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September 21, 2013Heading into Saturday's showdown against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, the Memphis Tigers were considered the underdogs. What transpired completely negated what the experts thought, as the Tigers dominated in just about every facet of the game on their way to a convincing 31-7 win before 36,237 fans.
The biggest problem in the first two losses was the offense. Whatever head coach Justin Fuente and the staff did leading up to the game worked. The offense put up 505 total yards, including a blistering 329 yards on the ground.
"It's nice to get that win. I'm proud of our kids, proud of our coaching staff, proud of the way we conducted ourselves and proud of the amount of discipline we showed and ability to bounce back when things hadn't gone our way," Fuente said. "I think that speaks a lot to the men in that locker room and the kids in that locker room."
Slow starts plagued Memphis against Duke and MTSU, but against the Red Wolves, Fuente's squad stormed out of the gate with a seven-play, 77-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead just 2:59 into the game. The Tigers added onto it quickly, scoring again with 6:39 left in the first on a six-yard touchdown pass from Paxton Lynch to Alan Cross.
Fuente noted that the fast start made a statement for what the Tigers were going to do, and that was run the ball.
"I thought it was a pretty big statement for our guys to go down (the field) and be able to run like that and score. It obviously gave us a boost. You know you're gonna have to score when you're playing this team and the points they can put up offensively."
A lot of the offensive struggles are due to a roster full of young players who have had little to no experience at the college level before this season. Two of those guys are freshmen quarterback Paxton Lynch and tailback Marquis Warford.
Lynch is making progress as the starter in his first year and was an efficient 17-26 for 176 yards and a touchdown. However, he didn't have to do much on a day where the ground attack was at full force. Warford, who averaged 12 yards per carry his senior year in high school, had his coming out party against the Red Wolves.
The freshman ran for a game-high 173 yards and a touchdown. What made it all the more impressive was he did it on 11 carries, averaging 15.7 yards a pop. His counterpart, senior Brandon Hayes, also ran for over 100 yards with 144 on 18 carries.
"The offensive line opened up a lot of holes for me and made me very successful to do what I had to do," Warford said. "The coaches believed in me a lot to keep giving me the rock. The offensive line did their job, (Lynch) carried out the fakes and everybody did their job, which allowed me to do my job."
With the offense finally breaking out, it overshadowed a stellar performance on the defensive side of the ball. Arkansas State came in averaging over 35 points per game, but the Memphis defense, behind a record-tying seven sacks, held the Red Wolves to seven points and just 255 yards of total offense.
The Tigers defensive line wreaked havoc on Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy all day, specifically Martin Ifedi, who was virtually unblockable. He finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
"We take pride in playing with enthusiasm," Ifedi said. "We're always trying to help the offense get on the field."
After the Red Wolves cut the lead to 14-7 with 5:03 left in the first quarter, the Tiger defense didn't allow a point for the rest of the game as the offense reeled off 17-straight points to seal the 31-7 beating.
With the win, Memphis moves to 1-2 on the season heading into their first conference game at home versus Central Florida. They will have two weeks to prepare, as next week is idle.
Fuente and his team will take a little time to enjoy the first win of the season before shifting focus to the Knights.
"It's only one victory. Our focus is to smile for a little bit then go get better this next week, focus on some key things and get ready for Central Florida coming back to the Liberty Bowl."