Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
New Orleans Bowl
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Saturday, 8 p.m.
Radio: EAB Red Wolves Sports. TV: ESPN.
Series Record: Tech leads 25-12 and has won 9 of the last 10.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
For one a lot of pride. It is the first meeting of the old rivals, who were once members of the Southland (1971-86) and Big West (1993-95). But the teams have not played since 1998 and in their final decade of play Tech was 8 of 9 games. This one obviously means a lot to the Old Joes in the A-State fan base, who have not forgotten the series just because the teams have not played in almost a generation. Tech, now in Conference-USA, is trying for a 9-win season and its senior class to become the winningest in school history. The Bulldogs believe their program is above A-State and will be out to prove that.
Which defense will have the most success against two very strong offenses. Both teams have been very solid on offense and use somewhat similar styles. Tech QB Jeff Driskel is more of a pocket passer who can run when needed while A-State’s Fredi Knighten is as explosive as any of the Red Wolves’ three standout running backs. Which team is able to best establish the run and take pressure off its QB will be vital.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fredi Knighten. The Red Wolves’ QB has played very well of late and has done it more through the air than on the ground because defenses challenged the senior to beat them with his arm. And he did, throwing for 1,067 yards, 10 TDs and 1 interception in the final 4 games.
In games where he rushes for 70 or more yards they are 6-0 and if he goes for 60 or more they are 8-2 (losses to Tennessee and ULL.)
Tech: QB Jeff Driskel
Driskel has 3,575 passing yards, eighth in school history. He actually threw for more yards and touchdowns (24) this season than in the previous four years at Florida. He ranks in the top 25 nationally in both touchdowns, passing efficiency (150.2), yards per game (292.7) and yards per completion (14.12).
FACTS & FIGURES
The Red Wolves are in the New Orleans Bowl for the second time in the game’s 15-year history, having also playing in the 2005 edition that was moved to Lafayette because of Hurricane Katrina. A-State played in the GoDaddy Bowl the last 4 years and will be making its 13th bowl appearance. The Red Wolves have the nation’s fourth longest winning streak at 8 games. A-State is the only FBS team in the nation to win four conference titles over the last five seasons. A-State has recorded 44 victories since 2011 for the most over a five-year span in school history. Arkansas State broke its school and Sun Belt Conference records for points (492) and touchdowns (66). The Red Wolves’ 5,387 yards offense ranks fourth best in school history. A-State’s defense is first in the nation in defensive touchdowns (8), passes intercepted (26) and turnovers gained (34) . . . A-State’s 26 interceptions are the most in Sun Belt Conference history.
Louisiana Tech first team All-Conference senior RB Kenneth Dixon has 83 career touchdowns, tied with Montee Ball (Wisconsin, 2009-12) and Keenan Reynolds (Navy, 2012-present) for the NCAA-record. Senior QB Jeff Driskel was named C-USA Newcomer of the Year after passing for 3,575 yards, a number ranked eighth in school history. He ranks in the top 25 nationally in passing touchdowns, passing efficiency (150.2), passing yards per game (292.7) and passing yards per completion (14.12) this season. Tech is making back-to-back bowl appearances for just the second time in school history. The Bulldogs enter with a school record 10 outings with more than 400 total yards and this year's squad ranks fourth in school history in total yards (5,589) and points scored (441) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (25). Tech has the top rushing defense in C-USA, allowing just 114.4 yards per game on the ground.
A-State’s Blake Anderson: “Louisiana Tech is balanced on offense with weapons in all phases, and (quarterback Jeff) Driskel can throw and run. He’s a big target, so he’s a guy you’ve got to have bodies on, and he’s not easy to take down. Their running back is as good as or better than anyone we’ve seen all season, and they have a couple of speed targets that are hard to match up with.
“I kind of look at us, and I think they’re similar. You have to defend everything. Defensively, they are built great against the run and we like to run the ball, so somebody’s got to give. Also, can we throw and catch effectively to soften up the defense. To me, those are kind of chess match conversations throughout the game – who has a turnover, who makes a mistake – that will have a big impact on the game.”
Louisiana Tech’s Skip Holtz: “They have a good team. I do not think they won just from momentum. They have a lot of confidence and they are playing with a lot of swagger. They are doing a good job on both sides of the ball. They are creating a lot of turnovers. They are scoring a lot of points. When you do that, you are going to win a lot of football games. I think for us, the challenge is going to be more about the product on the field. Hopefully we can hold on to the ball a little better than we did in the last game of the season, because seven turnovers in a game of that magnitude is frustrating for everyone from coaches, fan base and players. When you turn the ball over, it is hard to win. I know Southern Miss went to the championship game and had four turnovers in that game. We have talked a lot about the role turnovers play in winning and losing. We are going to have to do a better job protecting the ball."