There was no pre-game Tiger walk and the pandemic-affected attendance tallied only 4,537 as the University of Memphis Tigers handled Arkansas State’s Red Wolves 37-24 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Saturday night.
In the season opener for each team, Memphis won its 19th straight non-conference home win and recorded the first victory in the era of first-year coach Ryan Silverfield.
“There is a ton of things we need to clean up,” said Silverfield, who required the team to approach the game like a business meeting, including showing up for “work” in jackets and ties.
“I am never going to be happy with the amount of penalties we had. Hopefully, we can get healthy as we prepare for Houston.”
Memphis now has won its last seven home openers. Here are three takeaways from the victory over Arkansas State:
Playmakers are going to make plays
Senior quarterback Brady White, who threw for 4,000-plus yards last season, got the 2020-21 campaign off to a good start. He had four touchdowns passes, 275 passing yards and rushed for 42 more yards. It was the ninth time White has thrown for three or more touchdowns in his career.
In post-game comments, White talked about the Tiger’s depth.
“It is which guy are we going to unleash. There are going to be weeks where so many guys pop off. There are just so many guys. We know what they can do,” he said.
“It is just a matter of what look I see and who I am going to go to with the ball. They are going to produce.”
Although playing without highly decorated running back Kenny Gainwell, who chose to forgo the season, the beat of success at that position continued for the Tigers. Rodriques Clark got his first start, rushing for 109 yards and one touchdown.
Tight end Sean Dykes, who was injured in the Navy game last season, returned to form. He led all receivers with 137 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just the preparation. I knew I would get the opportunity,” said Dykes. “The mental focus before the game set up the big performance. All of the off-season preparation.”
Wideout sensation Damonte Coxie had another stellar game, catching 8 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown. Whitehaven High School junior Kylan Watkins got his first career start and made the most of it, rushing for 68 yards and catching two passes for 13 yards.
“I think we did some good things on offense today, but definitely left some plays and points out there,” said White.
The defense was a roller coaster
The Tigers’ defense got of to a very shaky start. The Red Wolves scored on their opening drive en route to 14 first-quarter points.
The Memphis defense only allowed 10 points over the next three quarters. Three of those points came after an interception by White that gave the Red Wolves a very short field. But the defense stiffened, limiting the damage to a field goal.
Arkansas State’s final touchdown was aided by UofM penalties, with the Tigers flagged for 36 penalty yards on the Red Wolves’ 75-yard scoring drive.
The Memphis defense forced three turnovers. Xavier Collins had an interception with 11:46 left in the first half. Sylvonta Oliver, who got the late call to replace Jacobi Francis in the starting line-up, picked off his first career interception. JJ Russell forced a fumble and Cole Mashburn got his first career fumble recovery.
A lot to clean up
In the let’s-get-better category, the Tigers’ staff will have a lot to choose from after the Arkansas State game.
Memphis had over 100 penalty yards. Some of the penalties took away first downs for the offense and put more pressure on the defense. There were too many pre-snap penalties (delay of game and false starts).
The offensive line did not allow a quarterback sack, but it did at times allow too much penetration into the backfield, which disrupted the running game.
Memphis’ kickoff-return game, which was a major weapon last season, showed a flash of that form when Gabriel Rodgers ran a kickoff all the way back, only to have the score negated by a penalty. It was the only kick-off opportunity time in the game for the Tigers.
Memphis will have a little extra time to clean up the mistakes. The Tigers will not play again until Sept 19 when they host the Houston Cougars in the American Athletic Conference opener.
The Tigers had been scheduled to travel to Lafayette, Ind. to play the Purdue University. The Boilermakers play in the Big 10 Conference, which chose not play football this season because of COVID-19 concerns.