Arkansas State gave reigning Sun Belt Conference champion Troy something extra to worry about heading into this Saturday's league game, which is crucial to the Red Wolves' hopes for conference contention.
Specifically, the Red Wolves displayed a formidable rushing attack to go with the already dangerous passing game during a 34-20 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. ASU generated 234 yards on the ground against a Warhawks team that traditionally has been very good against the run. That total easily was a season high for Arkansas State, which came into the game as the second-worst rushing team in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision.
"I felt like that was something the media was creating, that we couldn't run the football," coach Steve Roberts said after ASU logged its first win of the season. "You hadn't really seen us try to run the football yet. We had a lot of confidence we were going to be able to do that."
It wasn't just that Arkansas State couldn't run the ball. The Red Wolves also showed a commitment to the run, attempting 48 rushes during the game to nearly equal the number of run plays called in the two prior games of the 2010 football season combined.
While QB Ryan Aplin did most of the damage on the ground, the numbers compiled by RB's Derek Lawson and Sir Gregory Thornton also provide reason for encouragement. Lawson averaged better than five yards a carry while amassing 52 yards, and Thornton-considered the top back coming out of the state of Tennessee-averaged 6.0 yards a carry on five attempts.
If Arkansas State can maintain that type of balance, while continuing to make its major gains through the air, the Red Wolves could pose a significant bid to Troy's Sun Belt superiority.
• Kickoff for Arkansas State's game against Troy has been moved to 2:30 p.m. Central time to accommodate a Sun Belt Network telecast.
• Competing in the heat, and staying hydrated, will be key for both teams. The forecast in Troy calls for a high of 90 degrees on Saturday. Arkansas State played in a 101-degree heat index on Sept. 11 at Louisiana-Lafayette, and four Red Wolves could not finish the game due to heat-related issues.
• Arkansas State ranks fourth in the nation in passing offense at 333.7 yards per game.
• QB Ryan Aplin, who's fifth nationally in total offense at 338.7 ypg, earned Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season, but split the most recent accolades with his Troy counterpart, Corey Robinson.
• Aplin also earned Rivals.com's Sun Belt Player of the Week award.
Series History: Arkansas State leads 5-4 (last meeting, 2009, 30-27 Troy).
Scouting The Offense: Aplin remains the most prolific passer in the Sun Belt. Allen Muse and Dwayne Frampton continue to flourish as his top targets. The O-line had its best effort of the season in the win over Louisiana-Monroe, clearing the way for a season-high rushing performance and surrendering just one sack.
Scouting The Defense: Arkansas State still has a ways to go to match some of the tough defenses the program has fielded during coach Steve Roberts' prior tenure. At the quarter mark of its season, ASU ranks seventh in the Sun Belt in both points (34.3) and yardage (479.0) allowed.
Quote To Note: "He kept a lot of plays alive with his decision making and his ability to get out of trouble. I thought we did a great job of picking up all the different looks and blitzes, and he did a great job of knowing where his hots (receivers) were and who was the unprotected rusher that was coming. He did a great job of avoiding that and distributing the ball to 10 or 11 other people during the game. To go against all those different looks and not give up a sack, I think that's tremendous."-Steve Roberts, on the play of QB Ryan Aplin during the victory against Louisiana-Monroe
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: Arkansas State at Troy, Sept. 25-It's a watershed game for the Red Wolves (1-2, 1-1), who certainly will know where they stand in the Sun Belt Conference after facing a Troy team that has won or shared the league title in four straight seasons. It's also yet another road game, one of five ASU will play in its first seven games of the season.
Keys To The Game: Keep up with the competition. Arkansas State has enjoyed more success on offense in the scheme of new coordinator Hugh Freeze, but Troy currently leads the conference in both total yardage and points scored. This game won't be a low-scoring shootout, so it's vital the Red Wolves produce enough offense to keep pace.
Players To Watch:
QB Phillip Butterfield-The backup to starter Ryan Aplin, Butterfield provided a different look for ASU against Louisiana-Monroe and made things happen by running out of the shotgun. Bringing Butterfield in as a change of pace gives the Red Wolves' already potent offense an extra dimension.
PK Bobby Zalud-The true freshman had 10 points on a pair of field goals and four extra points against Louisiana-Monroe. A reliable kicker can make a difference in close games, and given the parity that can exist in Sun Belt play, Zalud could prove vital during the 2010 campaign.
DB M.D. Jennings-The Red Wolves' defensive back just keeps making plays. He had two interceptions against the Warhawks and leads the team with 20 total tackles thus far this season.
• Jennings was named to the honorable mention list of defensive backs by the College Football Performance Awards for his play against Louisiana-Monroe.
• WR Dwayne Frampton is tied for 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in catches, averaging seven grabs per game.
• P Dean Gericke, just a sophomore, had a 64-yard punt in the loss to Louisiana-Lafayette