Midweek college football action returns on Tuesday night, as Arkansas State travels to Mobile to take on South Alabama in the second Sun Belt game for both teams in 2015. This matchup marks the first of back-to-back Tuesday night contests for the Red Wolves, while the Jaguars only play one pre-Thursday matchup this season.
Arkansas State was picked by some to win the Sun Belt this season, and this team has faced its share of ups and downs so far. The Red Wolves lost by 49 at USC in the opener but gave Missouri all it could handle the following Saturday before losing 27-20. Blake Anderson’s team earned wins over Missouri State and Idaho and also dropped a 37-7 game to Toledo on Sept. 26. Injuries to a few key players have played a role in Arkansas State's record so far.
South Alabama’s resume is similar to its conference foe, as the Jaguars were handled in losses to Power 5 opponents Nebraska and NC State and knocked off Gardner-Webb and San Diego State. South Alabama opened conference play on Oct. 3 with a win over Troy (24-18). While the Red Wolves were picked by some to win the Sun Belt, the Jaguars were projected to finish in the middle of the league. Coach Joey Jones faced a significant rebuilding effort in 2015 with just five returning starters.
Arkansas State owns a 3-0 series edge over South Alabama. The Red Wolves won last year’s meeting 45-10 in Jonesboro but two of the matchups were decided by a touchdown or less.
Arkansas State at South Alabama
Kickoff: Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Arkansas State -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas State Quarterback Fredi Knighten
All signs point to Knighten returning to the starting lineup after missing the last three games due to a groin injury suffered in the 27-20 loss to Missouri. Knighten struggled against USC and Missouri, managing only 183 passing yards in two games and a completion percentage of 41.3. However with nearly a month off from game action, Knighten should be close to full strength and should resemble the player that passed for 3,277 yards and 24 scores and rushed for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The senior will test a South Alabama defense giving up 35.8 points per game in 2015.
2. Turnovers and Red Zone Performance
With a close game anticipated, an edge in turnovers or red zone scores could be the difference. Both teams have struggled with giveaways in 2015. Arkansas State is tied for eighth in the Sun Belt with a minus-five margin, while South Alabama enters this game with a minus-three total. The level of competition has factored into these totals, but both teams have to do a better job taking care of the ball on Tuesday night. Additionally, which team can score seven instead of three inside the red zone? South Alabama ranks last in the Sun Belt with a 71.4 conversion rate, while Arkansas State is ninth with a 77.8 mark.
3. Battle of Running Backs
The Sun Belt is home to some of the top running backs in the Group of 5 ranks, including Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida, UL Lafayete’s Elijah McGuire, Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox and New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III. And on Tuesday night, Arkansas State’s Michael Gordon or South Alabama’s Xavier Johnson will have a chance to showcase their talent. Gordon finished fifth in the Sun Belt last season with 1,100 rushing yards, while Johnson recorded 438 yards on 81 attempts. After starting the year behind Terrance Timmons and Tyreis Thomas on the depth chart, Johnson has climbed to the No. 1 spot. The sophomore has impressed through the first five games, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on 64 attempts. Both teams are giving up their share of yardage on the ground, so Johnson and Gordon could be in for huge performances.
Midweek college football is never a bad thing, and this matchup has potential to be an entertaining game thanks to the offenses. Arkansas State’s offense is capable of putting up points in a hurry, and South Alabama can match with the steady play of quarterback Cody Clements and an athletic group of skill players. If Knighten is at full strength, he should be the difference in this game.