In the six weeks leading up to SEC Media Days, the blog will run a twice a week feature on one of Missouri’s 12 scheduled opponents for the 2015 regular season.
Today, that opponent is Arkansas State:
Game Date/Time/TV: Sept. 12/6 p.m./ESPN3
Site: Centennial Bank Stadium (30,406); Jonesboro, Ark.
Nickname: Red Wolves
Location: Jonesboro, Ark.
2014 Record: 7-6, 5-3 Sun Belt (Lost GoDaddy Bowl, 63-44, to Toledo)
Coach: Blake Anderson (Sam Houston State, 1992); 7-6 (1 year)
Series vs. MU: Missouri, 3-0
Last Meeting: Missouri, 41-19, in Columbia (2013)
How This Game Came to Be: The two sides agreed to a home-and-home series in January 2013. St. Louis actively pursued Arkansas State to move its home game to Busch Stadium this year, but the Red Wolves decided to keep it a true home game.
Notable National Rankings
Special Teams Defense: 4th in kick return (16.3 yards per return); 9th in punt return (3.1 yards per)
Opportunistic Defense: 14th in defensive TDs (4); 15th in interceptions (16)
Sacks: 17th (2.85 per game)
Tackles for Loss Allowed: 114th (7.23 per game)
Avoiding Penalties: 114th in penalties per game (8.00); 113th in penalty yards per game (69.6)
Rushing Defense: 103rd (205.2 yards per game)
What’s Coming Back?
Fredi Knighten (5-11/189, Sr.): 269-of-423 passing, 3277 yards, 24 TD, 7 INT, 141.08 rating; 211 carries, 779 yards, 11 TD
Michael Gordon (5-9/187, Sr.): 159 carries, 1100 yards, 13 TD; 25 catches, 191 yards, TD
Tres Houston (6-2/188, Sr.): 53 catches, 685 yards, 4 TD
Tackles- OLB Xavier Woodson (6-1/214, Jr.): 95
TFL- DE Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (6-2/224, Soph.): 12.0
Sacks- Rolland-Jones: 8.0
INT- SS Money Hunter (6-1/193, Jr.): 2
Passes Defended- CB Rocky Hayes (5-11/177, Sr.): 6
Three Things to Know
- They Actually Have a Second-Year Coach: Which is actually kind of a feat given how things have gone in Jonesboro over the past couple of years. Hugh Freeze took over in 2011, went 10-3, then left for Ole Miss. Gus Malzahn took his place in 2012, went 10-3, then left for Auburn. Bryan Harsin followed in 2013, went 8-5, then left for Boise State. Anderson came over from North Carolina, where he was the Tar Heels’ offensive coordinator, went 7-6, then…actually stuck around to see his second season. So, for the first time since 2010, the Red Wolves actually have the luxury of not having to learn a new offense/defense/coaching staff heading into the year. That didn’t necessarily work out so great then — ninth-year coach Steve Roberts went 4-8 and resigned — but the cachet and recruiting might that young, energetic, high-profile coaches such as Freeze, Malzahn, Harsin and Anderson have brought with them has left Arkansas State pretty well stocked for 2015. Which leads us to the next point…
- Their Offense is Legit: And has been so for a hot minute. That’s what you get when you hire a string of offensive coordinators as your head coach. Arkansas State’s 476.5 yards a game ranked 20th in the FBS last year. That followed 23rd (447.8) in 2011, 23rd (466.7) in 2012 and a brief step down to 66th (407.8) in 2013. Still, the Red Wolves have averaged more than 400 yards and 29 points a game in each of the past five seasons. Last year’s offense set program records in yards per game and total points, and Arkansas State returns basically all of the important parts from that team. Knighten makes it all go. He’s a Parade All-American from Little Rock that does things like account for a stat on 73 plays in one game, as he did when he attempted 57 passes, ran the ball 16 times and racked up 443 total yards against Texas State last year. The Red Wolves run that breakneck pace, no-huddle offense that Freeze, Malzahn et al love so much, so Knighten is expected to share the wealth as well. His three go-to receivers from last season — Houston, 5-11, 193-pound run/catch threat J.D. McKissicand 6-1, 196-pound big-play guy Dijon Paschal (sidebar: I covered both McKissic and Paschal when they were in high school…but that’s neither here nor there) — are all back, as well as his zone-read counterpart Gordon, who benefits from the fact that defenses have to be very aware of Knighten tucking the ball and keeping it for himself. And all this while the Red Wolves are running a play every 22 seconds of game clock.
- They Get Creative with Fake Punts: Missouri has been known to bust out a fake punt every once in a while, but it’s usually a pretty straightforward, snap the ball to Harold Brantley and watch him go to town type thing. The Red Wolves like to switch things up a bit. Witness: the one they ran against Miami last September. Punter Luke Ferguson took the snap and winged the ball downfield. Gunner Booker Mays, lined up wide to the right of Ferguson, appeared to drop dead on the spot. Don’t worry, folks. He was OK. He was just supposed to be a distraction. One that didn’t really work, as Hurricanes linebacker Raphael Kirby picked off the pass. And Mays, once he’d picked himself off the turf, got smeared by Miami linebacker Thurston Armbrister for his troubles. But hey, points for ingenuity. Right?
Rodger Bumpass: Which, apparently, is his real name. The 1976 graduate of Arkansas State is the voice of Squidward on the show “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which people my age seem to find funny but I just never really got.This is Squidward. This is Roger. I see the resemblance.
The Red Wolves have five players on their roster from Missouri, including sophomore defensive end Jonah Hill, a Springfield Hillcrest grad who was not nominated for an Oscar for his role in “Moneyball.” Sophomore offensive lineman Daniel Keith was a high-school teammate of Missouri redshirt freshman defensive end Walter Brady at Florence (Ala.) High.