Arkansas State (5-3) at North Texas (3-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 5 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Apogee Stadium (30,850) -- Denton, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: ASU 3-1, UNT 2-1. Away Record: ASU 2-2, UNT 1-4. Neutral Record: ASU 0-0, UNT 0-0. Conference Record: ASU 3-1, UNT 2-2. Series Record: Arkansas State leads, 13-8.
GAME NOTES: The Arkansas State Red Wolves look to make it four in a row as they invade Apogee Stadium for a pivotal Sun Belt Conference matchup with the North Texas Mean Green.
The Red Wolves are one win away from becoming bowl eligible and head into this week trailing ULM by one game in the SBC standings. A victory would also transform ASU's upcoming matchup versus the Warhawks into a battle for first place. Gus Malzahn seemed to be off to a shaky start in his first season as a head coach, but he seems to have settled in as his team has reeled off three straight victories over FIU (34-20), South Alabama (36-29), and Louisiana (50-27). ASU's three losses were all by double-digit margins to tough opponents (Oregon, Nebraska, Western Kentucky).
North Texas is 3-5 overall and 2-2 in league action after a very difficult eight-game start to its season. The Mean Green lost to two teams currently ranked in the top five (LSU and Kansas State) and have faced just one opponent that currently has a losing record. UNT hurt itself last week as it turned the ball over four times in a 38-21 loss to Middle Tennessee. Coach Dan McCarney is in his second season with the team after guiding them to a 5-7 finish in 2011.
The Mean Green held the lead in its all-time series with Arkansas State before the Red Wolves won the last seven to hold a 13-8 edge. ASU does not have a longer winning streak against any other SBC foe. The Red Wolves cruised to a 37-14 victory when the Mean Green came to Jonesboro in 2011.
Arkansas State possesses one of the best offenses in the conference with averages of 33.6 points and 458.4 yards per game, including a Sun Belt-leading 220.4 rushing yards per contest. ASU eclipsed the 500-yard mark for the fourth time this season last week my generating 526 yards of total offense against Louisiana.
Ryan Aplin is one of the top quarterbacks in school history as he comes in owning 21 combined single game, season, and career school records. With the improved rushing attack, Aplin has not been relied on as heavily as in recent years. However, the senior quarterback has cut down on poor decision making. Aplin finished last season with a 19-to-16-touchdown-to-interception ratio. He enters Saturday with 12 TDs, only two picks, and 2,108 yards.
With all of Aplin's success at ASU, it was hard to imagine a reason to take the ball out of his hands. Junior tailback David Oku's relentless running style has convinced his coach and many others that he is capable of being the team's work horse. Oku has picked up 627 yards and scored eight TDs on 147 attempts so far. Rocky Hayes has also made an impact with limited touches, gaining 317 yards on only 24 carries (13.2 ypc).
Freshman wideout J.D. McKissic (50 receptions, 513 yards) will garner consideration when the league's all-freshmen team is selected as he is producing a memorable campaign. Josh Jarboe has also been a reliable target with 35 catches for 388 yards and three scores.
Last season, ASU's defense was the second best in the SBC in total defense (331.5 ypg) and scoring defense (20.8 ppg). The unit has fallen off slightly and 385.5 yards and 28.6 points to its opposition this season. The numbers are slightly skewed as the Red Wolves gave up 57 points to Oregon, 42 points to Nebraska, and held all six of their opponents under 30 points.
Nathan Herrold is the anchor of the defense with a conference-best 76 total tackles and two forced fumbles already recorded. Chaz Scales is a game- breaking defensive back. The senior made his second interception of the season last week versus Louisiana.
North Texas has stayed with the ground game even after the departure of the school's all-time leading rusher, Lance Dunbar. The Mean Green have the second best rushing offense in the SBC with 187.4 ypg. Unfortunately the aerial attack is not as potent, ranking seventh out of nine in the SBC with 217.3 passing yards per game.
Junior QB Derek Thompson has been consistent under center for UNT in his second season as a full-time starter by passing for more than 200 yards in six straight games. Thompson will be looking to bounce back after tossing a career- high three interceptions versus Middle Tennessee his last time out.
The Mean Green have a solid wide receiver tandem in Ivan Delgado and Brelan Chancellor. Delgado has reeled a team-high 32 catches for 453 yards, but he missed last week and is questionable for Saturday due to disciplinary reasons. Chancellor was held to just one catch for seven yards with Delgado missing from the lineup last week. The junior wideout is second on the squad with 25 catches for 450 yards and five TDs.
Brandin Byrd is the go-to-guy in the rushing game with a team-high 141 carries and 555 yards to go along with two rushing scores. Antoinne Jimmerson (92 carries, 499 yards, five TDs) and Jeremy Brown (52 carries, 302 yards, two TDs) provide different styles of running which keep defenses off-balance and also give Byrd the luxury of taking a few plays off to catch his breath. Jimmerson is also dangerous in the passing game (eight receptions, 175 yards, two TDs).
Despite modest defensive numbers (27.0 ppg, 403.9 ypg), the Mean Green have been up-and-down on the defensive side of the ball. North Texas has allowed only three teams (LSU, Houston, and Middle Tennessee) to surpass the 400-yard mark against it. The Mean Green's defense has surrendered only 14.6 ppg at home this season.
Junior linebacker Zach Orr has earned a SBC Defensive Player of the Week, recorded a team-high 71 tackles, and intercepted two passes while serving as the heart of soul of the defensive unit. As a team, North Texas needs to get pressure on Aplin after failing to sack the QB in each of its past three games.
This year's edition of this SBC rivalry will be much more competitive than last year's slaughter. However, Aplin and the Red Wolves should come out with more intensity than usual, as they must win to keep the dream of repeating as SBC champions alive.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 28, North Texas 20
10/31 10:46:37 ET