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Preview: Memphis vs Arkansas State: The 62nd Paint Bucket Bowl

For the 62nd time, Memphis and Arkansas State will clash in the Paint Bucket Bowl. The Tigers have won the last four meetings against the Red Wolves and look to make it five before a two-year hiatus in the series. 

Last season, Memphis won 44-32 in a high-scoring affair at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium behind a 360-yard throwing performance from Seth Heningan and a 23-point 4th quarter.

On Saturday, the venue shifts to Jonesboro with two teams in completely different moods after Week 1. Memphis is confident after a dominant 56-14 win over Bethune-Cookman, meanwhile, Arkansas State is searching for answers after a 73-0 shutout on the road at Oklahoma. 

It's difficult to gauge how either team matches up with the other due to the talent disparity each side faced in Week 1. Arkansas State attempted many formations defensively against Oklahoma, but nothing worked as the Sooners gashed them for 642 total yards. Arkansas State got torched in the air no matter who is in at quarterback or receiver, and the secondary needs a much better performance against Memphis for any chance at victory.

On offense, they lacked any real identity as a unit. Corey Rucker is a former All-Sun Belt player, but outside of that, there isn't any other known playmaker on this roster despite the high recruiting classes. J.T. Shrout has to show another gear to his game for this offense to get on track. It was not a good performance in Norman for him, but there should be opportunities for him on Saturday to make plays with his arm. 

This is the first look of the Tigers against a FBS opponent. It figures that Sutton Smith and Blake Watson will get the lion's share of the touches at running back on Saturday, and their speed should do well against an Arkansas State defense that didn't look athletic on tape.

It'll be interesting to see how Memphis deploys their wideouts as the Bethune-Cookman gameplan was mostly swing passes and short throws. In the press conference on Monday, coach Silverfield said: "taking what we could [and] putting the ball in our athlete's hands in space." The look of the passing attack will likely heavily depend on what Arkansas State presents in coverage.

If the Red Wolves play in the soft zone like they did early against Oklahoma, expect a lot of bubble screens and flat routes. If the Red Wolves decide to roll their corners to the line, then you could see some early shots by Henigan to test their secondary. Memphis shut out Bethune-Cookman on defense and should have the edge on Saturday.

There were few opportunities for BCU to make big plays last week, and Arkansas State does not have playmakers who will be able to break that trend outside of Rucker. While Arkansas State found holes in the Memphis secondary last year, the two leading receivers are no longer on the Red Wolves. The guys replacing them have not shown they can replicate those performances.

For Memphis to achieve its goals, this must be a statement victory.

Memphis had to come back against Arkansas State last season, foreshadowing an uneven 2022 season. If the Tigers expect to compete for the AAC crown, a 30+ point victory against a spiraling program in Arkansas State will show that Memphis is back on track. Memphis is currently a 21.5 favorite to defeat Arkansas State.

Memphis should be able to dominate the lines of scrimmage on offense and allow for the running backs to have big days on the ground. The defense should have little issues against a questionable Arkansas State passing attack.

Score Prediction: 45-13 Memphis

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT on ESPN+.

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