MEMPHIS – Memphis made the most of good field position during Saturday night's third quarter at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Up 21-17, Memphis started drives at midfield and the Arkansas State 47 after the Red Wolves unsuccessfully attempted an onside kick and then lost a fumble. Both possessions ended with touchdowns as the Tigers pulled away for a 37-24 victory in the season opener.
Quarterback Brady White threw four touchdown passes while leading Memphis to 502 total yards in Ryan Silverfield's regular-season debut as the Tigers' head coach. ASU head coach Blake Anderson said his team's inability to stop Memphis led to the decision to try an onside kick after Blake Grupe booted a 28-yard field goal with 11:05 left in the third quarter.
"They did a good job of moving the chains. We couldn't get them off the field," Anderson said during his postgame radio interview. "We obviously gambled a little bit with the surprise onside kick and honestly it wasn't executed very well, but we were struggling to stop them. They're big up front. Our matchups were not great, we knew that all night, so we were just trying to steal a possession if we could.
"What's the difference between playing defense at midfield and playing backed up if you're not really owning them up front? We had a couple of stops tonight, but for the most part struggled to get some consistent stops defensively and even slow the drives down."
Damonte Coxie recovered ASU's onside kick. Seven plays later, White found Coxie alone in the end zone on an 8-yard touchdown pass that gave the Tigers a 27-17 lead.
ASU tight end Reed Tyler lost a fumble while battling for extra yards on a third-and-18 reception from Layne Hatcher. Memphis covered 47 yards in six plays, scoring on White's 7-yard pass to Sean Dykes to take a 34-17 lead with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
After the Tigers drove for a field goal in the fourth quarter, the Red Wolves marched 84 yards in 12 plays, pulling within 13 points on Logan Bonner's 1-yard touchdown pass to TW Ayers. ASU got the ball back and drove 72 yards before Hatcher's fourth-down pass from the Memphis 11 was batted down with 1:45 remaining.
Anderson lamented missed opportunities, among them the possession that ended in Grupe's field goal after an interception gave ASU the ball at the Memphis 28.
“We had a few opportunities to make it interesting and just missed those really good chances – we had an opportunity to tie it up and we let them off the hook a couple of times," Anderson said. “We really did not tackle well at all and have to do a better job of wrapping up. There were some miscommunications defensively, which we thought could be a concern with as many new bodies as we have there. Offensively, we didn’t match up great against how big they were up front.”
The Red Wolves tallied 424 yards, with 299 coming in the passing game in a combined performance from Bonner (14-of-23, 133 yards and one touchdown) and Hatcher (13-of-20, 166 yards).
Bonner started the game while Hatcher played every third possession.
"I don't think the team knows the difference between who's out there. They both operate about the same," Anderson said. "There's plays that both of them are going to want back and there were plays that they tried to make that people didn't bail them out. I think they both played well enough to give us a chance. Whether or not they played well enough to win, we'll have to watch that on tape."
Dahu Green hauled in five passes for a career-high 99 yards to lead ASU receivers. Jamal Jones led all ASU rushers with 64 yards on 15 carries. Lincoln Pare also racked up 33 yards on just five carries in his collegiate debut.
White completed 26 of 36 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns. Memphis' Rodrigues Clark was the game’s leading rusher, churning out 105 yards on 20 carries with a score. Dykes was the game’s top receiver, hauling in 10 passes for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
In the game’s opening possession, Bonner led the Red Wolves on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that set up a 1-yard score by Ryan Graham. The Tigers responded with a 12-play drive on their first possession, with White finding Dykes from 12 yards out.
ASU took a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter when Isaiah Azubuike scored his first career touchdown on a 1-yard run to cap an 84-yard drive. Memphis evened things up on the ensuing drive when Clark sprinted 14 yards for the score.
The Tigers scored again with 24 seconds left in the first half when White connected with Calvin Austin for a 9-yard touchdown pass in the corner. That play capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive that gave Memphis a 21-14 halftime lead.
On the third play of the second half, Detravion Green picked off a White pass to set up Grupe's field goal.
“I felt like we could’ve made it a game in the second half, there was just no momentum going our way and they controlled the clock and the line of scrimmage,” Anderson said. “I’d have liked to see us score right there at the end and put the onside team out there and see what happens.
"This week is going to be big for us. We have to get better. I thought we played hard, you just didn’t see that huge burst we’ve seen in the past. Memphis is a good team and they hardly made any mistakes all night.”
ASU returns to action next Saturday, traveling to Manhattan, Kan., to take on Kansas State. Kickoff from Bill Snyder Family Stadium is slated for 2:30 p.m., with the game being broadcast on FS1.