CAMELLIA BOWL: Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Florida International (6-6)
Dec. 21, 2019 | Cramton Bowl
Montgomery, Ala. | 4:30 p.m. CT
Radio: EAB Red Wolves Sports Network (107.9 FM, flagship)
Matt Stolz (pxp), Tim Allison (analyst), Brad Bobo (sideline)
Taylor Zarzour (pxp), Matt Stinchcomb (analyst), Alyssa Lang (sideline)
Live Stats: AStateStats.com
Live Game Notes: twitter.com/AStateGameDay
ON TAP: Arkansas State is set to make its ninth consecutive bowl game appearance, facing Conference USA member Florida International in the 2019 Camellia Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 4:30 p.m. (CT). The contest will appear on ESPN, and every Red Wolves football game can be heard live on 107.9 FM in the Northeast Arkansas area. The live radio broadcast can also be accessed on the official A-State Athletics web site (AStateRedWolves.com) and the A-State Athletics app.
THE PRINCIPALS: The Red Wolves are making their 17th all-time bowl appearance and their second at the Camellia Bowl, where they played Middle Tennessee in 2017. With its matchup against the Panthers, A-State will remain the only Sun Belt team to ever face a Conference USA opponent in the bowl game. Since its inaugural year in 2014, the Camellia Bowl has featured a Sun Belt versus Mid-American matchup in four of the six contests. Arkansas State also becomes the second program to ever appear in the Camellia Bowl twice, joining Appalachian State (2015 and 2016). FIU completed the regular season with a 6-6 overall record and 3-5 mark in conference play. The Panthers are making a school-record third consecutive bowl-game appearance.
HEAD COACH BLAKE ANDERSON: Blake Anderson, an 18-year coaching veteran at the NCAA FBS level who also coached in an NJCAA National Championship game, was named the Red Wolves’ 30th all-time head coach on Dec. 19, 2013. Anderson led the Red Wolves to Sun Belt Conference championships in 2015 and 2016, as well as six consecutive winning seasons and six bowl-game appearances (2019 and 2017 Camellia Bowl, 2018 Arizona Bowl, 2016 Cure Bowl, 2015 New Orleans Bowl, 2014 GoDaddy Bowl) during his first six seasons leading the program. Under his direction, the Red Wolves have set nine new single-season records, including average yards total offense (494.8 ypg in 2017), total offense (6,174 yards in 2014) and points scored (520 in 2015).
FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS: The Arkansas State Athletics Department family was saddened to learn of the passing late Monday night, Aug. 19, of Wendy Anderson, wife of sixth-year head football coach Blake Anderson. Wendy’s courageous battle with cancer will continue to serve as an inspiration to many across the nation, and the outpouring of support far and wide for the Andersons and the A-State family has been overwhelming. Anderson took a leave of absence to be with his family until Sept. 7, when he returned to the sidelines to lead A-State to a 43-17 win over UNLV. Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator David Duggan served as the Red Wolves’ interim head coach from Aug. 19 until Anderson’s return on Sept. 7.
COURAGE AWARD: A-State head football coach Blake Anderson was named on Sept. 18 as the first weekly nominee for the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, presented annually since 2002 to one recipient for displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through a hardship. Anderson is the second Arkansas State coach or player to be a nominee for the honor, joining former defensive lineman Brandon Rollins in 2005. Rollins, from Texarkana, Texas, was a finalist for the award after fully recovering from an elevator accident that occurred prior to the 2003 season, causing multiple injuries while also requiring numerous surgeries.
FAST START: Out of 30 all-time head coaches at Arkansas State, Blake Anderson became one of just four to win at least seven games in his first season (2014) at the school. The other head coaches to win at least seven games in their first season as head coach at A-State were Bryan Harsin (2013), Gus Malzahn (2012) and Hugh Freeze (2011).
SIX YEARS RUNNING: Blake Anderson is the only head coach in Arkansas State history to win 46 or more games over his first six years at the school. Additionally, he is one of just three head coaches at A-State to ever direct the program to at least 46 wins in 75 or fewer games -- Forrest England won 48 games over the same span between 1946-52 and Bennie Ellender won 51 times over his first 75 games between 1963-70.
DOUBLE DIGITS: Including three of their seven victories this season, 38 of the Red Wolves’ 46 wins under head coach Blake Anderson have come by 10 or more points. At the same time four of their eight single-digit victories under Anderson have been posted this season. That is the program’s most single-digit wins in one season since the 2013 season when it also had four, including a 23-20 victory in the GoDaddy Bowl. Arkansas State has outscored its opponents 1,933-943 in the 46 wins under Anderson for a 21.5-point average scoring difference.
SINGLE DIGITS: Arkansas State finished the regular season playing in four-consecutive one-possession games. Not including ties, it marks the seventh time an A-State team has played one-possession games in four straight contests. The 2019 Red Wolves finished 3-1 over the final stretch of four tight games. It marked the first time in the seven occasions that an A-State team posted a winning record in the string of one-score contests. The 1988 A-State team played in a school-record five one-possession games in a row, compiling a 1-4 record in that span.
CLIMBING THE LADDER: Blake Anderson has led the Red Wolves to a pair of Sun Belt titles and collected 36 league wins along the way, which are the second most ever by any of the conference’s all-time head coaches.
BROYLES AWARD NOMINEE: Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf was one of 41 nominees for the Broyles Award, issued annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
THE ARKANSAS STATE-FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL: Arkansas State holds a 6-2 all-time record against Florida International in a series that dates back to the 2005 season. A-State won the first three meetings, as well as the last two played in 2011 and 2012. Both FIU wins in the series have been by a touchdown or less, while five of A-State’s six victories have been by at least 14 points.
A-STATE vs C-USA: The Red Wolves will play their first game against a Conference USA opponents since playing Middle Tennessee in the 2017 Camellia Bowl. A-State, which shared the Sun Belt Conference with five current C-USA members at some point between 2001-13, has played eight of the 14 teams comprising the league today. The Red Wolves hold a 43-64-1 all-time record against current members of the league, including UAB (0-2), FAU (2-3), FIU (6-2), Louisiana Tech (12-26), Middle Tennessee (5-10), North Texas (13-8), Southern Miss (2-9) and Western Kentucky (3-4-1). A-State was a member of the Sun Belt with current C-USA programs North Texas and Middle Tennessee from 2001-12, FIU and FAU from 2005-12 and Western Kentucky from 2009-13.
BOWL ELIGIBLE: Arkansas State has obtained bowl eligibility status each of the last nine years (2011-19) and 12 times over the last 15 seasons. Arkansas State has become bowl eligible in 10 games or less each of those seasons. Since moving to FBS status in 1992, the earliest A-State ever became bowl eligible was in 2011 when it was 6-2 through eight games.
BOWL STREAK: Arkansas State has made a school-record nine consecutive bowl-game appearances (2011-19), which is the third longest streak in the Group of 5 and ranks 14th in the nation among all FBS programs.
BOWL HISTORY: Including the 2019 Camellia Bowl, Arkansas State has appeared in 17 bowl games all-time and holds a 7-8-1 record in the previous 16. The is the ninth consecutive year A-State has been in a bowl game (2011-19), and it also played in the 2005 New Orleans Bowl for its first bowl-game appearance since 1970. A-State played in seven bowl games from 1951-70.
REGULAR SEASON COMPARISON: Arkansas State’s seven victories ties its fourth highest regular-season total ever as an FBS member and ties its fifth most in the history of the program. A-State has now reached at least seven regular-season wins nine straight years (2011-19) and 26 times in school history.
ALL-CONFERENCE: Arkansas State placed 16 players on the All-Sun Belt Conference Team. Including six first team, two second team, four third team and four honorable mention choices, A-State’s 16 different players finding a spot on the all-conference squad were the second most in the league behind Appalachian State’s 18. The Red Wolves tied the Mountaineers for the most first-team choices in the league. Arkansas State’s 16 different All-Sun Belt players also tied the program’s third most ever behind its 18 in 2017 and 17 a year ago. The Red Wolves have now had at least 10 selections 10 consecutive years and 13 times since the Sun Belt’s inaugural 2001 season. Additionally, they have 95 all-conference picks since 2014 under head coach Blake Anderson for the most in the league during that span.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Senior wide receiver Omar Bayless was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, marking the fourth consecutive year and sixth time overall an A-State player has taken home the league’s highest individual honor -- both Sun Belt records. Outside of A-State, no other all-time Sun Belt program has seen more than three players take home the honor. Bayless is the fourth all-time Arkansas State player to garner the recognition, joining former quarterbacks Justice Hansen (2018) and Ryan Aplin (2011-12) and defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (2016-17). Along with Florida International’s T.Y. Hilton, he is the only other Sun Belt Conference wide receiver to ever earn the award.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Layne Hatcher, a redshirt freshman, became the fourth all-time A-State player to be selected as the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, joining current running back Marcel Murray (2018) and former wide receiver J.D. McKissic (2012) and running back Reggie Arnold (2006).
ALL-AMERICA: Senior wide receiver and Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Omar Bayless became the first player in school history to be named a Walter Camp All-America selection, earning second team honors. Bayless was one of four players chosen at the wide receiver position on the 130th edition of the Walter Camp All-America Team, making it the oldest of its kind in the nation. The Laurel, Miss., native was also one of just four players from the Group of 5 to make the 51-man list comprised of first-and-second-team selections. He is the first A-State player since 1987 to be named All-America by the Associated Press (AP), American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), Football Writers Association (FWAA), Sporting News or Walter Camp, which are used to determine consensus All-America. Also a 2019 Pro Football Focus (PFF) Honorable Mention All-America choice, Bayless ended the regular season with 84 receptions for 1,473 yards and 16 touchdowns while also adding a pair of blocked kicks.
DECADE BY DECADE: The Red Wolves have won 78 games since 2010, which are the most in a decade in a program history. Five of A-State’s all-time 12 conference titles have also come since 2010. The Red Wolves .614 winning percentage (78-49) this decade is the second highest for a decade in program history. Arkansas State had a .627 winning percentage (66-39-1) from 1970-79, including two 11-0 seasons (1970-75). The program’s third best winning percentage (.609) for a single decade came from 1960-69 (54-34-4). A-State had nine winning seasons this decade, by far the most for a decade in program history. The previous record for winning seasons in a decade was six in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
A-STATE vs THE SUN BELT: Arkansas State has won 56 of its last 71 Sun Belt Conference games (.789 winning percentage) to run its all-time record in the league to 88-51. The Red Wolves hold their most all-time victories against ULM with 27. A-State has defeated every team in the conference since the football league was formed in 2001. Along with ULM and Louisiana, A-State is one of three teams that have been a part of the conference since its inaugural football season.
NEXT MAN UP: Partially due to injuries, including 10 season-ending to players such as Ryan Graham (RB), Isaiah Azubuike (RB), Logan Bonner (QB), Forrest Merrill (DL), Hunter Moreton (DL), Jerry Jacobs (CB), Tony Adams (DL) and Thomas Toki (DL), the Red Wolves have used 39 different starters this season. Arkansas State has seen 32 players miss at least one game and 21 miss multiple contests due to injury, including 14 who were starters at the time.
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . . : give it four bowl wins over the last nine seasons (2011-19) . . . mark its eighth all-time bowl victory and its second under head coach Blake Anderson . . . move its all-time bowl record to 8-8-1 . . . give it at least eight victories for the fifth time as an FBS member and 12th time in the history of the program . . . give it eight victories to match its third highest wins total since moving to FBS status in 1992 . . . improve its all-time record against FIU to 7-2 and give it three consecutive wins over the Panthers . . . even its record in the Camellia Bowl to 1-1 . . . give it a 79-49 record during the 2010s for a .617 winning percentage that would stand alone as the second best in program history for any decade.
HOME SWEET HOME: Arkansas State has strung together 15 consecutive years (2005-19) with a winning record at Centennial Bank Stadium dating back to 2005. The Red Wolves are now 68-17 (.800 winning percentage) since the 2005 season and have won 43 of their last 53 home outings. The Red Wolves actual on-field record all-time at Centennial Bank Stadium is 160-80-1 since it opened in 1974. A-State’s six home wins in 2011 were its most since 1985. The 2011 season also marked the last time the Red Wolves went undefeated at Centennial Bank Stadium.
SUN BELT LEADERS: Based on the weekly stats report compiled by the Sun Belt, the Red Wolves have seven different players leading the league in nine combined statistical categories -- both the most in the conference. Senior wide receiver Omar Bayless is ranked No. 1 in receiving yards and receptions, freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher No. 1 in pass efficiency, sophomore kicker Blake Grupe No. 1 in scoring (kick) and field goals, senior safety BJ Edmonds No. 1 in punt returns, senior receiver Kirk Merritt No. 1 in kickoff returns, senior punter Cody Grace No. 1 in punting, and junior defensive end William Bradley-King No. 1 in fumbles forced.
ROAD WARRIORS: Arkansas State has won 27 of its last 36 conference road games dating back to the 2011 season. A-State had won 10 consecutive conference road games, its longest streak ever as a member of any league, before falling to Western Kentucky in its 2013 regular-season opener.
NON-CONFERENCE RECAP: Arkansas State produced a .500 or better non-conference record for the second consecutive season, third time under head coach Blake Anderson and fifth time over the last nine seasons, but just sixth time since moving to FBS status in 1992 (1995, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2019). A-State posted a winning non-conference record (3-1) last season for the first time since 1995 (3-2).
A BIT OF HISTORY: Arkansas State’s 43-17 win over UNLV marked its largest margin of victory in a non-conference road game since 1986, when it defeated Delaware 55-14 in the I-AA (FCS) playoffs. The last time it had a larger margin of victory in a non-conference road game played during the regular season was 1976, when it knocked off Southern Illinois 41-10.
WATCH ME, WATCH ME: A-State had 13 players on at least one major watch list for the 2019 season, including seven who play on the offensive side of the ball (Omar Bayless, Logan Bonner, Dahu Green, Javonis Isaac, Kirk Merritt, Marcel Murray, Jacob Still), four on the defensive (William Bradley-King, Tajhea Chambers, Darreon Jackson, Jerry Jacobs) and two on special teams (Cody Grace, Blake Grupe). The Red Wolves have at least one player on 12 different watch lists.
NINE STRAIGHT: Arkansas State has secured a winning record in a school-record nine consecutive seasons (2011-19). The next longest streak was six straight seasons from 1912-17. The Red Wolves have piled up 74 victories from 2011-19 for its most over a nine-year span in the program’s 105-year history.
ELITE COMPANY: Arkansas State is one of just four teams in the nation to win at least five conference titles and appear in nine bowl games since 2011, joining Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma. The Red Wolves won the Sun Belt title in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 and hold the 14th longest active streak in the nation for bowl game appearances with nine.
105TH SEASON: Arkansas State kicked off its 105th season of football Aug. 31 at home against SMU. A-State holds a 480-492-37 record since the inaugural season and has played in 17 bowl games, including the 2019 Camellia Bowl. A-State did not field a team from 1942-44 due to World War II. Arkansas State also didn’t have a team in 1918 as World War I was ending.
SUN BELT CHAMPS (5 of 9): While Arkansas State last won the Sun Belt in 2016, it is still the only Group of 5 program and one of just four FBS programs in the nation to win five or more conference championships over the last nine years (2011-19). The only other teams to do so are Alabama (SEC), Clemson (ACC) and Oklahoma (Big 12). The Red Wolves most recently won back-to-back Sun Belt titles in 2015 and 2016, compiling a 15-1 league record over that span. A-State also won the league title 2011-13, making it one of just two programs in league history with at least five SBC titles.
300-PLUS: Dating back to the 2010 season, Arkansas State has posted at least 300 yards total offense in 115 of its last 127 games (.906 percentage). A-State has produced 300 yards in 70 of 76 games during the Blake Anderson era.
400-PLUS: Arkansas State has hit the 400-yard total offense mark 52 times over its last 76 games (68 percent) since 2014, which was Blake Anderson’s first season as head coach. The Red Wolves have posted 400 or more yards total offense in 16 of their last 19 games.
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: The Red Wolves have posted at least 30 points in 70 of their last 106 regular-season games (66 percent) dating back to the 2011 season. The Red Wolves have won 54 of their last 63 games when scoring at least 30 points.
BIG NUMBERS: Senior WR Omar Bayless picked up this season where he left off last year, recording over 100 receiving yards in eight of the last 13 games dating back to 2018. Including the Arizona Bowl and 12 regular-season games this year, he has posted 91 receptions (7.0 rpg) for 1,602 yards (123.2 ypg) and 16 touchdowns. His four touchdown receptions versus SMU tied the school and Centennial Bank Stadium records, while his career-high 213 receiving yards against Troy were the third most in A-State history. Bayless is currently ranked second the nation in receiving yards (1,473), 100-yard receiving games (7) and receiving touchdowns (16), while also ranking 12th in receptions (7.0 pg).
BILETNIKOFF SEMIFINALIST: Senior WR Omar Bayless was named on Nov. 18 as one of just 12 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, issued annually to the outstanding FBS receiver regardless of position. He is the first A-State player to be tabbed a semifinalist, although the Red Wolves’ J.D. McKissic and Dwayne Frampton were on the watch list in 2013 and 2011, respectively.
SUN BELT OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Senior wideout Omar Bayless was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in A-State’s 50-43 victory at Troy. He became the fourth player in Arkansas State history to record over 200 receiving yards in a game by posting 10 receptions for a career-high 213 yards and a touchdown. He finished with the third most receiving yards in school history and the 13th most in the nation this season, while also tying the fifth most ever by a Sun Belt Conference player. A-State’s first offensive play of the game saw Bayless come up with a 92-yard touchdown catch, which was the second longest reception in school history, eighth longest in the nation this season and tied the fourth longest every by a Sun Belt player.
2,000-YARD CLUB: Senior WR Omar Bayless has joined an exclusive group of just five all-time A-State players to record 2,000 receiving yards in a career. He went over the 2,000-yard mark during the UL game and now has 2,595 for his career. Bayless joined J.D. McKissic (2012-15), Lennie Johnson (1995-98), Robert Kilow (1998-2000) and Taylor Stockemer (2009-12) as Arkansas State players with 2,000 yards. He has a school-record seven 100-yard receiving games this season and eight total for his career.
KEEPING GOOD COMPANY: Even with one game still left to play, Omar Bayless is already one of just 19 players this century to combine for at least 84 receptions, 16 receiving touchdowns and 1,473 yards in a single season.
GOOD HANDS: Junior wide receiver Brandon Bowling has 26 catches this season, which is already more than he had for his first two seasons combined (15). He also has 223 receiving yards, 115 more than his career total (108) entering this year. He posted career-best numbers for both receptions (12) and receiving yards (92) against SMU, and those 12 catches tied the fourth most in school history.
PRODUCTION INCREASE: Ranked sixth in the Sun Belt Conference in receptions per game, junior wideout Jonathan Adams has already posted a career-best 58 catches this year -- 41 more than his previous best for a season (2018). Including a career-high 158 receiving yards against Georgia Southern, he now has 788 receiving yards through 12 games, which is the fourth most (65.7 ypg) in the Sun Belt. Adams posted a then-career-best 267 yards for all of last season.
DELIVERING IN HIS DEBUT: Earning his first career start against SMU, junior QB Logan Bonner threw for a career-high four touchdowns, while he also set new career-best marks for completions (32), passing yards (324) and total offense (340). His 32 completions and four touchdown passes both tied the seventh most in A-State history for a single game. Athlon Sports ranked Bonner’s performance as the 21st best in the nation among quarterbacks who made their first career start in the season’s opening week.
ANOTHER IMPRESSIVE DEBUT: Much like junior quarterback Logan Bonner, redshirt freshman Layne Hatcher put up monster numbers in his starting debut this season with 25 completions for 440 yards and four touchdowns against Troy. His performance led to him being named one of eight Manning Award Stars of the Week. Hatcher’s 440 passing yards were the second most in school history, while his four touchdown throws tied the seventh most ever by an A-State player.
THROUGH THE AIR: Averaging 283.7 passing yards per game this season to rank second in the Sun Belt, redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher has thrown for at least 297 yards in seven of his first eight career starts while also completing at least two touchdown passes in all eight of those games.
FABULOUS FRESHMAN: Redshirt freshman Layne Hatcher was not only named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, he has put up numbers this year that rank among the top freshmen quarterbacks in the country. Among freshmen only, he holds the nation’s top passer efficiency rating (173.5), while also ranking second in passing yards per game (283.7) and third in total offense per game (284.7). He has quarterbacked A-State to a 5-3 record as a starter.
THREE AMIGOS: The combination of wideouts Jonathan Adams, Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt has been one of the most dynamic not only in school history, but also in the nation this season. The three have combined to:
- post more receiving touchdowns (31) than 113 teams have passing touchdowns
- record more receiving yards (3,024) than 78 teams have passing yards
- catch more passes (206) than 40 teams have completions
A LOSS ON THE PLAY: Dating back to the 2015 season, the Red Wolves have posted at least five stops behind the line of scrimmage in 48 of their last 54 games. A-State has ranked among the top 30 teams in the nation three of the last four seasons (2016-19) in tackles for loss.
GETTING TO THE QUARTERBACK: A-State has ranked among the top 27 teams in the nation in sacks four of the last six years (2014-19), posting a combined 202 sacks over that span. The Red Wolves have recorded at least one sack in 47 of their last 49 games dating back to the 2016 season.
PICK IT OFF: Arkansas State posted at least one interception in eight of the 12 regular-season games this year, continuing to be an opportunistic defense over the last six seasons (2014-19) when the ball has been put in the air. During that time span, A-State has intercepted 89 passes that rank as the ninth most in the nation. Since 2014, San Diego State ranks No. 1 with 102 interceptions.
FORCING TURNOVERS: Arkansas State has recorded at least one turnover gained in 62 of its last 76 games dating back to the 2014 season. The Red Wolves have ranked among the top 30 teams in the nation in turnovers gained three of the last six years (2014-19), and their combined 145 forced turnovers over that span are tied for the ninth most in the nation.
DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE: Arkansas State has ranked among the top 21 teams in the nation in defensive touchdowns each of the last six seasons (2014-19). In fact, the 2015 season saw the Red Wolves record an FBS-high eight touchdowns. The Red Wolves have 25 total defensive touchdowns over the last six seasons.
HENDRICKS WATCH LIST: Junior William Bradley-King was added on Nov. 18 to the Ted Hendricks Award’s updated Watch List, which honors the top defensive end in college football. He is the fourth all-time A-State player to earn the recognition along with Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (2016, 2017), Chris Odom (2016) and Alex Carrington (2009). Nationally, Bradley-King ranks 20th in forced fumbles, 27th in fumble recoveries and 30th in sacks. He also leads the Sun Belt in forced fumbles, while also ranking second in sacks, tied for third in fumbles recovered and fourth in tackles for loss.
TACKLING MACHINE: Senior defensive back Darreon Jackson posted a career-high 17 tackles against ULM, which were the most by an A-State player since Nathan Herrold posted 17 against South Alabama in 2012. He followed that up with 16 stops against Coastal Carolina and 11 versus Georgia Southern. He has now recorded at least 11 tackles in four of the last six games. Jackson has eight career games with at least 10 tackles. He is ranked third in the Sun Belt in tackles per game with a 9.7 average. Additionally, he is the first Arkansas State player to record over 100 tackles (107) in a season since Qushaun Lee posted 110 in 2014.
FINISHING STRONG: Since coming back from an injury, senior defensive lineman Kevin Thurmon’s production has continued to go up late in the season. In fact, he has recorded over half (30) of his 53 tackles, 5.0 of his 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 of his 4.5 sacks over the last four games. He posted a career-high 11 tackles against Coastal Carolina, while also posting career-best numbers for both tackles for loss (3.0) and sacks (2.0) versus Georgia Southern. His late-season push has him ranked 13th in the Sun Belt in sacks.
GROZA AWARD SEMIFINALIST: Sophomore kicker Blake Grupe was named on Nov. 7 as one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award. He is the fourth all-time A-State player ever named a semifinalist, joining Brian Davis (2012 & 2013), Josh Arauco (2008) and Jeff Caldwell (1994). Also a 2019 Burlsworth Trophy nominee, Grupe ranks 17th in the nation in field goal percentage (.850), 27th in field goals made per game (1.42 avg.) and 29th in scoring (8.3 ppg). Grupe’s streak of 11 consecutive field goals made, the third longest in school history, came to an end during the Georgia Southern game.
GRUPE EARNS PAIR WEEKLY SBC HONOR: Sophomore Blake Grupe was named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week following both the ULM and South Alabama games. He scored 12 points in both outings while posting two field goals made versus the Warhawks and a career-tying three against the Jaguars.
ON THE RETURN: Moving into a punt return role for the first time of his career, senior BJ Edmonds has recorded 21 returns for 227 yards and a 10.8 average. His long return has covered 34 yards against Texas State, and he posted a career-best 47 yards at UNLV on three attempts. He is ranked first in the Sun Belt Conference and 13th in the nation for punt return average.
AMAZING GRACE: Senior punter Cody Grace has posted just six touchbacks in 176 punting attempts during his three-year career at A-State, while his punts have also been returned just 25 times (14 percent). He helped A-State set a new NCAA record for punt return defense in 2018. He has posted at least one punt inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in 32 of 36 career games and multiple in all but 10. He was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist (top 10) each of the last two years (2017 & 2018).
SUN BELT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Senior punter Cody Grace was named the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks following the Red Wolves’ games against Troy and Georgi State. He was also named the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week following the Georgia State contest.
TAKE IT TO THE HOUSE: Senior wide receiver Kirk Merritt posted a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Georgia Southern, giving the Red Wolves their first return for a score since Blaise Taylor found the end zone on a 98-yard return in the 2015 New Orleans Bowl. Merritt has posted over 100 kickoff return yards two of the last three games and has seen his average per return climb to 29.5, which ranks first in the Sun Belt.