Arizona Bowl pits Arkansas State against Nevada
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By JOHN MARSHALL
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Nevada is back in Tucson, where it won the inaugural Arizona Bowl in 2015.
Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell also is returning to the desert, where his last visit ended in a blowout loss to Arizona.
"We're hoping for a better result," said Norvell, an assistant at Arizona State in 2016.
Norvell and the Wolf Pack face Arkansas State in the Arizona Bowl on Saturday in one of the bowl season's most evenly-matched games.
Nevada (7-5) has a prolific quarterback in Ty Gangi, averages 32 points per game and has a defensive front adept at getting to the quarterback.
Arkansas State (8-4) has its own senior star in Justice Hansen, puts up 32 points per game and its defensive line spent the season wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
The Red Wolves won their final four games, the Wolf Pack took four of five to close the season.
Both teams played UNLV, though with differing results: Arkansas State beat the Rebels 27-20, Nevada lost 32-29.
"Something's got to give in a game like this and I hope it's not us," Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said.
A few more things to watch in Saturday's Arizona Bowl.
THE QUARTERBACKS: Hansen had a prolific, under-the-radar senior season. He was named the Sun Belt Conference player of the year after throwing for 3,172 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes.
Gangi threw for 3,131 yards and 23 TDs, completing 61 percent of his passes.
The big difference? Interceptions. Gangi had 11, while Hansen had just six.
MISSING MANNIX: Nevada will be missing its leading receiver in yards after sophomore McLane Mannix announced he's transferring. Mannix, who is headed to Texas Tech, had 50 catches for 875 yards and seven TDs.
Expect more balls to go to Kaleb Fossum, who caught 69 passes for 725 yards and a touchdown.
SACK MASTERS: Both teams have done well getting to the quarterback, each entering Saturday's game with 32 sacks.
Senior defensive end Ronheen Bingham led the Red Wolves' quarterback charge, finishing the regular season with nine sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. He had 65 tackles overall.
Senior defensive end Malik Reed was the Wolf Pack's main sack man with eight. He has 72 overall tackles, including 15.5 for loss
PUNT COVERAGE RECORD: Arkansas State has a chance to break an NCAA record for punt coverage this season.
The Red Wolves enter the Arizona Bowl with minus-15 yards on punt returns, putting it within reach of the record of minus-nine set by TCU in 2014.
A big reason for Arkansas State's punt coverage success has been punter Cody Grace.
The Aussie punter has one touchback in 107 attempts over the past two seasons and opponents have returned his punts 12 times. The Ray Guy Award finalist for the nation's best punter has dropped punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line 23 times.
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Updated December 28, 2018