Blaise Taylor (above) is one of the key players for Arkansas State
Coming off a surprising 31-10 loss at home to Toledo, the Arkansas State Red Wolves are expected to be a hungry bunch when they roll into Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday looking to pull off the upset against the Auburn Tigers.
Winners of four of the last five Sun Belt Conference championships, Arkansas State has more talent than it showed last week and that begins on offense where transfer quarterback Chad Voytik (6-1, 215) leads a group with plenty of potential. Coming in from Pitt, Voytik completed 11-24 passes in the opener for 124 yards and added 38 yards rushing, but 23 in losses kept his day from being a good one on the ground.
The running game is led by mighty-mite Warren Wand. The 5-5, 179-pounder rushed for 77 yards on just 12 carries a week ago after rushing for 709 yards as a true freshman a season ago. Armond Weh-Weh (6-0, 205) is a junior college transfer who should continue to see his role increase after carrying the ball five times for 29 yards a week ago.
Running Back Warren Wand is a key player for the Red Wolves.
Tallassee native Dijon Paschal (6-1, 209) is the deep receiver threat of the group, catching 28 passes for 541 yards and three touchdowns despite having prolific receivers J.D. McKissic and Tres Houston getting plenty of touches. Another player coming back home is Auburn High standout and son of former Auburn assistant Curtis Luper, Cameron Echols-Luper. Transferring to Arkansas State from TCU, Echols-Luper is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands as he showed last week with a 24-yard punt return.
Another big-play threat for the Red Wolves is tight end Blake Mack. At 6-3, 245 he has the speed to turn a short play into a big gainer a she showed last week with an 83-yard reception against Toledo.
Up front is the key for the Arkansas State offense with four senior starters returning from one of the best lines in the Sun Belt. Joseph Baccus (6-5, 291, Sr.), Jemar Clark (6-6, 307, Sr.), Colton Jackson (6-4, 300, Sr.) and Devin Mondie (6-5, 302, Sr.) give the Red Wolves plenty of experience, something that is worth watching on Saturday night.
On defense one of the players to watch for Arkansas State is Eufaula native Xavier Woodson-Luster. A talented athlete coming out of high school, he has developed into a playmaker for the Red Wolves at linebacker. Last week Woodson-Luster (6-1, 207, Sr.) totaled a team-leading14 tackles and also forced a fumble after making 71 stops a year ago with two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Xavier Woodson-Luster had two interceptions, part of a nation-leading 26 for Arkansas State in 2015.
A player who tied for the team lead in tackles a season, athletic safety Money Hunter, is the son of former Major League Baseball standout Tori Hunter. The 6-1, 185 senior made seven tackles a week ago. Also in the secondary is Spain Park High alum Chris Humes. Last season the 5-11, 206 senior had a pair of interceptions and six pass break-ups for the Red Wolves.
Up front the Arkansas State defense is led by Wayon Roberson (6-2, 341, Sr.), Robert Mondie (6-2, 321, Sr.) and former Auburn commitment Dee Liner (6-3, 325, Sr.) in the middle. Liner is a trasfer from Alabama. Playing a three-man front at least two of them will usually be on the field at the same time with sophomore Donovan Ransom (6-1, 304) also in the mix. At end Caleb Caston (6-2, 240, So.) and junior Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (6-2, 233) will both see time. Last season the speedy Rolland-Jones led the team with nine sacks.
On the other side the Bandit position is held down by senior Chris Odom (6-3, 256) with sophomore and Auburn native Griffin Riggs (6-3, 253) backing him up. Another Auburn native stands out in the secondary for Arkansas State, athletic cornerback Blaise Taylor. The son of current Arkansas State assistant Trooper Taylor, the 5-9, 165 junior is also one of the top punt returners in the Sun Belt Conference.
Taylor or Echols-Luper are expected to handle the duties in the kickoff return game for the Red Wolves. Taylor’s 556 career punt return yards are the second-most in school history. Kicker J.D. Houston (5-11, 175, Sr.) is back after connecting on 12-14 field goals last season.
Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson said the Red Wolves have been dealing with what he called a "stomach virus" with more than a dozen of the players falling ill this week.
Kickoff time is 6:30 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.