovers lost. The Red Wolves posted multiple turnovers in back-to-back games just once last season (Oct. 3 at Coastal Carolina, Oct. 10 vs Central Arkansas).

Cornerback Samy Johnson and EJ Alexander each intercepted a pass in A-State’s season opener, which matched the Red Wolves’ single-game season high for all of last year. A-State picked off just six passes for the entire 2020 season. Alexander intercepted his first career pass at A-State, while Johnson collected his third.

A-State’s defense allowed just 42 rushing yards to UCA, which were its fewest allowed in a game since limiting New Mexico State to 35 yards on Oct. 28, 2017. The Red Wolves finished their season opener versus the Bears with 6.0 tackles for loss of 21 yards. Three of those came from defensive end Kivon Bennett, matching his career high originally set at Tennessee.

Arkansas State entered the season with nine different offensive linemen who had combined to start 149 career games at the FBS level, which was the fourth most in the nation behind only Minnesota (180), Miami (159) and Michigan State (151). Including players who have started at least one FCS game, the Red Wolves had 10 o-linemen who combined for 157 career starts, which was also the fourth most in the nation behind Illinois (193), Minnesota (180) and Miami (159).

Wide receiver Corey Rucker was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 6 after recording nine receptions for 138 yards and three touchdowns against UCA. He was also named the league’s offensive player of the week following the Red Wolves’ 2020 season finale. Over his last three games played, he has recorded 23 receptions for 524 yards and eight touchdowns – he has at least one TD reception in each of those three outings.

Arkansas State has strung together 16 consecutive years (2005-20) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 72-20 (.783 winning percentage) when playing at home since the 2005 season. A-State’s actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 164-83-1 since it opened in 1974.

Arkansas State won its season opener this year for the first time since 2018, running its record in such games since moving to FBS status in 1992 to 7-23. The Red Wolves six season-opening wins since moving to FBS status include:

2021 vs Central Arkansas (W, 40-21)

2018 vs Southeast Missouri State (W, 48-21)

2014 vs Montana State (W, 37-10)

2013 vs UAPB (W, 62-11)

2008 at Texas A&M (W, 18-14)

2006 vs Army (W, 14-6)

1995 vs Utah State (W, 21-17)

Arkansas State began its 2021 campaign with back-to-back home games for the first time since 1987. The Red Wolves hosted Central Arkansas in its season opener on Sept. 4 and Memphis this past Saturday. The Red Wolves also opened their season at home for the sixth time over the last nine years.

The Arkansas State football team was picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division in the league’s preseason coaches poll. The Red Wolves received one first-place vote and 38 points, 11 fewer than a Louisiana team that picked up nine first-place votes. A-State checks in as the West Division No. 2 pick for the third consecutive season in the poll. The Red Wolves return six starters on offense and nine on defense from last year’s squad.

Between Athlon Sports, Phil Steele’s, College Football News and Pro Football Focus, 13 different A-State players have received preseason All-Sun Belt Conference recognition. The A-State players who have been recognized include defensive end TW Ayers, defensive lineman Kivon Bennett, linebacker Caleb Bonner, safety Antonio Fletcher, wide receiver Jeff Foreman, wide receiver Dahu Green, kicker Blake Grupe, defensive lineman Terry Hampton, offensive lineman Andre Harris Jr., quarterback Layne Hatcher, running back Marcel Murray, wide receiver Corey Rucker and tight end Reed Tyler.

A-State’s first spring camp under HC Butch Jones wrapped up April 17 with its spring game at Centennial Bank Stadium. There were several spring-camp team awards presented as the football staff chose five individuals who maintained consistent success on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom. The players recognized for “consistency in performance” were wide receiver Corey Rucker (offense), linebacker Caleb Bonner (defense) and kicker Blake Grupe (special teams). Senior safety EJ Alexander was awarded the “Pack Performance Award” for his consistent performance in the weight room. Defensive back Taylon Doss was issued the 4-6/A to B” award for his performance on special teams in the secondary.

Junior kicker Blake Grupe was responsible for a career-high 14 points during Arkansas State’s game against Memphis as he connected on all three of his field goal attempts and made 5-of-5 extra points. The Sedalia, Mo., native’s 14 points tied the seventh most in school history and were just three shy of tying the fifth most in Sun Belt Conference history.

His three field goals made tied the most of his career, and he was successful on a 48-yard attempt that was the longest of his career. Grupe’s other two field goals covered 37 and 34 yards. He has already made five field goals this season, giving him 49 for his career that stand as the third most in school history. He ran his career points-scored total to 287, which gives him the fifth most points by kicking in Sun Belt history.

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