MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Arkansas State coach Brian Harsin saw his running game disappear and his quarterback under pressure most of the day.
The combination contributed to a poor offensive performance from the Red Wolves and a 31-7 loss to Memphis on Saturday.
“We expected pressure,” Harsin said. “There were some one-on-one battles that we lost. They had good coverage down the field. The key was, we were able to run the ball early on, but they made some adjustments to that.”
The Memphis victory, its first of the season, prevented Harsin from attaining the best start for a coach in his inaugural season at Arkansas State since Bill Adams in 1939.
The Red Wolves (2-2) entered the game having won four of the last five games against the Tigers. The dominance Saturday was on the Memphis side.
“They made plays, and some explosive plays,” Harsin said of the Tigers. “We didn’t do that enough.”
Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy finished 20-of-37 for 166 yards, and threw his first interception of the year. J.D. McKissic scored the only touchdown on a 15-yard pass from reserve quarterback Fredi Knighten.
Red Wolves running back David Oku finished as the leading Arkansas State rusher with 45 yards. He had 48 at halftime.
“Credit goes to their defense,” Kennedy said. “They were really good. They were taking away some easy throws and they were able to create some pressure. All-in-all, it was just a rough day for us.”
Memphis unveiled an offensive punch like it hasn’t shown in almost five years. Marquis Warford rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown, Brandon Hayes added 114 yards and another score. The Tigers (1-2) finished with 505 yards of total offense, the first time Memphis has surpassed 500 yards in a game since 2008 against Southern Mississippi.
“I think it’s going to be hard to stop us,” Hayes said if the Tigers can continue to generate 100-yard rushing games from two backs.
“It’s just me being able to do what I’m doing without being nervous,” Warford, a freshman, said.
The Memphis offense wasn’t the only impressive part of the Tigers game. The defense held the Red Wolves (2-2) to 255 yards of offense, including a mere 74 yards on the ground. Memphis defensive end Martin Ifedi had 10 tackles, including 4½ for losses.
“I think we’re a very tough unit, and I think we can be one of the best in the nation,” Ifedi said. “That’s really what we are striving for -- for a national ranking on defense and continue to (control) teams week-to-week.”
The Tigers held an early 14-0 lead on a pair of 6-yard touchdowns - a run by Hayes and a scoring pass from quarterback Paxton Lynch to Alan Cross. The Red Wolves would answer, covering 59 yards in less than 90 seconds, the final 15 on the Knighten strike.
Memphis added a 23-yard field goal from Jake Elliot and a 5-yard run by Sam Craft in the second quarter for a 24-7 lead at the break.
Warford had 133 yards rushing in the half, including 121 in the second quarter. His 16-yard run was the only score in the second half.
After the Arkansas State touchdown in the first quarter, the Red Wolves deepest penetration was the Memphis 31, where they turned it over on downs, when Kennedy was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-four.
“We had that scoring drive, and we felt like we had things rolling,” Arkansas State offensive lineman Bryce Giddens said. “We got behind the chains, and that made it tough on us.”
The Tiger defense had seven sacks among its 12 tackles for losses in the game. Memphis pressured Kennedy and was aggressive in reaching Red Wolves runners in the backfield.
Ifedi said the defense saw “nothing different” from the Red Wolves’ offense.
“We called out each play right before they would run it,” the defensive end said. “The film really doesn’t lie. All they did on film is what they did (Saturday).”