• Arkansas State runs a three-back system in addition to a rushing quarterback.
• The Red Wolves won five of their last seven regular season games.
• This is Arkansas State’s third consecutive appearance in the GoDaddy Bowl.
Last week, Ball State (10-2) practiced outside, under the lights in preparation for the GoDaddy Bowl against Arkansas State (7-5).
Head coach Pete Lembo prepared his team for Sunday’s game by pushing practices into the evening. He wanted them ready to exert themselves against what he called a “big, physical” Arkansas State team.
For senior wide receiver Jamill Smith, Sunday night’s opponent compares favorably to North Texas – the same North Texas team that handed Ball State a 27-34 loss in mid-September.
Lembo said the Red Wolves are athletic at every position.
“I really like what I’ve seen from their safeties in terms of their athleticism and their sure tackling,” he said. “Of course, North Texas had two very good safeties, as well.”
Ball State lost three of four fumbles in the loss to North Texas despite characteristically being good with the ball. On the season, the Cardinals registered a positive 12 turnover differential.
With 30 takeaways in 2013, Ball State tied for first in the Mid-American Conference. Arkansas State’s offense turned the ball over just 13 times.
In discussing the discrepancies between the two units’ turnover numbers, Lembo had a quick analysis.
“Something’s got to give,” he said.
The Arkansas State offense utilizes three running backs, and uses its quarterback to run just as often. Senior quarterback Adam Kennedy completed 215-of-310 passes on the season for 2,349 yards and a 69.4 percent completion percentage.
Kennedy led the team with 147 rushing attempts for a total of 514 yards. The offense gained 2,472 yards on the ground – just 26 yards less than it gained through the passing game.
The true offensive threat for Arkansas State is sophomore wide receiver J.D. McKissic.
Twice named All-Sun Belt in 2013, both as a wide receiver and special teams player, J.D. McKissic will be on Ball State’s radar. Lembo compared him to Kent State’s playmaking return man Dri Archer.
McKissic reeled in 73 catches for 590 yards and four touchdowns in the receiving game. Between his punt, kick and rushing yardage, McKissic totaled 1,472 total yards last season.
“He’s a guy that’s a threat to go the distance every time he touches it,” Lembo said. “McKissic is a guy that we’re going to be well aware of where he is at all times.”
Ball State running back Jahwan Edwards said the Arkansas State defense likes to run a double A-gap blitz. He’s up for the challenge, though.
“They might drive, they may come – you’ve just got to be ready,” he said. “They’re blitzing a lot. I hear they’re talking about our wide receivers, so I don’t think they’re respecting our running game, I’m just looking forward to bringing it to them.”
Ball State’s offense scored 481 points this season, compared to just 356 for Arkansas State. The Red Wolves allowed 4.8 yards per carry rushing last season as opponents rushed the ball 456 times.
The high number of rushing attempts are likely a result of several big losses early in the season. Auburn, Memphis and Missouri all defeated Arkansas State by at least 20 points.
The Red Wolves finished the season winning five of seven to capture the Sun Belt Championship. Arkansas State’s conference championship is not taken lightly by Ball State players and coaches.
Senior tight end Zane Fakes said the tough non-conference schedule makes Arkansas State look worse than the team is.
“On film they’re really good, athletic at every position, very fast and they fly around,” he said. “They’ll do a lot to put us in tough spots.”