Entering Saturday’s game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves, the Memphis Tigers were considered underdogs. After losses to Duke and Middle Tennessee State in the first two games, game three was critical.
What transpired shocked everyone, as Memphis hung 31 points and held an Arkansas State team that had been averaging over 35 points per game to seven measly points. The offense was in rhythm the whole game, and the defense absolutely dominated the Red Wolves.
It was a game that spoke volumes to just how far the program has come since head coach Justin Fuente took over in December 2011. It wasn’t but two years ago that the Tigers were crushed 47-3 in Jonesboro. My, how the times have changed.
The Tigers finally saw the run game blossom, totaling 329 yards on 45 carries. The star was freshman Marquis Warford, who dazzled with 173 yards on 11 attempts for an eyebrow-raising 15.7 yards per carry. He is one of the many freshmen playing significant roles for the Tigers this season, including quarterback Paxton Lynch, who appears to be getting more comfortable running the offense.
The talent level now compared to what it was under former coach Larry Porter is remarkably better and deeper. Memphis has a roster full of young and talented players that points to a very bright future for the program.
The offense has made big strides in three games, but the defense and its transformation over the last two years has been nothing short of spectacular. In 2011, it ranked nearly dead last in almost every category. It jumped to 50th in the country in 2012 and so far this season, it ranks 37th.
The Tigers still have a long way to go before their vision is turned into a reality, but what Fuente and his team are doing is one of the better stories in all of college football. Memphis could possibly go bowling this year, and is bound to surprise teams in the AAC.