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Know Thy Opponent 2020: Memphis Tigers

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The top Group of Five team in the country will be Purdue’s home opener.

Penn State v Memphis Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

For a Group of Five opponent Purdue could not have picked a more difficult team to open the home season. We have Indiana State coming up three times in the next eight years. We have a pair of games against UConn. We’ve got Ball State and Miami (OH) coming up. Even when this game was scheduled in 2017 it didn’t look awful as they were coming off of an 8-5 season (with a 51-31 loss to… Jeff Brohm’s Western Kentucky in the bowl game).

Now, however, this is a dangerous game and possibly the toughest of the early four game season start. They are coming off of basically their best season in school history and still have a ton of experience. Yes, they lost coach Mike Norvell to Florida State, but they simply promoted Ryan Silverfield from within to provide continuity. This is a team that went 38-15 under Norvell the previous four seasons. This is a very, very tough opponent.

2019 Record: 12-2 (American Conference Champions)

Bowl Result: Lost to Penn State 53-39 in Cotton Bowl

Blog Representation: Underdog Dynasty

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Purdue win: None

Last Memphis win: None

Head Coach: Ryan Silverfield (0-1 in First season at Memphis as he coached the bowl game last year).

Last Season for the Tigers

Simply put, it was the best season in school history. The lone regular season blemish was 30-28 at Temple when the Tiger offense twice stalled on fourth down in the fourth quarter while trailing by two points. The first even came in Temple territory, so they were extremely close to an undefeated regular season and (potentially) a spot in the Playoff.

They had a major conference win with a 15-10 win at Ole Miss, a top 15 win when they beat SMU 54-48, and against everyone not named Ole Miss and Temple they scored at least 30 points. In nine of their 14 games they topped 40 points and they topped 50 three times. This is a very, very good team with a lot of pieces back.

Memphis Offense

The first scary part of the offense is that quarterback Brady White is back. The senior quarterback has thrown for more than 7,500 yards and 61 touchdowns against only 21 interceptions. Last year he topped 4,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He started his career at Arizona State, playing sparingly in 2016, but has blossomed the last two seasons at Memphis. He is your more traditional pocket passer. But a very good one and one of the top Group of Five players in the nation.

The second scary part is the return of running back Kenneth Gainwell. The redshirt sophomore gave Memphis incredible balance offensively last season by rushing for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns while also catching 51 passes for 610 yards and three more scores. He is also one of the best Group of Five players in the country.

On the offensive line there is some familiarity, as Jim Bridge, who served as Purdue’s offensive line coach from 2013-15, recently took over the same position at Memphis. He will coach a line that has just one senior. Dylan Parham was solid last year in his first season at left guard playing between a pair of now departed seniors. Dustin Woodard is expected to shift over from right guard to center and is the captain of the line. The other three spots are up in the air.

Oh, and a third scary part of the offense is that top receiver Damonte Coxie is back after catching 76 passes for 1,276 yards and 9 touchdowns. Kedarian Jones also caught 39 passes for 609 yards and 4 TDs, so along with Gainwell three of the top four receivers, top running back, and the quarterback return from one of the most explosive offensive units in the country.

Memphis Defense

The bad news is that Memphis has an excellent offense and will score points. Holding them under 30 will be a challenge. The good news is that the defense struggled at times last year. They gave up 26 points per game and teams were able to run on them quite well. The pass defense held teams under 200 yards per game though. Quindall Johnson returns as the top returner with a pair of interceptions, 48 tackles, and 4 pass breakups. Jacobi Francis broke up eight passes and had a pick. La’Andre Thomas also added 63 tackles.

At linebacker Xavier Cullens had a decent year with 69 tackles, a sack, and an interception. Tim Hart is also a proven starter with 34 tackles and two sacks. There is experienced depth behind them with several reserves that have extensive playing time.

The defensive line lost its lead pass rusher in Bryce Huff, but Joseph Dorceus returns after notching five sacks and five quarterbacks hits last season. Morris Joseph should have a bigger role in his second year after transferring from a junior college. He had 27 tackles and two sacks. John Tate IV should provide a veteran presence in the middle as a 6’4” 300+ pound tackle.

Memphis Special Teams

Adam Williams was an excellent punter last season and returns after averaging almost 45 yards per kick, downing 13 of 44 inside the 20 with just four touchbacks. Riley Patterson was also accurate at kicker, going 23 of 25 with a long of 52 yards. In the kick return game Memphis returned three kickoffs for touchdowns from three different players. Gabriel Rogers, Antonio Gibson, and Chris Claybrooks all broke 90+ yard touchdown returns, with Gibson and Claybrooks handling most of the duties.

Game Outlook

Terrifying is the word when it comes to this opponent. They were already very, very good last season, but hey return virtually every major offensive weapon, have a dynamic return game, and may only need to hold teams under 40 to win. This is a team that held its own offensively against Penn State, a team we gave up 10 sacks to last season. There is some hope in that their only other Power 5 opponent was a 4-8 Ole Miss team they only beat 15-10, but still. This is a really, really dangerous opponent that will be favored when they come to Purdue.

Way-too-Early Prediction

If Purdue can settle on a quarterback hat can get the ball to all of our talented receivers there will be points scored in this one. David Bell and Rondale Moore give us a shot. Purdue’s new defensive scheme and rebuilt secondary will certainly be tested. Gainwell is a beast in the backfield that can only be slowed down. He won’t be stopped. Right now this looks like a very daunting opponent and if Purdue find a way to win (especially if it beats Nebraska a week before) get excited. Memphis 41, Purdue 35.