R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Date: Dec. 19, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Best moment: In a way, you’re looking at a string of moments for Arkansas State. Coach Blake Anderson knew the beginning of the year would be rough, calling it “the toughest schedule in the country to open the season.” But once Sun Belt play began, the Red Wolves started rolling as they recovered to win seven straight games and finish the regular season atop the conference. The best win of the bunch was a 40-27 victory over conference runner-up Appalachian State.
Lowest moment: The day Anderson referred to the start of his schedule as the toughest in the country was the same day his team lost by 30 points at Toledo, dropping to 1-3 on the season. Quarterback James Tabary completed barely 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and three picks, finishing with a QBR of 3.0. He was benched two weeks later. To be fair, he had no help from a rushing attack that went for minus-14 yards on 24 carries against the Rockets.
Key player: They couldn’t keep running Tabary out there. Not after six interceptions and just four touchdowns. So Anderson turned to 5-foot-11 senior Fredi Knighten, an Arkansas native who hurt his ankle in the preseason. Knighten returned to the field and made an immediate impact, winning all of his games while accounting for 20 total TDs and seven interceptions.
Motivation level: Almost anywhere else, you’d be concerned about the effect of a head coach being rumored for other jobs. But this is Arkansas State, which has a history of turning over coaches quickly. Hugh Freeze lasted one season as the Red Wolves’ head coach before Ole Miss came calling. The same goes for Gus Malzahn, who left for Auburn. So while Anderson continues to be a name floated in coaching circles, don’t expect the team to let it become a distraction. By now the Red Wolves are used to it.
-- Alex Scarborough
Best moment: The Bulldogs showed they were a Conference USA title contender with a resounding 45-16 victory over Middle Tennessee. In that contest, Kenneth Dixon put on a show, running for three touchdowns while hauling in another. The win moved Louisiana Tech to 3-1 in conference play.
Lowest moment: Louisiana Tech met Southern Mississippi in the regular-season finale, with the Conference USA West Division title on the line. But the Golden Eagles rolled 58-24 to take the crown, as Bulldogs QB Jeff Driskel was picked off three times. After trailing big in the first half, Louisiana Tech fought back to cut Southern Miss’s lead to just 24-17. But then the Golden Eagles reeled off four unanswered touchdowns to put the game way.
Key player: The offense goes through Driskel, the transfer from Florida. Driskel finished the regular season with 24 touchdowns to just eight picks and 3,575 yards through the air. Dixon, however, is right there with him. He has a chance to break the FBS record for most rushing and receiving TDs in a career. Dixon has 83 heading into the bowl game.
Motivational level: The Bulldogs should still be steaming after getting beat up by Southern Miss. This a quality team, which also had narrow losses to Western Kentucky and Kansas State. The Bulldogs should be pumped for the opportunity to make up for the Southern Miss loss with a big bowl performance.
-- Jake Trotter