There is no question that Memphis is coming off of an excellent season in 2019. They make for an extremely difficult home opener, so let’s find out more about them from Joe Broback, who writes about Memphis for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty.
T-Mill: 2019 was basically the best season in Memphis history. Even without Mike Norvell things look primed for a repeat in 2020. Is the Purdue game circled as the “Chance to beat a major conference foe” game?
Joe: With how things are going for this “P6” conference, any chance to beat a Power 5 team is one that can add to the AAC’s resume. I don’t know if I’d say that Memphis has this circled, but they understand the dangers of underestimating Purdue. If anything, the Tigers show they respect the Power 5 teams they face by coming prepared. It’s early in the season with a new coaching staff, so they might come out of the gate slow, but that has more to do with chemistry than anything. One thing I know they’ll have as a priority is stopping Rondale Moore and David Bell. TJ Carter and the secondary will have their hands full, but I’m excited to see that matchup play out.
T-Mill: The offense looks extremely powerful, with the only question being the offensive line. How will those questions be answered?
Joe: Ryan Silverfield is already bringing in talent, but he also has plenty leftover from Norvell’s tenure. Obinna Eze and Dylan Parham are dudes up front. Eze against George Karlaftis will be another matchup to watch, and Parham has a little nasty streak in him that sets the tone. There’s quite a bit of experience up front returning, so I think the Tigers should be fine up front. Another area to watch is depth behind Damonte Coxie. Calvin Austin averaged 18.5 yards per catch, but only caught 17 passes. Tight end Sean Dykes returns after battling a knee injury last year, and showed tons of potential in 2017 and 2018. Someone just needs to step up.
T-Mill: What are the reasonable expectations for the trio of White, Gainwell, and Coxie?
Joe: I don’t know if it’s reasonable to expect the same production from last year. White threw for over 4,000 yards, Gainwell produced over 2,000 total yards as a freshman, and Coxie caught 76 passes for over 1,200 yards. If you had to pick one to improve, Coxie seems like the best pick. I can’t say teams will key on one player, but it’s still tough to see all three of them improve upon those numbers from last year. White should still throw for over 3,000 yards, Gainwell should rush for over 1,000 and still be a factor as a pass catcher, and Coxie will produce his third consecutive season over 1,000 yards, but they all might take steps back. How the offensive line plays and who steps up behind Coxie play big roles in how explosive the offense will be this season. So expect a step back, but not a big one.
T-Mill: The defense had some struggles against the run, but is this basically a “Hold a team under 35 and we win” unit?
Joe: Memphis’ defense has returned a ton of experience over the last few years, but most of it hasn’t lived up to the hype. TJ Carter’s one of the best corners in the country, and the secondary will be good this year. Up front, it’s been hit or miss even under Norvell. It’s tough for any defense to keep up with an offense that scores a ton, and the Tigers have definitely been a bend but don’t break team in the past. Mike MacIntyre comes to Memphis this year as defensive coordinator, and it’s hard to believe he’d let that be their identity this season. Do they have the talent to shut teams down completely? I don’t believe they do. But they can certainly be better than they’ve played over the past few seasons. We saw what happened against Penn State last year when the offense has to do all of the work. With talent like Moore and Bell in Purdue’s offense, things could get ugly real quick if Memphis’ defense doesn’t step up to the challenge.
T-Mill: What are Memphis fans bringing to West Lafayette? BBQ? Good beer?
Joe: The debate over Memphis BBQ is an interesting one, and it depends on who you ask. I think everyone in the South thinks they have the best BBQ and Memphis isn’t the exception. They’re probably going to try and convince everyone they have the best, so why not try whatever they have to offer an form your own opinion. It’s a rare opportunity for Purdue fans to get to know Memphis culture and the fanbase, so why not dive all in?
T-Mill: How do you see this game playing out?
Joe: This is tough. I’m a huge fan of Rondale Moore, David Bell, and George Karlaftis, but Memphis also has great players. The Tigers’ loss to Penn State was disappointing, but they also put up 39 points against a Nittany Lions defense that was really good. Unless the Boilermakers take a huge step forward, it’s tough to see them stopping many offenses this year. Even with a new coaching staff, I think the Tigers return more experience that will help them in this one, so I’ll pick Memphis. If I have to pick a score, I’ll go 38-30. Playing in West Lafayette always worries me for the opponents, so Memphis has to be ready.