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Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Utah State Aggies Preview and Prediction

Kent Myers

Kent Myers

Utah State did a 180-degree turn on both sides of the ball in two weeks. After dominating Weber State in their season opener, the Aggies fell flat in a 45-7 loss to USC last weekend. Utah State generated just 253 yards of total offense and 13 first downs. It marked their most lopsided loss to a Power Five school since falling to Oregon 66-24 in 2008.

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The Aggies will try to bounce back against an experienced and talented opponent. Arkansas State returns 13 starters from a team that won a Sun Belt Conference championship a season ago. The Red Wolves have been a model of consistency, putting together five straight winning seasons and finishing first in the Sun Belt four times in that stretch.

This is the seventh all-time meeting between the schools. The series is deadlocked at 3-3 as both schools are 3-0 in their home stadium.

Arkansas State at Utah State

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 16 at 9 p.m. ET

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Utah State -8

Three Things to Watch

1. Mays on track for 1,000-yard season
Stopping Utah State RB Devante Mays will be a huge problem for Arkansas State. The senior is averaging 8.9 yards per carry this season, which ranks fifth among FBS running backs. Mays is averaging 116 rushing yards per game and has scored three rushing touchdowns in two games.

He led Utah State in rushing a season ago and fell just shy of the 1,000-yard plateau. Mays totaled 966 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He has four 100-yard rushing games in his career so far.

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If Mays can run for at least 100 yards against the Red Wolves, it could be just what the Aggies need to pull out a victory. Utah State has won 18 of its last 19 games overall when it has a 100-yard rusher.

2. Can the Red Wolves find a defense?
Arkansas State had serious trouble stopping drives in its first games against Toledo and Auburn. The Red Wolves are getting gashed on nearly every play early in the season. They are allowing 631.0 yards per game and 7.84 yards per play.

Not surprisingly, Arkansas State ranks last among 128 FBS teams in total defense. The Red Wolves are 127th in rushing defense (323.5 ypg), 127th in passing efficiency defense (206.4), 115th in passing yards allowed (307.5 ypg) and 119th in scoring defense (41.0 ppg).

It hasn't helped that Arkansas State has been equally unproductive on offense. The Red Wolves rank 117th nationally in total offense (296.0 ypg) and 126th in the FBS in scoring (12.0 ppg) after two weeks.

Arkansas State quarterback Chad Voytik did show improvement with his passing numbers against Auburn last week. The senior finished with 215 yards and completed 71 percent of his attempts against the Tigers.

3. Who wins the turnover battle?
For all of its struggles elsewhere, Arkansas State has done a good job of taking care of the football. The Red Wolves are one of just seven FBS teams that have not committed a turnover yet this season. This is just the second time since 2001 that Arkansas State has gone back-to-back games without a turnover.

Ball security will be put to the test against Utah State, as the Aggies have a knack for forcing takeaways. Utah State has forced 1.9 turnovers per game dating back to the start of the 2012 season. When they get the ball off of a turnover, the Aggies find a way to make the most of it.

Utah State scored three defensive touchdowns last year to rank second in the Mountain West and 25th in the nation. Over their last 36 games, the Aggies have scored 11 defensive touchdowns.

Final Analysis

Arkansas State should contend for a Sun Belt Conference title again this season if it can solve its problems on offense and defense. Beating Utah State on the road, on the other hand, is a tall task. The Aggies have won eight straight September home games dating back to 2011. Utah State is further ahead than the Red Wolves on both sides of the ball and should have no trouble snapping a two-game losing streak in the series between the former Sun Belt and Big West rivals.

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Prediction: Utah State 34, Arkansas State 19

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.