Memphis Faces Fast Paced Arkansas State Team
Sept. 20, 2013
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In last year's game between Memphis and Arkansas State, the Red Wolves clicked off 98 total offensive plays. A-State may have changed head coaches in the off season, but the team's offensive pace has continued.
The University of Memphis will have the formidable task of slowing down one of the nation's top offenses while moving the ball against a solid defense Saturday when the Tigers (0-2) plays host to Arkansas State (2-1) at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m.
Saturday's game will be streamed online at ESPN3 and broadcast locally on Memphis' flagship WREC 600. Memphis' pregame radio show begins at 1:30 p.m. and originates from Tiger Lane.
Arkansas State rebounded from a 38-9 loss at Auburn two weeks ago to open Sun Belt Conference play with a 41-34 win over Troy.
Through three games, the Red Wolves are averaging 544.3 yards of total offense including 295.7 yards rushing. A-State ranks 15th nationally in total offense and ninth in rushing offense.
"They have been pretty explosive," said Memphis head coach Justin Fuente. "They have operated at a fast tempo with really good skill kids. They give you a bunch of different looks, go fast and they get the ball in the skill kids' hands."
Arkansas State's ground game begins with senior running back David Oku who has rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns through three games. Oku ran for 111 yards and a touchdown last year against Memphis. Sophomore Michael Gordon and Fredi Knighten are both averaging better than double digit yardage per carry. Gordon has rushed for 210 yards on just 16 carries while Knighten has rushed for 149 yards on 10 carries. Both players have three touchdowns apiece.
Senior quarterback Adam Kennedy, a transfer from Utah State, has completed 58-of-87 passes for 703 yards and two touchdowns. In last week's win over Troy, Kennedy had a season-best 282 passing yards. He had a season-best 55-yard pass against the Trojans, giving him at least one pass of 40+ yards in Arkansas State's first three games.
Senior wide receiver Julian Jones leads A-State in receptions with 17 for 139 yards. Senior Allen Muse has a team-best 178 receiving yards on eight catches.
"They are a very accomplished football team and program with really good skill players all over the place offensively from their quarterback to their running backs to the wide receivers. It will be a great challenge for us defensively.
Memphis will counter with a defensive unit which has been stingy, especially against the run. The Tigers held MTSU to 60 rushing yards, including none in the second half, and just 284 yards of total offense, 150 yards below MT's season average entering the game.
Senior linebacker Anthony Brown leads the Tigers with 17 total tackles while junior defensive end Martin Ifedi had 13 tackles including 4.5 for loss. His 1.5 quarterback sacks per game (3 total) leads the nation.
After intercepting eight passes in 2012, Memphis has had a pick in each of its first two games including a 75-yard touchdown return by Bobby McCain against Duke. Bakari Hollier had his first interception since his freshman year last week at Middle Tennessee, returning the ball 33 yards to set up a Tiger field goal.
Defensively, Arkansas State ranks second nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 9.7 per game. The Red Wolves have totaled 29 tackles for lost yardage, led by senior defensive lineman Ryan Carrethers and sophomore defensive end Chris Stone with four TFLs each.
Still, the Red Wolves are giving up 418 yards of total offense and 27 points per game.
Memphis' offense will look for more production Saturday after amassing 587 total yards (293.5 ypg) through the first two games of the season.
The Tigers were held to just five first downs in the opening half of the Middle Tennessee game. The offensive unit became more efficient as the MT game moved to the second half. The Tigers equaled the first down total through the first half on the team's initial third-quarter possession and had nine first downs in the quarter along.
Memphis has made 22 of its 29 first downs in the second half.
Fuente has spoken about the Tigers improving their third-down efficiency by improving its efficiency on first down.
Memphis is just 10-for-33 on third down conversions (30 percent). The Tigers have been held to three yards or less on more than half of the team's first-down plays.
Arkansas State is one of the nation's better third-down teams. The Red Wolves have converted on 55.3 percent of its third down plays (17th in the nation).
Saturday's game also pits two of the youngest FBS coaches. Arkansas State rookie coach Bryan Harsin is 36 (Nov. 11, 1976) and is the fourth-youngest coach in FBS. Fuente ranks sixth on the list (37 / July 30, 1976). The two coached against one another when Harsin was on the offensive staff at Boise State and Fuente was at TCU.
Following Saturday's game, Memphis will have an open date before opening American Athletic Conference play on Oct. 5 against UCF. Arkansas State travels next week to Missouri.