The match-up: After playing one of the best teams in the country, Arkansas State returns home to play one of the worst teams in Memphis. The Tigers, winners of just three games over the past two seasons, are coming off a 20-17 loss in the Liberty Bowl to FCS Tennessee-Martin. Meanwhile, A-State returns home after a 57-34 loss to Oregon in a game that appears a very respectable showing, but the final score should be tempered by the fact that much of A-State's scoring came in the second half against the Ducks' second and third team players and Oregon still put up over 600 yards of offense.
Still, it a decent outcome for A-State considering the Red Wolves were down 29-0 after the first quarter. Saturday's game will mark the 57th meeting all-time between the two schools since 1914. Memphis leads the series 28-22-5, but ASU won last year's game in Jonesboro by a 47-3 score. A-State has won three of the last four meetings, including two consecutive in Jonesboro.
At Stake: Arkansas State must take care of C-USA foe Memphis, which has been struggling for the last several years and is transitioning and rebuilding under a new coaching staff. A-State will face several opponents more formidable than Memphis from within the Sun Belt Conference and Saturday's game is one the Red Wolves should win handily. Moreover, the game provides an ideal early season match-up for the Red Wolves with an opportunity to get a win and build confidence before traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska next week for another major challenge.
Keys to the Game: 1) Don't allow Memphis to get any confidence. While Memphis coach Justin Fuente said the Tigers are showing no signs of having a "here we go again" losing attitude and gave a good effort last Saturday, A-State needs to control the game on both sides of the ball early in Jonesboro to cause doubt and second guessing. 2) A-State put up some good numbers offensively at Oregon and needs to keep the offensive machine in gear. 3) Avoid mistakes. A sure recipe for an upset is turnovers and A-State must avoid multiple miscues. Coaches agree that the most improvement for a team is realized from game one to game two and the Red Wolves need to show that, especially on defense this weekend.
Arkansas State rushing versus the Memphis ground defense: Arkansas State rushed for 226 yards last week, which places the team at No. 29 nationally after the first week of play. David Oku picked up 81 yards on 12 carries while Frankie Jackson added 72 yards on just seven carries. The Red Wolves will face a Memphis team that gave up 181 yards good for a No. 73 ranking among FBS teams. Tigers Charles Harris (12 tackles), Lonnie Ballentine (eight tackles) and Anthony Brown (eight tackles) led the Memphis defense against UT-Martin. New head coach Gus Malzahn demonstrated at Oregon that he is committed to running the football and with the Red Wolves aerial threat to keep the Tiger defense loose, look for plenty of opportunities for A-State to control the game on the ground.
Advantage: Arkansas State
Arkansas State passing versus the Memphis secondary: A-State threw for 304 yards, good for a No. 22 ranking. Regardless of the level of competition, all-star quarterback Ryan Alpin seems to always put up impressive numbers and he did that against Oregon with 304 yards with 29 completions on 44 attempts. His main targets were Josh Jarboe and Julian Jones while a total of 11 Red Wolves had at least one reception. Memphis limited UT-Martin to 211 yards through the air and an under 50 percent completion average and is ranked No. 56 in pass defense. While Memphis allowed UT-Martin to just over 200 yards through the air, the Tigers managed two interceptions and allowed the Skyhawks to complete just 19 of 39 passes and gave up a long pass of 36 yards. Memphis will face a much larger challenge against Alpin and crew than the Tigers did against UT-Martin and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Red Wolves riddle the Tiger secondary.
Advantage: Arkansas State
Memphis rushing versus the Arkansas State ground defense: Memphis rushed for 202 yards against Tennessee-Martin, good for a No. 40 ranking. The Tigers' main workhorse was Jerrell Rhodes, a 5-foot-10, 215 pound junior, who rushed for 106 yards on 24 carries and had a touchdown. Tiger quarterback Jacob Karam, who formerly was on Texas Tech's roster, added 52 yards on 10 carries. A-State gave up 297 yards on the ground for a No. 101 ranking. Nathan Herrold led the Red Wolves against Oregon in tackling with 12 while Qushaun Lee added seven stops. Giving up 300 rushing yards, even to a highly ranked Oregon team, is cause for concern and the Red Wolves need to solidify their run defense before playing Nebraska next week and moving on to conference play.
Memphis passing versus the Arkansas State secondary: Memphis could manage on 157 yards through the air, which places the Tigers at No. 89. What's worse for the Tigers is that Karam only hit on 12 of 28 passes for a dismal 42 percent completion rate. Memphis threw a completion to just six receivers with sophomore wide receiver Kevin Wright having four grabs, but only for 29 yards. A-State gave up 308 passing yards and is ranked No. 92 in pass defense. That's an area of concern and with the defense rebuilding; this game offers an opportunity for new defensive coordinator John Thompson to put his players in position for some success and improvement. Memphis is a far cry from Oregon in the passing game and while the Red Wolves may have some issues in the secondary, they should be able to limit Memphis' aerial attack.
Edge: Arkansas State
Special Teams: Memphis is No. 10 in net punting, A-State No. 88. Arkansas State is No. 58 in kick returns, Memphis No. 69. Memphis is No. 49 in turnover margin, Arkansas State No. 80. But, a turnover may have cost the Tigers their last game. The game was headed to overtime until Memphis' Keiwone Malone fumbled a punt which resulted in a UT-Martin 43 yard field goal with four seconds left.
Weather forecast: The weather forecast in Jonesboro calls for morning clouds and afternoon sun with a high of 79 and a low of 56 degees. There is a 20 percent chance of rain and winds are expected to be out of the north at 16 miles per hour.
Broadcast information: The game will be televised by ESPN3.com, and every A-State game can be heard live on 107.9 FM?in the Jonesboro area and the live radio broadcast can be accessed through the Arkansas State athletic Web site (AStateRedWolves.com).
Prediction: Red Wolves 49 - Memphis 10