GAME PREVIEW: Arkansas State at Memphis

Arkansas State at Memphis
When: Saturday, Sept. 5th 8:00 PM EDT
Where: Liberty Bowl, Memphis, TN
TV/Streaming: ESPN/WatchESPN (subscription req’d)

Let the Paint Bucket Bowl Trophy Game be played again! (I admit I searched for a picture of the bucket and could not find one anywhere).

The name of this rivalry was created when officials from the two schools decided to create a trophy for the winner of the game out of some buckets of paint and some paint brushes. The losing school also designed a particular area on its campus that the winner could smear with paint, in an attempt to eliminate the defacing of each campus and the “kidnapping” of opposing football players during game week. The tradition evolved into the winning school being given a trophy from the other—a paint bucket decorated in the colors of the two schools and inscribed with the game score.

Memphis leads the series over Arkansas State, 29-23-5, according to the Red Wolves’ media guide. An asterik is marked next to the “23” in the record book to indicate an ASU win was vacated because of NCAA sanctions. That vacated result was ASU’s 26-23 victory at Memphis in October 2006. Memphis’ media guide still shows the Tigers with a 29-24-5 advantage. The 58 total meetings against Memphis are the most against a single opponent in ASU history.

The schools’ first matchup was on Oct. 27, 1914, in Memphis — an 18-6 victory for ASU. The series started to be referred to as the “Paint Bucket Bowl” unofficially in the 1950s.

Today, it can be stated that the matchup has lost much of its rivalary steam. After all, ASU and Memphis have not played since Sept. 21, 2013 — a 31-7 home win for Memphis — and they’ve played only nine times since 2000.

But this game should be fun once again with these two schools seperated by just 70 miles. And this hopefully renewed rivarly will go another three seasons in row as the two schools signed a four-year home and home agreement. Plus, the two schools have another four year string starting in 2026 through 2030 so it will be played eight out of the next 10 years.

Just for an added bonus for this year’s renewed clatch, the renewed rivalry will get the full nation’s attention since it will be the only nationally broadcasted college football game Saturday night in this opening weekend for 2020.

Arkansas State Red Wolves (2nd SBC West, 8-5, 5-3) in 2019

Arkansas State averaged 33.7 per game last year and was 10th in all of FBS last season in passing offense. Those numbers should not change this year as the Red Wolves returns all but two starters on offense.

The ASU offense may use two quarterbacks–both having provided inputs into that Top 10 offensive statistic. Logan Bonner will start for the Red Wolves, but expect to see Layne Hatcher as well at some point in the game. Hatcher started Arkansas State’s final nine games last season after Bonner was lost with an injury for the season.

Whichever QB plays, they will be without two starters at the WR position in Omar Bayless & Kirk Merritt) but will look to Jonathan Adams and Texas A&M transfer Roshauud Paul to produce.

The running game is fully intact though and also the RBs can catch the ball out of the backfield too. The Red Wolves use a platoon in the backfield but Marcel Murray is the lead back after producing 820 yards and six scores in 2019. Sophomore Isaiah Azubuike and junior Ryan Graham will also be in the mix after working in the rotation a year ago.

The big question mark on the Red Wolves is their defense. The ASU stoppers were ranked 124th in the FBS last year and were hurt the most against the run. Plus it will be very inexperiended as this side of the ball loses its top three tacklers and six of the top nine tacklers overall.

ASU QB Logan Bonner

Key Players: QBs Logan Bonner & Layne Hatcher

Given the defense and the opponent’s ability to score, whichever quarterback is on the field will need to keep up with the Memphis scoring for the Red Wolves to stay in this game. Both will need to be turnover free as well for ASU to pull off the upset on the road.

Memphis Tigers (1st AAC West, 12-2, 7-1) in 2019

Memphis quite simpily had its best season in its history. The Tigers won the AAC West Division and the overall AAC championship in the title game victory over Cincinnati. Memphis was also the top ranked G5 team in the regular season and got a Cotton Bowl bid. Although Memphis lost to the Big 10’s Penn State in that game, it did show it can stack pretty well against a Power 5 top school.

The Tigers just got some bad news before this season opener as start all purpose back Kenneth Gainwell choosing to opt out of the season because of concerns with the coronavirus. Even so, new head coach Ryan Silverfield’s (replaced Mike Norvell who went to Florida State) team, should still have a powerful offense. Norvell has one game under his belt in that Cotton Bowl loss last January.

That offense is headed by senior QB Brady White and his number one target in WR Damonte Coxie. Those two will likely be salavating at the site of a number of new starters on the opposite side of the field.

The Tiger defense was average at best last year but it did not need to be great given the team’s powerful offense. Still, the team will look to better its numbers this year. The 2019 team averaged giving up 26 points per game and teams were able to run on them. The pass defense held teams under 200 yards per game though and might bod well against a passing team like the Red Wolves.

Key Player: RB Rodrigues Clark

Clark will get the start in place of the opted out Gainwell for the Tigers. He stepped into the lineup immediately as a true freshman at Memphis last year. He finished his inaugural campaign with 26 rushes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He will have some big feet to fill though in Gainwell as the lead back though. Arkansas State likely will set-up for the defense against the potent Tiger passing attack so Clark and any of the other running backs in the rotation will need to produce on the ground for the Tigers to roll.

Fearless Forecast:

Expect this game to have a lot of fireworks on offense with two teams that are high scoring and both defenses that could use improvement. Memphis with its home field (despite only just over 4,000 fans being allowed inside the Liberty Bowl) will use this to their advantage and I think the Tiger defense is a little bit better than that of Red Wolves. It will be tight early but Memphis will pull away for a comfortable win late. Memphis 45 Arkansas State 28