UL vs. Arkansas State: Five things to watch

UL running back Elijah McGuire ran for 265 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas State in 2014. (Photo Credit: Advertiser file photo)

1. ARKANSAS STATE’S QB

Without starting quarterback Fred Knighten, who missed three games earlier this season due to a groin injury, Arkansas State is 2-1 with a loss at Toledo and expected wins over Missouri State and Idaho. With him, the Red Wolves are 1-2 with a 49-31 win at South Alabama last Tuesday night but early season losses at Southern Cal and to Missouri.

But make no mistake: A-State would much rather have Knighten than not, which is why Ragin’ Cajun eyes will be on him.

“That guy can make plays happen. He can extend plays,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said of Knighten, who was 26-of-37 for 344 yards and three touchdowns against UL last season. “This kid is a special player. Flies around. Can throw the ball, run the ball. … He’s always a handful, that’s for sure.”

Knighten also ran 16 times for 61 yards vs. the Cajuns in 2014, including a 60-yard TD run in the game’s first four minutes.

“When Fredi Knighten’s in the game,” Hudspeth said, “they’re dynamic.

“They’ve been successful moving the ball without their No. 1. But when he is in there … you can see why he is one of the best players in this conference. He is an exceptional player. Great competitor. I’ve got a lot of respect for that kid.”

Against South Alabama, Knighten ran 20 times for 40 net yards after losing 50 and was 10-of-17 passing for 119 yards and two TDs.

“Fast. Very fast,” UL defensive lineman Blain Winston said. “It didn’t even look like he had an injury before. He’s a fast quarterback, makes great decisions, and we have a tough task on our hands.”

 2. USE OF MCGUIRE

Elijah McGuire ran 19 times for 265 yards and four touchdowns when UL beat Arkansas State 55-40 last year.

UL’s junior running back has a high this season of ‘only’ 170 on 28 carries against Texas State, but with the Cajuns balancing his work inside with his work in space better and better as 2015 has progressed it will worth counting his yards Tuesday night.

“That’s (taken) really creative game-planning by our staff, and they’ve done a really good job,” Hudspeth said, “because he’s gotten more touches and he’s gotten the ball in a variety of different ways to allow him to utilize his skills rather than just running between the tackles on the inside zone.”

 3. RILES OUT OF THE SLOT

Before the Cajuns’ Oct. 10 win over Texas State, their last outing, slot receiver Al Riles had seven catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns in three games. (He missed one with an injury). Against Texas State, Riles had nine receptions for 98 yard and one TD.

Watch how he’s utilized in UL’s game plan against the Red Wolves, because the Cajun offense clearly needs him.

Jet sweeps? Bubble screens? Slant routes, crossing patterns?

It could be any or all of those.

“When Al sort of gets in rhythm – and he’s playing at a pretty high level right now – he can bring that physical punch,” Hudspeth said. “We … need to get him more touches.”

 4. A-STATE’S SKILL PLAYERS

The Red Wolves still have running back Michael Gordon, who ran for 1,110 yards on just 159 carries last season and who coming into this year had 23 touchdowns in 2013 and 2014 combined.

Gordon ran for 134 yards, including a 70-yard TD, against UL last season, and he has a team-high 492 rushing yards so far this season.

But the Red Wolves have a new weapon in Warren Wand, a tiny 5-foot-5, 174-pound true freshman running back from Edmond, Oklahoma, who was rated as Oklahoma’s No. 13 recruit by Rivals.com. He ran 14 times for 85 yards at South Alabama

“Good player,” Hudspeth said. “He’s got some playmaking ability.”

5. THE KICK-RETURN GAMES

The list of Red Wolves the Cajuns must keep tabs on doesn’t end with Knighten, Gordon and Wand.

Veteran slot receiver J.D. McKissic has 49 catches already this year, and he leads the Sun Belt Conference in kick-return average at 27.1 yards including a 92-yard TD against Toledo.

UL’s Jeryl Brazil, oh by the way, brought back a kick 100 yards for a touchdown against Texas State, so don’t get caught napping on returns.

Hudspeth called McKissic one of the league’s top receivers, “if not in the country.”

“This kid is dynamic on the kickoff returns. He hits it downhill. We were showing the kickoff team a bunch of clips of that (last week),” Hudspeth said. “He’s a guy we’re really gonna have to keep an eye on, because he’s an exceptional player along with a lot of their other skill guys.

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