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September 7, 2011INSIDE SLANT
It only took a look at the early betting lines to see the state of the Memphis football program.
The Tigers are 13.5-point underdogs, according to many oddsmakers, for their game at Arkansas State on Sept. 10. That's a two-touchdown margin to a Sun Belt program about 70 miles up the road in Jonesboro, Ark.
Not that anyone was surprised that the Red Wolves were favorites, but the margin was eye-opening.
It's hard to find any sort of optimism these days around the Tigers' football program, not after a 59-14 season-opening loss to Mississippi State. But if there is some, it's surrounding the move Porter made during that game and stuck to it in the week after.
Taylor Reed, a true freshman from El Dorado, Ark., is Memphis' starting quarterback. Against Mississippi State in the season opener, he acquitted himself well, even though the game was long lost by the time he came in.
"When I made Andy (Summerlin) the starter, I told you Andy had edged Taylor. It was a tough competition that went to the end," Porter said. "For Taylor to go in and do the job that he did and play with such tremendous poise was big. I thought he really settled down our offense. It got to the point where we were getting some rhythm, and he was productive. His performance warrants him starting this week."
• Arkansas State is the closest FBS football program to the University of Memphis, and the two teams have played 55 times. The Red Wolves won in 2006 and 2007 before Memphis won in 2008. ASU leads 11-7-1 in games played in Jonesboro, Ark., where the Sept. 10 game will be played.
• Tiger coach Larry Porter is well aware of Arkansas State. He served as the running backs coach there in 1999 and 2001 and was on the sidelines for two losses to the Tigers.
Series History: Memphis leads Arkansas State, 28-22-5. (Last meeting: Memphis won, 29-17, 2008.)
Scouting The Offense: After viewing video of his team's 45-point loss to Mississippi State, Tigers coach Larry Porter still thought his team's offense has a chance to be "pretty good." Against the Bulldogs, they gained 338 yards. "I'm very proud of our offensive line, and I think our backs were pretty productive," Porter said. "We had a young quarterback who came in and played with tremendous poise and seems to have a great future ahead of him. Our wide receivers have to play better. I think they will. Collectively, I think we have more than enough to be productive at that position."
Scouting The Defense: Porter wasn't very pleased with his defense, which gave up 645 yards to the Bulldogs, setting a school record for Mississippi State. Porter saw too many big plays that were the results of missed tackles. The defensive front continues, though, to be the on-paper strength of this team, but the secondary is still a work in progress. Porter said he's debating changing some starting roles on his defense, but wasn't more specific than that.
Quote To Note: "Obviously, the results that we've been getting here are getting old, and it's time to get beyond them. It's certainly time to move on, especially with this week's opponent, Arkansas State."-Memphis coach Larry Porter.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: Memphis at Arkansas State, Sept. 10-After a 45-point loss in its season opener, many locals think this is the measuring stick game for Memphis in year two under Larry Porter. If it can go on the road and win, it has a chance. Lose, and the question marks will only get larger.
Keys To The Game: Freshman Taylor Reed will need to play quarterback not at all like a freshman. The defense will have to correct the tackling difficulties and not allow the big plays it gave up against Mississippi State.
Players To Watch:
QB Taylor Reed-Earning his first career start in his home state, Reed comes into the starting quarterback position at a unique time in the Memphis football program. There's already plenty of pressure on Reed to perform. If he plays like he did against Mississippi State, though, he has a good chance to do well.
WR Marcus Rucker-He's turning into a consistent offensive weapon for the Tigers, but that's not too big of a surprise. Rucker enters the game with a 13-game streak of catching at least one pass. He'll be a big help to Reed.
DT Dontari Poe-Arguably the team's top talent, he'll need to be its top leader and player if the Tigers are to rebound with a win at Arkansas State. ASU QB Ryan Aplin is adequate, and it would behoove the Tigers to apply pressure.
• P Tom Hornsey drew Porter's criticism after netting just 37.8 yards per punt on average. "He was way too inconsistent, so it was disappointing in terms of his performance," Porter said.
• RBs Jerrell Rhodes and Billy Foster both suffered injuries against Mississippi State but are expected to play against Arkansas State.
Mississippi State NEWS