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Sun Belt Showdown: Previewing Arkansas State at Louisiana

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Two of the Sun Belt's top teams tangle in prime time on ESPN 2. Arkansas State beat writer Charles Blouin-Gascon and Louisiana beat writer Cody Junot break down Tuesday's game.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Arkansas State 4-2 (2-0) at Louisiana 3-3 (2-0)

WHEN: Tuesday, October 21, 7PM. ESPN 2

WHERE: Cajun Field

WEATHER: 83°/56° 0% rain

LINE: Arkansas State -2.5 (opened -3)

If it is understood that a new week must start at the very place where the old one ends, and that Tuesday comes very early in this new week, this means that week 9 of the 2014 college football season launches with this big Sun Belt conference clash. This will be the third consecutive year the Cajuns and Red Wolves meet in a mid-week contest. Arkansas State took the first meeting 50-27 in 2012, while Louisiana won last years meeting 23-7. The road team has won both matchups, will the trend continue Tuesday?

Both teams enter the prime time showdown after impressive victories. Arkansas State rolled past Georgia State 52-10 on October 11 while Louisiana picked up a huge win at Texas State 34-10. The Cajuns and Red Wolves are both 2-0 in Sun Belt play, and a win for either side will go a long way in the standings. Oddly enough, neither Louisiana or Arkansas State play league leading Georgia Southern, setting up a potential co-champion situation at the end of the season. Now let's take a look at what each team will need to do to continue their winning ways and take one step closer to a Sun Belt title.

ARKANSAS STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Fredi Knighten, JR Quarterback: With a last name like his, it's only fitting that Fredi Knighten would be a dual-threat quarterback. He's both night and day (reverse Kid CuDi anyone?) in that he will not hesitate to rush the ball when he sees any hint of daylight, but he can also throw it. (I haven't quite worked out the "Night" part of that pun. Give me another week.) It's safe to say that the junior quarterback, and first-year starter, is growing into the role after the quick work he made of Georgia State in the team's last game. Knighten ranks No. 42 in the country in total offense and, most importantly, is the reigning Athlon Sports' Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week.

Michael Gordon, JR Running Back: Michael Gordon is one third of a prolific backfield that ranks No. 29 in the FBS with over 219 yards per game, but he's also its most productive with a total of 441 yards. The junior is the man behind four of the five longest plays of the season for A-State, and all four have come in the past two weeks. This is to say that while Gordon is dangerous against a typical college football team, he's lethal against the Sun Belt conference, which he has punished to the tune of 10.79 yards per carry. It should be noted that Gordon goes by "Flash." That's his nickname-as in, he just goes by you in a flash.

Xavier Woodson, SO Linebacker: The Red Wolves are known for being a prolific scoring machine, but the numbers that their defensive unit are putting up are perhaps even more impressive. Looking at conference games only, they are second in the country in scoring defense. Repeatedly, senior Qushaun Lee has been called the heart of the defense, so let's say that fellow linebacker Xavier Woodson is at the heart of most Red Wolves tackles. He's eighth in the conference in tackles per game with almost eight and this week he will look to add to his team-leading six tackles for loss.

LOUISIANA PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Terrance Broadway, SR Quarterback: I've said it before and it holds true this week, the Cajuns will go as far as Terrance Broadway will take them. Over his last two games, Broadway is 34/47 for 441 yards, 3 touchdowns and only 1 interception.

Elijah McGuire, SO Running Back: I'll let Elijah take over from here

Cajun Wide Receivers: Last week, leading receiver Jamal Robinson was lost for the season with a foot injury. Somebody must step up and give the Cajuns an option down field. Outside of Jamal Robinson the wide receivers have not been productive for Louisiana. The last two weeks have however seen slot man Al Riles start to emerge as a reliable target for Terrance Broadway. It's time for James Butler, Devin Scott or Jared Johnson to step up and give Broadway some options down field

Louisiana Defense: Last week the Cajun defense shut down a talented Texas State offense, can they stop another top notch attack? Just like last week, Louisiana must control the line of scrimmage and stuff the run game. The secondary figures to be tested more this week, Corey Trim and company will look to prove last week was not a fluke.

HOW TO BEAT THE RAGIN' CAJUNS:

CONTROL THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: The Red Wolves have terrorized opponents at the line of scrimmage, most notably when they are on defense. A-State ranks No. 12 in the FBS with 22 quarterback sacks, and No. 21 with a little over 7 tackles for loss per game. Arkansas State also ranks first in the Sun Belt in rush defense only allowing 114.7 yards per game. Louisiana relied heavily on the run last week; Arkansas State must take away the run and force Terrance Broadway to beat the Red Wolves with his arm. The Cajuns are missing top receiver Jamal Robinson and Louisiana has shown little ability to throw the ball when Robinson is out of the lineup.

CHUNK PLAYS: Yet for all of its defensive excellence, A-State might be scariest on offense and with the ball. Not only that, but they seem to be peaking in time for this Tuesday night game-12 of the Red Wolves' 29 plays of over 20 yards in 2014 have come in their previous two games. The Ragin' Cajun defense has given up huge plays that have turned ball games. (See LA Tech, Ole Miss and Boise) If the Red Wolves can hit some of these big plays uncle Mo will swing over to the A-State bench and carry them to victory. It's statistics like this one that show how the Red Wolves can manage to win 22 of their last 25 conference games, including 11 of its last 12 on the road. If this all sounds dominant, it's because it is.

HOW TO BEAT THE RED WOLVES:

CONTROL THE CLOCK: Last week Louisiana had the ball for 38:38, the Cajuns combined to run the ball 58 times for 306 yards. Controlling the clock kept the Cajun defense fresh, and they were able to use that freshness to hold Texas State to only 270 total yards.

SET THE TONE IN THE TRENCHES: Football games are won or lost inside the numbers. The Cajun big fellas on both sides of the football must win the fight inside; doing so will give Louisiana an excellence chance of winning the game. It will not be an easy task however. Just like the Cajuns, the strength of the A-State defense is the defensive line.

PREDICTION:

CBG: You know, Cody, there's a saying that I like to use-a Cajun doesn't howl, only wolves can. A-State arrives in Lafayette high in both confidence, which is big, and rest after a bye week, which is bigger. The Red Wolves are simply impossible to score against in the Sun Belt and where you say "small sample size," I also say that thing about how the only bad sample is no sample. It should also be noted that this is the second week in a row that UL gets to dance at the big boys' dance, but I see it the other way. Arkansas State needs just one dance. (I am blatantly overlooking the Thursday night tilt against Texas State on November 20, yes.) Louisiana dominated A-State a year ago in Jonesboro, and I say that the Red Wolves can do the same this year. Let's say 31-17 for A-State.

CODY: The last two weeks have seen Louisiana get their swagger back while starting conference play 2-0. The Cajuns will come out looking to run the ball allowing their offense to dictate the flow of the game. On defense, Louisiana will play well again as their confidence grows, building off of last week's performance. Arkansas State will keep the game close but ultimately I like the Cajuns to win a tough, hard fought game 31-24.