Last year's GoDaddy Bowl featured a high-scoring shootout between Arkansas State and Toledo. While the Red Wolves hung with the Rockets early, they would not be within two touchdowns for the entire second half. A-State travels to Toledo to look for some retribution, and they do so with a solid core of returning starters.
The most notable performer for the Red Wolves comes in quarterback Fredi Knighten. While last year's bowl game stats were padded because of the lack of defense on both sides, the senior play-caller still put up impressive numbers against the Rockets. Knighten led all passers with 403 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no picks through the air. The Arkansas native can also run, as he amassed 779 yards on the ground last season. UT seemed to have his run game figured out, however, as they held him to a meager 4 yards rushing.
Knighten has some excitement surrounding him as he heads into 2015, as he was recently named Sun Belt Conference first team in addition to being placed on the watch lists for the Manning, Davey O'Brien, Wuerffel, Maxwell, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards. He threw for 4,056 yards last season, averaging 312.0 per game to place him 12th in the country for the category.
Knighten's favorite targets were current senior Tres Houston and current sophomore Dijon Paschal, who totaled 685 and 642 yards, respectively, last season. J.D. McKissic, now a senior, had 629 yards but did not find the end zone once. These numbers are way down from when he had over one thousand yards and 5 TDs en route to being named SBC Freshman of the Year as well as GoDaddy.com Bowl Offensive MVP. Despite his slightly inferior numbers when compared to the other top two receivers, McKissic was still the only wide receiver from A-State named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt First Team.
The Red Wolves present a solid ground game, as current senior Michael Gordon rushed for 1100 yards in 2014. Gordon is a powerhouse who has also landed some preseason honors. The Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation's top running back, has named Gordon to the watch list. As with Knighten's run game, however, the Rockets stifled Gordon as well, holding him to 36 yards.
The offense returns just about all of its clearly potent weapons. While the defense is largely the same too, they have much more to improve on than the offense. Ranking 92nd in average points allowed (30.5), the Red Wolves struggled when it came to stopping the other guys. Just look at their last matchup against Toledo, where the Rockets' contingent of Kareem Hunt and Damion Jones-Moore ran for a combined 374 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The amount of returning starters on the defensive side of the ball is optimistic. The defensive line brings back eleven of twelve, and four of the six linebackers from 2014 are returning. This most notably includes senior Chris Stone and sophomore Ja'Von Rolland-Jones. These two are tabbed as potentially being the best pass rushers in the Sun Belt. Also vying for a spot on the seasoned defensive front is University of Alabama at Birmingham transfer Robert Mondie, who left UAB after the program shut down amidst much controversy.
With these weapons, the Red Wolves hope to take down the MAC-favorite Toledo Rockets on this fall. Arkansas State has a strong offense that returns almost all starters, but the passing game is the only thing that worked against Toledo in 2014. As last season's 63-44 score points out, both offenses are powerful and very capable of putting together big plays. Look for another display of exciting offense as these two squads meet September 26th in Toledo.