Arkansas State welcomes Louisiana to Jonesboro Thursday where the Red Wolves will attempt to stake their claim to a share of first place in the Sun Belt.
The Red Wolves opened the season with a seven-point loss at Nebraska but got their first win of the season Sept. 16 against FCS opponent Arkansas-Pine Bluff following the cancellation of their scheduled home game with Miami due to Hurricane Irma. Arkansas State (3-2, 2-0 Sun Belt) dropped its game against SMU a week later but has won its last two contests, the most recent being 51-17 home victory at the expense of Coastal Carolina.
Louisiana (3-3, 2-1) opened its 2017 campaign with a 51-48 win against FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana but lost the next three games before getting back in the win column against Idaho on Oct. 7. The Ragin' Cajuns made it two in a row last Thursday, beating Texas State 24-7. Scoring points hasn’t been an issue for Louisiana, as the Ragin’ Cajuns are 34th in the country at 34.8 points per game. Unfortunately, they have given up even more points (39.7 ppg) and rank 120th in the FBS in scoring defense.
The history between these teams dates back to 1953 when Arkansas State earned a 13-12 win. Louisiana owns a 23-19-1 series advantage, including a 24-19 home victory over the Red Wolves last season.
Louisiana at Arkansas State
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Arkansas State -12.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen
Hansen’s 19 touchdown passes through five games have him tied for first in the Sun Belt with New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers. Hansen also is second with 1,587 passing yards and 8.4 yards per attempt. Earlier this season, he shredded Nebraska's defense for 415 yards (on 68 attempts) and three touchdowns and he already has three 300-yard games. He struggled two weeks ago against Georgia Southern, completing just 12 of his 26 attempts with four interceptions, but he also managed to throw for 316 yards and four touchdowns against the Eagles. His season low thus far is 234 passing yards in a 44-21 loss at SMU on Sept. 23.
Last year against Louisiana, Hansen threw for 393 yards (second most that season, third most in his career), a touchdown and an interception in the Red Wolves’ 24-19 loss.
2. Louisiana running back Trey Ragas
Ragas leads the Sun Belt with seven rushing touchdowns. That production also has him tied for fifth in total points (42).
A redshirt freshman from New Orleans, Ragas has scored in every game thus far, including two touchdowns last week against Texas State. He went for 130 rushing yards against Tulsa in just his second collegiate game and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry on the season. He also came close to the 100-yard mark against both Texas A&M (93) and ULM (91).
Ragas enters Thursday’s game second in the conference in rushing (525 yards) and will get his shot at an Arkansas State defense that is giving up more than 224 yards per game on the ground (10th in Sun Belt, 110th in FBS).
3. Arkansas State's prolific scoring offense
Thursday's game pits an offense that’s averaging nearly 40 points per game against a defense that’s giving up the same amount. Through five games, Arkansas State is leading the Sun Belt and sits 14th in the nation with 39.8 points per game.
On the flip side, Louisiana is giving up 39.7 points per game after six games, which puts them just a tick ahead of Coastal Carolina (39.8 ppg) for last in the conference, and also places the Ragin’ Cajuns 120th in the FBS.
Louisiana has had trouble stopping opponents from moving the ball on them, as evidenced by the 476.3 yards per game (115th) the defense has surrendered. This does not bode well going on the road against a Red Wolves offense that is generating 454.6 yards per game.
Arkansas State isn’t just looking to even the score against Louisiana following last season’s defeat in Lafayette. A win for the Red Wolves on Thursday night would allow them to keep pace with Appalachian State and Georgia State as the only defeated teams in Sun Belt play.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are just a game behind in the loss column, but their defense is in for a tough test on the road against Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen and the Red Wolves’ prolific attack. Louisiana running back Trey Ragas should be able to make some plays of his own against a porous Arkansas State run defense, but not enough to overcome Hansen and the Red Wolves.
Prediction: Arkansas State 35, Louisiana 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Justice Hansen photo courtesy of Arkansas State Athletics)