The Arkansas State football team piled up 474 yards total offense and its defense forced a pair of turnovers in a 37-19 victory over North Texas Saturday night at Apogee Stadium, giving the Red Wolves their sixth victory of the year to make them bowl eligible for the fifth time over the last eight seasons.
A-State claimed its eighth consecutive win over the Mean Green, improving to 6-3 overall and 4-1 in Sun Belt Conference play as it moved into a three-way tie with Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe atop the league standings. North Texas dropped to 3-6 overall and 2-3 in conference play with the setback.
Senior quarterback Ryan Aplin threw for a season-high 328 yards while recording two passing touchdowns and adding another on the ground to lead ASU, which has won 12 of its last 13 conference games. Senior linebacker Nathan Herrold and sophomore linebacker Qushaun Lee both had a team-high seven tackles, while sophomore safety Sterling Young recorded his second interception of the season and third fumble recovery of his career to pace A-State's defensive attack.
A-State was saddled with a safety on the opening kickoff, but bounced back to score three touchdowns and a field goal on its next four possessions to build a 23-12 lead with 7:18 left in the half. The Red Wolves tacked on their final score of the first half, a four-yard reception by tight end Kendric Murray, at the 2:12 mark to take a 30-12 lead into the break. Their final score was set up after Young recovered a North Texas fumble on their own 43-yard line and returned it 26 yards to set them up at the Mean Green 31.
The Mean Green was able to pull within 30-19 when quarterback Derek Thompson connected with running back Antoinne Jimmerson on a three-yard touchdown pass with 6:11 remaining the third quarter. True freshman Rocky Hayes set the final score when he found the end zone for the Red Wolves on a 19-yard run at the 1:15 mark of the third quarter.
"We got off to a slow start with the safety to start the game, but we were fortunate to hit some big plays in the passing game that opened things up for us," ASU head coach Gus Malzahn said. "We have now strung together back-to-back strong offensive games and defensively, while we did give up some yards, we stepped up when we needed to."
Redshirt freshman receiver J.D. McKissic hauled in a career-high 10 receptions for 96 yards and senior wide out Josh Jarboe added 93 yards receiving on five receptions to help pace the ASU passing game. ASU junior running back David Oku recorded a game-high 71 rushing yards and Rocky Hayes again averaged over 10 yards per carry as he finished with 58 yards on just seven attempts.
In addition to its two turnovers forced, the A-State defense recorded seven tackles for loss, seven pass break-ups and recorded at least one sack for the 23rd consecutive game.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Arkansas State returns to play on short rest this week and the Red Wolves must focus on a quick turnaround as this week's game will be played on Thursday night due to television.
ASU extended its winning streak in conference road games to seven games, matching its most since it also had seven from 1973-75.
ASU became bowl eligible for the second straight year and the fifth time over the last eight seasons.
ASU extended its winning streak against teams from Texas to nine and the Red Wolves have now won 12 of their last 13 conference games, including the last four in a row.
Keep An Eye On: Junior LB/DE Eddie Porter was one of the more highly sought out members of the ASU recruiting class this past season, making his way into the starting lineup just a few games into the season before missing some time with a concussion. Porter is now 100 percent and back in the lineup and showed North Texas why he can be such a force while causing a team-leading fourth forced fumble this season.
Looking Good: ASU finished with over 300 yards total offense for the eighth time this season and the 32nd time over its last 34 games while also going over 400 yards of offense for the sixth time this season, including three of its last four games.
Still Needs Work: Arkansas State is still having trouble with its special teams, falling behind 2-0 early in the game after Rocky Hayes fumbled the opening kickoff in the end zone allowing North Texas to recover, starting another game in which ASU was not able to find anything for a return team that ranks among the nation's worst.
Quote To Note: "I am extremely proud of this football team. It is always difficult to go on the road and get a win, especially in this conference. This is a big win for us and we are now tied for first place and have a big game Thursday night on a short week of practice."-ASU head coach Gus Malzahn.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
WR J.D. McKissic has now recorded at least four receptions in every game this season. McKissic recorded a career-high 10 receptions, topping his previous best of eight reached three times prior to tonight. He finished the game with 96 yards receiving.
QB Ryan Aplin recorded at least 200 yards passing for the seventh time this season and has now thrown for over 200 yards 29 times during his career. Aplin has now tossed at least one TD pass in 33 of his last 37 games dating back to his freshman season.
Aplin threw for over 300 yards for the third time this season, but for the first time since opening the year with back-to-back 300-plus performances. Aplin threw for a season-high 321 passing yards. Aplin finished with over 300 yards total offense for the 16th time in his career. Aplin has now thrown 125 consecutive passes without an interception.
RB David Oku recorded his team-leading ninth rushing TD of the season and has posted at least one rushing TD in the last four games.
LB Eddie Porter returned to action after missing one game with concussion symptoms and recorded only one tackle but it was a big one for a seven yard loss and sack.
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