Arkansas St.-Ball St. Preview

For the third straight year, the coach that guided Arkansas

State during the regular season won’t be there to do so in the

GoDaddy Bowl.

With defensive coordinator John Thompson running the team for a

second consecutive postseason, the Red Wolves face a stiff

challenge trying to keep high-scoring Ball State from winning its

first bowl game Sunday night in Mobile, Ala.

Like Hugh Freeze following the 2011 regular season and Gus

Malzahn last year, Bryan Harsin left Arkansas State for a more

high-profile job after guiding the team to a 7-5 record and

third-straight GoDaddy Bowl berth this season.

The former Boise State quarterback and offensive coordinator

accepted the head coaching job at his former school Dec. 11.

Though Arkansas State named North Carolina offensive coordinator

Blake Anderson its fifth head coach in five seasons Dec. 19,

Thompson will try to lead the Red Wolves to a second consecutive

bowl victory.

“An Arkansas State man coaches Arkansas State football,”

athletic director Terry Mohajir said about Thompson taking the

helm.

Since 2011, the Red Wolves are 27-11. Prior to that, they

finished above .500 once since becoming an FBS school in 1992. By

giving Anderson a five-year deal with a hefty buyout provision, the

school expects him to stick around for more than a season.

“Although we want to continue to build momentum and success, we

want to create stability as well,” Mohajir said.

The Red Wolves started 3-4 then won four straight before losing

34-31 on a 2-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left at Western

Kentucky to conclude the regular season.

Arkansas State allowed an average of 26.7 points during the

season, and 67 combined during its last two contests. The Red

Wolves are likely to have their hands full against Ball State

(10-2), which ranks among the FBS leaders with 40.1 points and

333.3 passing yards per game.

After recording 10 wins for the third time in school history,

the Cardinals have their sights set on improving on a 0-7-1 bowl

record. After a 38-17 loss to Central Florida in last season’s Beef

‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, Ball State has been outscored 135-60 in its last

three bowl appearances.

“We know its going to be a tremendous challenge,” said Cardinals

coach Pete Lembo, whose team needs nine points to break the

single-season school record of 489 set in 2008. “We have been able

to accomplish quite a bit at Ball State the last few years, but the

one thing that has never been done at Ball State is to win a bowl

game.

“We have an opportunity to put the icing on the cake of a 10-win

season and go out and have a chance to win a bowl game this year

against a great team.”

Lembo also would like to send senior quarterback Keith Wenning

out on a winning note.

The school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (91), passing

yards (11,187), completions (1,012) and attempts (1,598), Wenning

set career highs this season with 3,933 yards and 34 TDs while

throwing only six interceptions.

“He’s the quarterback, he’s the star of this team,” Ball State

receiver Connor Ryan told the school’s official website. “He’s one

of our leaders, but he’s never really put himself on a pedestal,

and I think a lot of guys respect that about him, and I think

that’s very important. I think that’s a quality of his not too many

people have.”

Wenning often looks toward junior Willie Snead, who ranks among

the FBS leaders with 97 receptions, 1,429 yards and 14 TDs – 10 of

which came over the last seven contests.

Though the Cardinals have one of the most potent offenses in the

nation, they also are among the best in the country with 18 fumble

recoveries.

Arkansas State, meanwhile, has not turned the ball over more

than twice in any game this season and its 13 total turnovers are

among the fewest in the nation.

Senior Adam Kennedy, among the FBS leaders with a 69.3

completion percentage, threw for 2,327 yards with 11 TDs. He’s

thrown only two of his six interceptions in the last five

games.

Sophomore Michael Gordon had his two highest rushing totals of

the season over the least three games with 184 against Texas State

and 132 versus Western Kentucky.

The Red Wolves won 17-13 over then-No. 25 Kent State in last

season’s GoDaddy Bowl after falling 38-20 to Northern Illinois the

year before.