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September 22, 2012

Preview: Arkansas State vs Alcorn State

Where: Jonesboro, AR (Liberty Bank Stadium)
Time: 6:00 PM Central
TV: ESPN 3

CLICK HERE for a list of visitors Arkansas State is expected to host for the game!

Lead Up

Both schools come into this weekend's game at 1-2 with each program looking to get their second win. The Red Wolves are coming off a tough loss to Nebraska 42-13 while Alcorn State is coming off a tough 24-6 loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

This is the 4th game in a row where Arkansas State will be on TV, and this will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.

Offensive Notes

Senior quarterback Ryan Aplin has set career records this year in total offensive yards and overall passing yards. He has thrown for 763 yards with 4 touchdowns, and only one interception in his first three games.

Aplin's two main targets at this time are senior wide receiver's Josh Jarboe (20 rec. 174yds 2 TD's), and redshirt freshman J.D. McKissic (20 rec. 200 yds. 0 TD's).

Jarboe is a former high school All-American who has become a sure handed and tough wide-out for Aplin, and the Red Wolf offense. McKissic has done a good job of stepping up with senior wide receiver Taylor Stockemer injured and former receiver Allen Muse leaving the team. McKissic has shown good hands and the ability to find holes within the defense.

Junior running back David Oku has given the Red Wolf offense a reliable runner with game breaking abilities. He has carried the ball 48 times for 237 yards and one touchdown thus far, and could be in line to put up big numbers against the Braves.

His ability to carry the ball for the duration of the game as well as be a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield makes him a dangerous player for the Red Wolves.

Sophomore running back Frankie Jackson (29 carries 144 yds. 2 TD's) has been a solid compliment to Oku this year. He brings strength and toughness to the offense. Jackson can churn out yards and gain those important first downs.

Alcorn State is headed into Jonesboro looking at starting a freshman at quarterback. John Gibbs came in relief of junior Darius Smith last week, and gave the Brave offense a spark. That spark has now led to Gibbs getting his first official start.

Smith (367 yds. 0 TD's 1 Int.) has been the starter through the first two games and could see playing time this weekend regardless if he starts or not. Gibbs (6'6 193lbs) gives the Braves offense a big presence in the backfield and someone that can beat a defense with his arm and legs.

Senior running back Arnold Walker (31 carries 90 yds. 0 TD's) is the main ball carrier for Alcorn State but others are lending a hand as well. He is a physically strong young man who can take contact and continue moving his legs. His senior leadership is crucial to the Braves offense.

In addition to Smith, sophomore running back Anthony Williams and sophomore RB Joe Price have also been called upon to carry the load for the Braves. They run multiple backs in hopes of keeping players fresh.

The main receiver for Alcorn State is junior Tavoris Doss. On the season Doss has caught 12 passes for 112 yards. He is a small, (5'8 160lbs) but quick, and can get in between defenders and make plays down the field.

Defensive Notes

Senior linebacker Nathan Herrold is the leader and main defensive threat for the Red Wolves. He has been a tackling machine thru the first three games where he has collected 31 total tackles and one sack so far. His leadership and work ethic has allowed him to become the main star for the Red Wolf defense.

Sophomore linebacker Qushaun Lee is coming into this weekend's game on a bit of a hot streak. Last weekend against Nebraska he collected 15 total tackles along with a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. Standing at 5-11 225lbs, Lee is a fast and aggressive ball player that has a nose for the football.

Chaz Scales is another senior leader from the secondary who has gotten off to a solid start this year. He has collected 15 tackles with one interception thus far. He is one of the best lockdown cover guy the Red Wolves will put out on the field, and his aggressive attitude and physicality offers could good play from the defensive backfield.

Other defensive standouts to keep an eye on include Andrew Tryon, Kyle Coleman, and Don Jones.

The Alcorn State defense has done a solid job of holding opposing teams offense's down and been able to keep their offense in the game.

Junior defensive back Felando Warr (6'1 160lbs) has been the defensive leader thus far, as he has picked off one pass along with amassing over 15 total tackles.

Senior defensive linemen Jermaine Turner and Stephen Howard are the key cogs up front. Both players offer major beef up front along with having the ability to make tackles in space. Both of these players should be key players in Saturday night's game.

Coaching

Head coach Gus Malzahn is in his first year with Arkansas State, and his offensive nature has already taken control of the Red Wolf team. Malzahn has went up against two national powers thus far in Oregon and Nebraska where the points might not have been there, but the Red Wolves have shown the ability to move the football on a consistent basis.

Malzahn has experience coaching in the SEC.(Arkansas & Auburn). His pedigree on the offensive side of the ball should do wonders for the Red Wolves this season and beyond.

Head coach Jay Hopson is also in his first year on the job as Head Coach of Alcorn State. In his first career game with the Braves he was able to help lead them to a win against Grambling State 22-21.

Before working at Alcorn State, he was the defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis. He also has coaching stints at Michigan and Southern Miss.

Hopson is a long-time assistant who is looking to make a name for himself with the Braves.

Game Prediction

Both teams are coming into this weekend's contest with two losses, and both are looking to get back on the winning track.

The Red Wolves have game experience against two of the best programs in the nation while Alcorn State is headed into Jonesboro going up against their first FBS opponent on the year.

For the Red Wolves, this game is the perfect opportunity to gain some confidence on both sides of the football.

The plays have been there offensively, but minor mistakes have prevented the Red Wolves from making big plays, and at times prevented them from scoring, so look for the team to work on fundamentals during the game.

"We've played two really good defenses," Head coach Gus Malzahn said earlier in the week. "Anytime you throw the ball vertically, you've got to protect, and in pure passing situations, it's been tough on us against those two teams we're talking about. Really the bottom line is that if we can get the pace going and get some first downs running the football, and as I've said before we have to be able run the football to effectively throw it vertically down the field."

Defensively, the Red Wolves have suffered due to a lack of quality tackling. While the team is playing a lot of young players on defense, the coaching staff is looking for improvement each week.

"[Nebraska] was a very good rushing offense," said Malzahn. "They wore us down, they got us in space some, and I think really the bottom line is we have got to get better at tackling regardless. The way you do that is through games and getting better each week. They had had some very elusive guys who were good in space, it looked bad. That is going to be a point of emphasis, and we have to get some guys around the ball also."

He also believed that the Red Wolves will benefit defensively after playing two teams in the Top 20 so early on in the season.

"We've faced as good of a run as we're going to see," said Malzahn. "The good thing is we know what it looks like. We've got to improve. We're playing a lot of young guys. We only returned three guys from last year, and we put in a new defense, so you have to keep that in perspective."

"The key is, are we going to be able to improve each week" Malzahn continued. "If we can do that each week, then we are going to be fine."

Look for the Red Wolves to improve this week, and do things on defense that will help them gain some confidence as well as they prepare to head into Sun Belt Conference play next week.

Chris Smith's Prediction: Arkansas State 42 Alcorn State 10
Luke Matheson's Prediction: Arkansas State 54 Alcorn State 10
David Kenley's Prediction: Arkansas State 54 Alcorn State 13

CLICK HERE for a list of visitors Arkansas State is expected to host for the game!

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