December 15, 2015

Arkansas State has played one of the final bowl games in each of the last four seasons but won't have to wait long this year to get its chance to extend a lengthy win streak.

The Red Wolves seek a ninth consecutive victory Saturday when they face former conference foe Louisiana Tech in one of the first postseason games this year, the New Orleans Bowl.

Arkansas State is probably glad to play anywhere new after appearing in the last four GoDaddy Bowls and splitting those games in Mobile, Alabama. The earliest date for any of those appearances was last season's 63-44 loss to Toledo on Jan. 4, and the Red Wolves played as late as Jan. 8 in 2012.

"It's a little different. It's a real quick turnaround. You do carry some momentum out of the regular season into the bowl game," coach Blake Anderson said. "I like the fact that the momentum is there with you. Our guys still have that fresh on their mind."

Anderson's team ran the table in the Sun Belt Conference, going 8-0 following a slow start against a challenging early slate. Arkansas State (9-3) lost to two ranked teams - Southern California and Missouri - and dropped a rematch with a nine-win Toledo squad while quarterback Fredi Knighten was out with a groin injury.

Knighten returned in the second game of the Red Wolves' win streak, and led an offense that averaged an NCAA-best 48.6 points during that run, including three games of 50-plus to end the regular season. They also produced 492.0 yards and 276.1 on the ground per game in those eight victories.

Knighten passed for 17 of his 19 touchdowns with four interceptions, and Michael Gordon ran for 836 of his 1,072 yards.

"We found our stride. Fredi got back on the field, got healthy and we got better every game down the stretch," Anderson said. "We didn't turn the ball over often (10 times). We ran the ball well."

The Red Wolves forced 27 turnovers in league play and an NCAA-leading 34 overall, including 26 interceptions. Senior cornerback Rocky Hayes had six of those picks.

While Arkansas State has a plus-11 turnover margin, Louisiana Tech (8-4) is at minus-2 after committing seven giveaways in a 58-24 loss to Southern Mississippi on Nov. 28 that decided Conference USA's West Division crown.

"We've talked about our disappointment in the way we turned the ball over in our last game," coach Skip Holtz said. "I think everybody's excited to get back on the field and to play Arkansas State."

Jeff Driskel had three interceptions in that defeat, blemishing a highly productive campaign. The Florida transfer and fifth-year senior has 3,575 yards, 24 TDs and eight interceptions in his only season with the Bulldogs.

With Driskel at quarterback, junior Trent Taylor became the program's first 1,000-yard receiver in three years with 1,133 and had eight touchdowns.

The Bulldogs also boast one of the most prolific TD scorers in NCAA history in running back Kenneth Dixon.

His 83 career touchdowns are currently two behind Navy's Keenan Reynolds for the all-time mark. The Midshipmen are playing in Military Bowl on Dec. 28 against Pittsburgh.

Dixon has 22 TDs this season - 17 on the ground - despite missing two games because of an ankle injury. He matched his own school mark with six rushing scores in a 56-13 win over North Texas on Nov. 7.

His 4,378 yards are 1,026 more than the next closest rusher on Louisiana Tech's all-time list. With 968 yards, he's trying to top 1,000 for the second straight season and third time in his career.

The Bulldogs are 25-12 all-time against Arkansas State and played in both the Southland and Big West conferences with the Red Wolves. The teams, though, are playing each other for the first time since Louisiana Tech's 69-21 victory Nov. 7, 1998.

The Bulldogs are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1977-78. They're 3-3-1 in the postseason after a 35-18 victory over Illinois in last year's Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26 and making their first appearance in the New Orleans Bowl.

It is Arkansas State's second trip to the New Orleans Bowl but its first postseason game in the Big Easy. The Red Wolves lost 31-19 to Southern Mississippi in 2005 in a game played in Lafayette, Louisiana, because of Hurricane Katrina.

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