ASU offense faced with stiff challenge

Published 3 December 2017

JONESBORO -- The clamor caused by the disassembly of the bleachers could be heard from the practice facility at Arkansas State University. Centennial Bank Stadium's $29 million north end zone renovation had begun, just in time for tonight's nationally televised season finale between the Red Wolves and Troy.

At least a share of the conference championship is at stake, and an ASU (7-3, 6-1 Sun Belt Conference) victory would give the program its third consecutive conference title and its sixth in the last seven years.

Today’s game

Troy at Arkansas State

WHEN 6:30 p.m. Central

WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro

RECORDS Arkansas State 7-3, 6-1 Sun Belt Conference; Troy 9-2, 6-1

TV ESPN2

BETTING LINE

Tickets

Arkansas State University had sold 23,342 tickets for the Red Wolves’ game against Troy at the end of business Friday.

Less than 1,000 tickets were still available.

Tickets sold does not include both schools’ bands nor students, and the stadium lost 3,300 seats in the north end zone when its $29 million renovation project began this week.

— Brooks Kubena

"Just a great time to be here," ASU Coach Blake Anderson said Wednesday. "You know, this is just the beginning. We're here at a perfect time, building off a great legacy."

In order to add another conference title, ASU may still need to score plenty of points in that north end zone. Troy's defense is substantially better statistically than any other the Red Wolves have faced this season.

Every opponent that ASU has defeated this season allows an average of at least 31.7 points per game. Out of the 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest-ranked scoring defense that the Red Wolves have beaten was New Mexico State's, which ranks 95th.

Dismal defense also belonged to SMU (112th, 35.5) and Nebraska (116th, 36.4), which both beat ASU in nonconference play.

South Alabama (68th, 26.9) is the only ASU opponent that allows fewer than 30 points per game, and the Jaguars forced six turnovers in their 24-19 victory over the Red Wolves.

Troy's scoring defense (16.8) ranks 10th in the nation, and the Trojans have top 20 rankings in both tackles for loss (third, 8.5 per game) and sacks (18th, 2.91 per game).

"If we can't control the front on offense, it's going to be a long day," Anderson said. "I'll be up there eating hot dogs with y'all."

"We're going to do some things they haven't seen people do. Hopefully create some matchup problems they haven't seen. [They] really haven't been been put in the positions that some of our guys can put them in."

ASU's offense, which ranks ninth with 39.9 points per game, is substantially better statistically than any other Troy (9-2, 6-1) has faced this season.

The highest-ranked scoring offense that the Trojans have beaten was New Mexico State's (51st), which averages 30.3 points per game.

That includes No. 17 LSU (72nd, 28.1), which was ranked No. 25 when Troy upset the Tigers 24-21 on Sept. 30.

The only other opponent that averaged over 30 points per game was Boise State (34th, 33.3), which beat Troy 24-13 in the season opener.

"Arkansas State's the best team we've played in the league," Troy Coach Neal Brown said. "So, we'll have our hands full."

ASU will have to break through the Trojans' defense early in order to win. Troy allows just 6.27 points in the first halves of its games, and the team is 7-0 in games that it leads after the first quarter.

ASU had slow starts against New Mexico State and South Alabama, scoring a combined 13 points in the first halves of both. The Red Wolves' offensive line struggled against defensive stunts in those games -- an issue that was corrected against Texas State and Louisiana-Monroe, when ASU scored a combined 37 points in the first halves.

ASU redshirt freshman center Jacob Still said Troy's defense also stunts, and the Red Wolves line will incorporate the pulls and shifts that helped spur 501 rushing yards in the last two games.

"We're going to have to be able to dent up their front seven," Still said. "In order to win this game, we're going to have to be able to run the ball."

Junior running back Warren Wand has rushed for career-high totals in each of the last two games, and ASU may not be able to afford him being shut down.

"These guys are a lot like us on defense," ASU offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner said. "They get you in negative situations. They're third in the country in tackles for losses. We've done a really good job offensively this year as not having not nearly as many negative plays. That's where it's going to start. We cannot be in second and 10, second and 12."

Since neither team has really faced teams like the other, it is likely the gameplan to victory will adjust throughout the game.

"We want to be balanced," Anderson said. "If we can't run it, we better be able to throw the crap out of it. If we can't throw it, whatever that takes. Whatever that is. I don't really care as long as we get it in the end zone."

Sports on 12/02/2017