Arkansas State (2-1) at Memphis (0-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 4:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (59,308) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: ASU 2-0, Memphis 0-1. Away Record: ASU 0-1, Memphis 0-1. Neutral Record: ASU 0-0, Memphis 0-0. Conference Record: ASU 1-0, Memphis 0-0. Series Record: Memphis leads, 28-23-5.
GAME NOTES: The Arkansas State Red Wolves will play a familiar opponent as they continue their rivalry with the Memphis Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in a non-conference matchup.
This will be Arkansas State's 57th game against the Tigers, making them the reigning Sun Belt Conference champion's most common opponent in history. Memphis owns a 28-24-5 all-time series lead despite losing four of the last five meetings, including the Red Wolves' 33-28 victory last season in Jonesboro.
Arkansas State takes a 2-1 record with it to Tennessee after its 41-34 win over SBC rival Troy last Thursday. The Red Wolves have split their non- conference games, defeating UAPB in the season opener before being dismantled by their 2012 head coach Gus Malzahn and his new team the Auburn Tigers. Former Boise State quarterback Bryan Harsin has done a decent job in his first season as a head coach after serving as the co-offensive coordinator for Texas for the past two seasons.
Memphis is still searching for its inaugural win of the campaign after falling in consecutive games to Duke (28-14) and Middle Tennessee (17-15) to kick off the 2013 slate. The Tigers held a late lead over the Blue Raiders before a 40- yard field goal in the last two minutes proved to be the difference. Coach Justin Fuente led the Tigers on a three-game winning streak to conclude his inaugural year at the helm of the program in 2012 with a 4-8 overall record. This will be his team's last non-conference game versus an FBS opponent this season and the final test for Memphis before its American Athletic Conference debut versus UCF on Oct. 5.
While the Tigers are now a member of an automatic BCS qualifying league, they were one of the weakest teams in the Conference USA for some time, and have not reached the postseason since 2008.
The Red Wolves are once again one of the best in the SBC on the offensive side of the ball, owning averages of 37.3 points and 544.3 yards through three games. Their balanced attack has helped them move the chains on 55.3 percent of their third down plays.
Arkansas State has a very capable signal caller running its offense in Adam Kennedy, who has been on a hot streak of late. The 6-foot-5 Utah State transfer ended his first SBC game with 20 completions on 34 pass attempts for a season-high 282 yards and his second TD pass of the year. Kennedy has been very efficient in a Red Wolves' uniform, hitting on 66.7 percent of his passes for 703 yards with no interceptions. Allen Muse has been a big-play machine with 178 yards and a score on just eight catches.
The Red Wolves have been unstoppable on the ground under Harsin, rushing for an average of 295.7 yards per game. David Oku is the team's primary ball carrier and leading rusher with 246 yards and four TDs on 53 attempts. Michael Gordon (210 yards, three TDs) and Fredi Knighten (149 yards, three TDs) are both gaining more than 13 yards per carry.
Arkansas State has digressed defensively each week this season. It allowed 614 yards of total offense including 504 through the air and five touchdowns to the Trojans last time out. The Red Wolves were able to record three interceptions, but the high passing yards is not encouraging considering they were shredded by Troy's passing just after giving up 301 yards rushing to Auburn prior to that. Qushaun Lee is the key to the defensive unit. Lee has tallied a team-best 19.5 total stops and forced two fumbles.
Memphis managed to out-gain MT, 350-284, in its last appearance. However, the Tigers hurt themselves as they were flagged for 15 penalties for 145 yards, while scoring a touchdown on just 1-of-4 red zone trips. The 145 penalty yards were the most by a Memphis squad since 1964.
Paxton Lynch was sacked on back-to-back plays to end last week's game. The freshman quarterback hit on 19-of-27 pass attempts for 170 yards and his first career touchdown pass. Lynch was also intercepted for the first two times in his collegiate career and sacked four times.
Tevin Jones and Joe Craig are tied for the team-lead with seven catches each. Jones is the yardage leader with 104, but sophomore tight end Alan Cross is the only Tiger with a touchdown grab. Senior running back Brandon Hayes is the feature back in Fuente's offense with 120 yards on 30 carries through two games. The senior lost a fumble in the season opener against Duke and exhibited ball security issues last season, but will be a factor if he can avoids turnovers due to his excellent quickness and vision.
Although the team has been out-produced by an average more than 80 yards per game in yards of total offense, the Tigers' defensive unit has held its own. Memphis is giving up 377 yards of total offense and 22.5 points per game compared to its allowance of 383.6 yards and 30.3 points per contest in 2012. Martin Ifedi is a difficult assignment for any offensive lineman that has the task of blocking him. He has registered 4.5 TFL and three sacks, while Anthony Brown's 17 total stops paces the team.
The Tigers are only going to get better with maturity as the season progresses. They out-played the Sun Belt's 2012 runner-up last week but lost because of their record-setting total of penalties. If Memphis can play with more discipline and Hayes doesn't have any errors, the Tigers will have a chance at the upset. Arkansas State barely held on for a win when these teams met last season and should be able to narrow the all-time series more due to an edge in overall talent.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 30, Memphis 24
09/18 10:31:36 ET