A berth in the GoDaddy Bowl is nothing new for Arkansas State. Having its same coach from the regular season on the sideline for that game will be a little different.
As he has throughout the season, Blake Anderson will be there to guide the Red Wolves against Toledo on Sunday night when they try to win this bowl for a third consecutive year.
Arkansas State (7-5) is making its fourth straight appearance in this Alabama-based bowl, but it’s the first with the same coach who was in charge during the regular season.
In 2011, Hugh Freeze guided the Red Wolves to a 10-2 record but left before the bowl game to take the Mississippi job. The next year, Gus Malzahn’s team earned another trip to Mobile, but he bolted for Auburn prior to the bowl.
Last season, Bryan Harsin continued the trend when he left to coach his alma mater, Boise State.
When Anderson was hired Dec. 19, 2013, his contract included a hefty buyout provision to prevent another one-and-done move.
Though he isn’t as recognizable as his predecessors, Anderson did guide Arkansas State to a fourth straight winning season, the first time that’s happened since 1984-87.
"Our team has persevered and worked extremely hard this season to put itself in this position, so we want to take full advantage of this opportunity and finish our season strong," Anderson told the school’s official website.
The Red Wolves set a Sun Belt Conference record with 764 yards in a 68-35 rout of New Mexico State in the season finale Nov. 29. They ran for 469 yards behind quarterback Fredi Knighten (153), Michael Gordon (143) and Johnston White (110), and Knighten and Gordon had five of the team’s seven rushing touchdowns.
Knighten also threw for 296 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
In his first full season as a starter, Knighten threw for 2,874 yards with 19 TDs and seven INTs, and rushed for 775 and 11 scores. He went 15 of 20 for 115 yards with a TD and an INT, and ran 19 times for 97 in last season’s 23-20 bowl victory over Ball State.
Gordon rushed for a team-leading 1,064 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 7.1 per carry this season.
Arkansas State ranked 20th in the FBS with 36.1 points per game and 24th with 229.0 rushing yards a contest, but it yielded an average of 35.0 points, 269.2 rushing yards and 5.5 per carry while splitting the last six games.
The Red Wolves could have their hands full with Toledo sophomore Kareem Hunt, who ranked third in the FBS with an average of 151.1 rushing yards and fifth at 7.9 per carry while running for 11 TDs in nine games.
Sophomore Logan Woodside has dealt with various late-season injuries but is expected to play after throwing for 2,087 yards in 11 games. He threw five of his 19 TDs during a 52-16 win over Eastern Michigan in the finale Nov. 28.
"Toledo has an outstanding football team," Anderson said. "There’s no doubt that it will be a huge challenge for our defense. Offensively, we’ve got to keep them off the field. So both sides have to work together, and we know we’re up against a good challenge."
Toledo (8-4), which shared the Mid-American Conference West Division title with eventual league champion Northern Illinois, returns to a bowl game after its string of three straight appearances ended last season despite a 7-5 record.
While Hunt paces an offense that averages 34.4 points, all-MAC first-team linebacker Junior Sylvestre has a team-high 94 tackles to lead a defense that yielded more than 20 points once to help the Rockets win three of their last four.
"We’ve got to do a really good job of keeping the excitement of the season going," coach Matt Campbell said.
Toledo played in Mobile in 2005 when the game was known as the GMAC Bowl, posting a 45-13 victory over UTEP.
The Rockets won 49-0 over Arkansas State in the most recent meeting Sept. 5, 1992.