Defense and Special Teams

 

DEFENSIVE NOTES

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 21 consecutive games. A-State posted a season-high nine tackles for loss versus both UAPB and Georgia Southern. The Red Wolves are ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and 31st in the nation in tackles for loss with 7.1 per game. Arkansas State led the nation in tackles for loss per game last season with a 9.6 average.

FORCING TURNOVERS: While Arkansas State didn’t create a turnover against Nebraska or SMU, it forced five in its game against UAPB and four against Georgia Southern.  Its five total turnovers gained against the Golden Lions (3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries) where the Red Wolves most since the ninth game of the 2015 season (4 INT/1 FR vs. ULM). A-State’s three interceptions were also its most since recording three against New Mexico State in the 11th game of the 2015 season.

SHUTTING ‘EM OUT: The A-State defense hasn’t allowed any points in the first or third quarters in two of its first four games, including the UAPB and Georgia Southern contests. The Red Wolves have allowed their fewest points in the third quarter this season, giving up just 14 so far.

WILSON TIES CAREER HIGH: Senior linebacker Kyle Wilson was responsible for a team-high 13 tackles against Georgia Southern, which also tied his personal best originally set last year against the Eagles as well. Wilson has now recorded at least 10 tackles in two of A-State’s first four games this season and in three games during his career. Wilson, ranked seventh in the Sun Belt Conference in tackles, has led the team in stops two of the first four games (Nebraska and Georgia Southern).

DOUBLE-DIGIT STOPS: Thanks in part to 12 tackles and two pass break-ups against SMU, both of which tied his career highs, junior defensive back Justin Clifton is ranked third on the team in stops and leads the squad in pass break-ups. His performance against the Mustangs marked the fourth time of his career he has finished with a double-figure tackles total.

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 32.5 to his credit, but is now also within 11.5 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 27 of his last 34 contests dating back to his freshman year, and he has 48 during his career.

MORE ON ROLLAND-JONES: Senior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones recorded season-high totals for tackles (6), tackles for loss (2), sacks (2) and forced fumbles (1) during Arkansas State’s 43-25 road victory against Georgia Southern. He increased his career sacks total to 32.5, moving him into a tie for the 14th most in NCAA history. His forced fumble was recovered by teammate Caleb Caston to end a Georgia Southern drive that reached the Arkansas State 31-yard line.

CASTON STEPPING UP: Just four games into the season, senior defensive end Caleb Caston has already put up his single-season best numbers for tackles (13), tackles for loss (4.5), sacks (3.0) and forced fumbles (1). His previous highs were 12 tackles (2015), 3.0 TFL (2016) and 2.0 sacks (2014, 2016). He currently leads the Red Wolves in sacks and TFL, while also ranking among the top 12 players in the Sun Belt Conference in both statistical categories. His path thus far is similar to that of former A-State defensive end Chris Odom, whose production exploded his senior season in 2016. Through four games last year, Odom had 23 tackles, 3.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks.  Odom was named a First Team All-Sun Belt pick last season and is now a member of the Green Bay Packers.

TURNAGE TURNS IT UP: Junior linebacker Antwon Turnage entered the Georgia Southern game without any career tackles, but changed that in a big way with nine stops and 1.5 tackles for loss in his most extended playing time since transferring to A-State last season as a sophomore. At the same time, his opportunities have been limited after suffering a season-ending injury in the second game of the 2016 season.

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. The Red Wolves have 16 total defensive touchdowns over the last three seasons (2014-16).

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES

PUNT/RETURN) GAME: The Red Wolves are currently ranked among the top 28 teams in the nation in both punt return defense and punt returns. A-State’s punting unit is allowing just 2.7 yard per return to rank 21st in the nation, while its own 16.6 average per return ranks ninth. Sophomore punter Cody Grace enjoyed the best game of his young career against SMU with career highs for punting yards (289), average (46.5) and punts inside the 20 (3). Blaise Taylor has accounted for every A-State return, ranking him seventh in the nation individually.

ELITE KICKOFF COVERAGE: While Arkansas State ranks 116th in the nation in kickoff return defense at 26.2 yards per return, that average is an aberation from the previous three years and is skewed with a 99-yard return by Nebraska. Take out the 99-yard return, and A-State’s average allowed drops to 18.1 yards per return, which would rank 32nd in the country. Arkansas State 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. 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 twice, including a career-high 111 yards against New Mexico State in 2015.