Big weekend ahead for Sun Belt teams

The Sports Xchange

September 09, 2014 at 9:17 pm.

Wes Saxton is a threat in the passing game for South Alabama. (Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)

The third week of the season is an absolute monster one for the Sun Belt Conference. All 10 teams in action play out of conference games, five play at home and five go against programs from the Power Five conferences.

A pair of Louisiana teams play at SEC foes, a pair of Georgia teams will try and spring upsets in Atlanta, Arkansas State goes to South Beach and South Alabama plays hosts to Mississippi State. New Mexico State and Texas State can also improve the conference profile with out-of-league wins against formidable competition.

“The challenge does not get any easier, going to Oxford to face, to me, one of the most-talented teams in the Southeastern Conference,” said Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, whose team travels to Mississippi on Saturday. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us going on the road.”

Three of Saturday’s matchups pit SBC and SEC teams — undefeated Louisiana-Monroe is at LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette is at Mississippi and USA hosts Mississippi State. The latter game is under the lights at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., where South will try and pull off a major upset.

The Jaguars and MSU have met just one previous time.
“We have a great group of mature seniors who understand what it takes to win,” USA coach Joey Jones said. “They understand the hard work we put in to this point to get here, and the way you win ballgames is by being prepared and being good. If you’re good, then you have a chance to win. So we have to work on us. Most of the time in these types of games, I have to put a lid on the guys because their emotional levels can be a little higher. But I feel good about our guys. I think they are level-headed right now, but our challenge is to keep it that way through game time Saturday.”
The Sun Belt also goes up against two ACC teams in road games Saturday. Georgia Southern travels up the road to play Georgia Tech for the first time ever and Arkansas State goes south to play at Miami (Fla). A second game in Atlanta features Georgia State’s third straight home game, this one against Air Force of the Mountain West.

Texas State has had a week off to prepare for Navy and the option offense. New Mexico State hosts rival UTEP.

Elsewhere, Idaho welcomes Western Michigan for its home opener and Troy plays host to Abilene Christian.

THIS WEEK’S GAME: OFF; at Southern Mississippi, Sept. 20, 7 p.m. ET. The Mountaineers return to the site of one their biggest wins in program history — a 34-32 triumph over Michigan in 2007. Things have certainly changed since, and now ASU goes to the Big House as a member of the FBS and Sun Belt Conference.


–QB Kameron Bryant started his 10th straight game dating back to last season and played well in limited time against overmatched Campbell. Bryant did throw his first interception of the season, but also threw a pair of scores and finished with 149 yards.

–RB Marcus Cox rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries last week in his first start of the season, marking the seventh time in 11 career starts the sophomore has rushed for 100 yards. Cox did not start the season-opener at Michigan after missing nearly two weeks of practice due to a lower body injury.

–WR Simms McElfresh, a junior, caught two touchdowns in the first half against Campbell — a 12-yarder and a 39-yarder. The two-touchdown game was the first of McElfresh’s career. He only had two TD grabs all of last season.


THIS WEEK’S GAME: vs. Miami (Fla.), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET. Arkansas State will try for a second straight week to spring a major upset. The Red Wolves were unsuccessful last week at Tennessee, but weren’t blown out of the water. The Hurricanes recovered from an opening week loss at Louisville by crushing Florida A&M last week.


–WR J.D. McKissic has caught a pass in 28 straight games — every game of his ASU career. The junior had a season-high five receptions at Tennessee and now has nine catches for 121 yards in two games.

–S Sterling Young is off to a great start his senior season. A second team all-SBC selection in 2013, Young already leads the Red Wolves with 15 tackles — one for a loss — and has sack and pass breakup to his credit.

–QB Fredi Knighten went over 200 yards of total offense for the second straight game. The junior threw for a score and rushed for another in the loss at Tennessee.


THIS WEEK’S GAME: at Georgia Tech, Saturday, noon ET. The Eagles travel up the road for the first of two games in Atlanta this season. The first trip will include a meeting with former coach Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech. The two programs have never met before.


–WR Kentrelles Showers is the go-to receiver on an offense that makes its living rushing the ball. Showers caught three of the five passes Georgia Southern threw in Week Two and two went for touchdowns of 43 and 38 yards. The senior has five receptions for 150 yards and three scores in 2014.

–RB Matt Brieda was banged up in the Week One loss at North Carolina State, but returned to health against Savannah State. The sophomore scored twice and averaged 8.6 yards per carry on eight runs against SSU.

–QB Kevin Ellison took his reps in a blowout win against Savannah State and got out of the way. The sophomore threw and completed both his passes — one for a touchdown — and rushed twice for 17 yards. Ellison gave way to back Favian Upshaw who finished with 53 yards passing and 81 yards rushing.

GEORGIA STATE (1-1, 0-1)

THIS WEEK’S GAME: vs. Air Force, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET. The Panthers step out of conference after losing the league opener to New Mexico State last week. It’s the third straight home game for GSU. The Air Force is coming off a 17-13 loss at Wyoming.


–WR Robert Davis has yet to catch a touchdown pass, but is the team’s leading receiver as expected. The 6-foot-3 sophomore has a team-high 12 catches for 160 yards so far in 2014.

–QB Nick Arbuckle is learning on the job while putting GSU in a position to win. The junior has thrown for 707 yards and five scores in two games and helped lead the Panthers down the field for critical scores late in each game this season — the State defense couldn’t could on in the second.

–LB Joseph Peterson has led the GSU defense in tackles each of the past two seasons and is dominating once again. The junior already has 26 stops, an interception and a forced fumble in just two games for the Panthers.


THIS WEEK’S GAME: at Mississippi, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET. After being smashed by rival Louisiana Tech, ULL will try and surprise Mississippi on the road this week. The two program have met only three times with Ole Miss winning all three — the last in 2010.


–QB Terrance Broadway has thrown for 387 yards, but is only completing 61.9 percent of his passes and has been picked off three times. The senior is the team’s third leading rusher with 120 yards.

–RB Elijah McGuire is averaging 7.2 yards on 20 carries — but only had 15 yards against Louisiana Tech. The sophomore was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013.

–LB Trae Johnson has vaulted into the team lead in tackles with 17, 15 of which were solo. Johnson made nine tackles — one for loss — in the defeat against Louisiana Tech.

THIS WEEK’S GAME: at LSU, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET. These two in-state rivals meet for just the second time. LSU won 49-7 in 2003 and 51-0 in 2010. The Tigers of LSU are coming off a 56-0 win against Sam Houston State while ULM is off to its first 2-0 start since 1993


–RB Centarius Donald continues to carry the offensive load for ULM. A 6-foot-1, 225-pound senior, Donald is averaging five yards per carry and has scored three times while totaling 228 yards on the ground. His one-yard TD plunge with nine second left gave the Warhawks a 38-31 win in Week Two against Idaho.

–K Justin Manton is now fourth in ULM history with 184 points. Manton kicked five PATs and a field goal in the win against Idaho.

–LB Hunter Kissinger is coming on strong as ULM’s defensive anchor. The junior made eight tackles, a sack and an interception against Idaho.

IDAHO (0-1, 0-1)

THIS WEEK’S GAME: vs. Western Michigan, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET. Both teams, oddly enough, are playing just their second game in the third week of the season. Idaho was rained out at Florida to start the season and WMU lost to Purdue 43-34 on Aug. 30 before a bye week.


–QB Matt Linehan did not play like a true freshman in his first start. The 6-foot-3 product of Michigan threw for 324 yards and three scores in Idaho’s opener. Linehan was a two-star recruit who wasn’t heavily recruited by any other program other than Idaho.

–RB Jerrel Brown proved to be a viable threat in the ground game for the Vandals. The 6-foot senior ran for 122 yards on 17 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per run. Brown rushed for only 216 yards as a junior.

–WR Joshua McCain made the switch from quarterback to wide receiver — and that move has already paid dividends. McCain caught eight passes for 93 yards and two TDs in the season-opener. A 6-foot-2 senior, McCain played eight games at QB for UI last year after transferring from DeAnza College.


THIS WEEK’S GAME: at UTEP, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET. The 91st meeting between the two programs comes under the lights at the Sun Bowl. The Miners have won five straight dating back to 208 when NMSU won 34-33. UTEP owns a 54-35-2 advantage in the rivalry separated by 50 miles.


–QB Tyler Rogers helped orchestrate a game-winning drive last week at Georgia State that will certainly help build the sophomore’s confidence. Rogers is now a yard short of 400 passing this season to go along with five TDs in his first year as starter.

–LB Larry Rose III is a front-runner for freshman of the year in the conference. The diminutive speedster is averaging 5.1 yards per carry on 47 attempts through two games.

–WR Teldrick Morgan goes into Week Three fresh off a game-winning TD catch at Georgia State. It was the third scoring catch of the year for the sophomore who know has 14 grabs for 180 yards.


THIS WEEK’S GAME: vs. Mississippi State, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET. The Bulldogs travel to Mobile, Ala., for the second ever meeting between the two teams. State won 30-10 in 2012 in Starkville, Miss.


–RB Jay Jones picked up where he left off in 2013 by starting 2014 with a bang. The senior carried the ball 21 times for 102 yards and scored twice in a 23-13 win at Kent State.

–QB Brandon Bridge was a modest 15 of 25 for 161 yards and a score in the Jaguars’ first-week win. A transfer from Alcorn State, Bridge played in nine games in 2013, but is the full-time starter in 2014.

–LB Devin Hawkins made a team-leading nine tackles, recorded a sack and broke up two passes against KSU. The senior played offense and special teams his three prior seasons with USA before switching sides of the ball in the spring.


THIS WEEK’S GAME: vs. Navy, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET. Texas State and Navy have met only once, a 21-10 Midshipmen win in 2012. The Bobcats have had a week off to prepare for Navy’s option attack after opening the season with a 65-0 victory against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.


–QB Tyler Jones battled injuries in 2013, but returned with a vengeance in the opening win against UAPB. The sophomore threw for 278 yards and had as many incompletions as touchdown passes.

–RB Robert Lowe, a junior, picked up his production with 150 yards on 14 carries in his first game of 2013. Lowe is a 2013 second team all-conference selection and the focal point of the TSU offense.

–WR Jafus Gaines may be emerging as Texas State’s most-viable receiving threat. His 119-yard, two-TD performance in the opener gives the Bobcats stability in an otherwise thin receiving corps. The junior only caught four passes all of last year.

TROY (0-2)

THIS WEEK’S GAME: vs. Abilene Christian, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET. Troy looks to break an early two-game losing streak when it hosts Abilene Christian. The Trojans have dropped 5 of 6 overall dating back to last season. It’s the second game against a Sun Belt team this year for ACU, a member of the FCS and Southland Conference. Troy has been outscored 82-37 in 2014.


–QB Brandon Silvers has thrown for 322 yards in two games, but has yet to find the end zone in Troy’s pass-happy attack. The true freshman has only thrown 15 incompletions and has yet to throw an interception as well.

–DB Montres Kitchens will likely surpass his 2013 tackle total through three games. Kitchens has 15 tackles and has ran back an interception for 28 yards in the first two games of the contest. The junior had 22 tackles last year.

–RB Brandon Burks, the team’s leading rusher a season ago, has been held to 94 yards through two games this season. The junior has only carried the ball 19 times, but does have eight catches for 49 yards.