It’s safe to say this week took on a different meaning for the Memphis Tigers with Kenneth Gainwell opting out. While the Tigers still have plenty of talent behind him, losing a talent like Gainwell hurts. What kind of effect does that have on the rest of the Tigers? We get our first glimpse of the new look Tigers this weekend, and how they handle their latest adversity against a solid team.
Date: Saturday, September 5th
Time: 7:00pm CT
Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, TN)
Line: Memphis -19
All of the attention before the game and even early on will be on replacing Gainwell. Ryan Silverfield already has a plan in place for the next man up, so there won’t be too much uncertainty when the game begins.
As we wait for Ryan Silverfield’s first weekly luncheon, couple depth chart notes for Memphis.— Evan Barnes〽️ (@evan_b) August 31, 2020
Dreke Clark/Asa Martin listed at RB
Tahj Washington listed as starting WR alongside Damonte Coxie/Calvin Austin
Memphis’ offense remains one of the best in the country even without Gainwell, but it’s a huge loss. That being said, there’s no time to dwell on the past as the team they’re facing isn’t a pushover.
Arkansas State Outlook
Arkansas State isn’t intimidated by superior competition. Last year, the Red Wolves started the season against SMU and played a tight game before falling 37-30. This year, they’re hoping to knock off the defending AAC champions. How they defend the Memphis offense will go a long way in helping them achieve that goal.
Getting after Memphis quarterback Brady White will be the first key. While the Red Wolves don’t have William Bradley-King (transfer to Baylor), they get back Forrest Merrill at nose tackle. Guys like Jeffmario Brown will be asked to replace Bradley-King’s production, and their performance will take pressure off of the defensive backs. It’s tough to see their defense slowing Memphis down much, but they have an explosive offense of their own that can compete in a track meet.
All eyes are on the quarterback for the offense. Layne Hatcher stole the show last year in relief of Logan Bonner (injury), throwing for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns in 10 games. Reports indicate that Bonner, however, is the favorite to start the game Saturday. Bonner was off to a great start before getting hurt, throwing for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns in those games. A plethora of talent surrounds both of them, giving the Tigers enough to worry about no matter which quarterback is on the field.
For the record, Brady White and Damonte Coxie are both back for Memphis, which would be plenty for most teams to succeed. Throw in an experienced offensive line and the Tigers will be just fine even without Gainwell.
Coxie is joined on the outside by Calvin Austin III, but there’s room for others to step up as they’re the only two with more than 10 catches from last year. Tight end Sean Dykes returns after battling injuries for most of 2019, and was trending towards being a major factor before he got hurt. So even with a good amount of catches gone, the Tigers passing game is in great hands. It just comes down to the running game.
When we talk about the rushing attack, the offensive line isn’t the concern. Tackle Obinna Eze and guard Dylan Parham are two of the best at their positions, and the rest of the line returns tons of experience as well. It comes down to who’s running the ball. Kylan Watkins suddenly becomes the top returning rusher with 352 yards, but showed flashes of what he could do last year. The depth behind him becomes the biggest competition, and determines how balanced the Tigers offense will be in 2020.
Then we flip to defense. The Tigers defense went threw a few year stretch where they returned experience and production at nearly every position, but it never felt like they could control a game. Mike MacIntyre joins the Memphis staff to change that, but with less experience than in years past. The guys who are back, though, are dudes. TJ Carter will remind everyone why he’s one of the best defensive backs in the country, Joseph Dorceus broke out last year up front, O’Bryan Goodson can be a problem up the middle, and linebacker JJ Russell steps into a leadership role. MacIntyre must find depth within his group, but the starters give him plenty to work with this year.
Arkansas State is more than capable of upsetting the Tigers, but it will take the right combination of events. Memphis might have lost one of the best players in all of college football, but they’re more than just one guy. Brady White’s back for another year to lead the Tigers offense, and that composure could keep Memphis on track. Hopefully, it’s a track meet, but the Tigers will be too much for the Red Wolves to catch. MEMPHIS 38 ARKANSAS STATE 21