The Paint’s Still Hot: Memphis Tigers vs Arkansas State Red Wolves


It would insult both to say that Memphis football fans and Arkansas State football fans share so many identical qualities that they may as well be siblings. Both claim stakes in the hot and humid crucible of the Mississippi Delta. Both endured the slings and errors of mediocre coaches and horrendous seasons. Both have their own lower-division lore, their ancient heroes, and a special disdain for “flagship” universities. We’re practically twins.

And like many siblings, we sorta hate each other. The two programs have battled in the rice paddies and the Mississippi River basin for over 100 years. The game used to be called The Paint Bucket Bowl. The paint can vanished decades ago, but the animosity still lingers.

Last year – during the COVID Stupid Season – the game was played at the Liberty Bowl, where the Red Wolves enjoyed an early 14-7 first quarter lead. The A-State offense couldn’t muster much after that, falling 37-24. It was the first time the game had been played since 2013, when a fairly lousy Tiger team completely bamboozled an under-prepared Bryan Harsin.

On September 11, the Tigers darken The Cent in Butchboro. The win over UCA was jolly good fun, sure. But the stakes are higher on Saturday, somehow. We don’t share a conference. We have few common opponents. Though we claim the same recruiting grounds, the beef between the two programs is more personal than professional – especially with Memphis recently enjoying the national success Arkansas State has always wantonly craved.

We must destroy this enemy, and take his power.

I’d like to see (the Red Wolves) beat (Memphis) real bad. 223-0 would be fine.

The End Around Report, Secretary of Big Numbers

Smashing their dumb Eli faces and bruising the fragile Tiger ego would provide great joy

Jay Bir, State Minister of Above Average Strength

I live here. Am bringing UM friends to the game. My MIL has such a hard-on for Penny that it makes me violently ill (she’s a Vandy grad so I don’t even…) So how bad do I need a victory? Pretty damn bad.

Kat Scoggin, Matriarch of a House Divided

I would like to see Hugh Freeze levels of victory, but Memphis is a whole lot better than they were in 2011. Would still be very pumped about a Gustav-like score.

Kara Richey, Director of Historical Context

An AState win will generate that classic Memphis Football cheer in record time: When does basketball season start?

Rex Steele, Record Producer and Inside Man

What to Expect Out of Memphis

Mostly, I expect a cool guy playing harmonica and wearing blue suede shoes to prowl the Tigers’ sideline churning old blues songs to an appreciative coaching staff. (Blame the tragically canceled NBC TV series Bluff City Law for the stereotype.) Apart from that image, you’ll likely see a surprising amount of Tennessee transfer junior kicker Joe Doyle, who seemed to get an unreasonable amount of work last Saturday against Nicholls State – five field goals delivered by the mighty foot of Doyle.

The Tigers ripped the Colonels 42-17, but it’s curious why so many Memphis drives ended in Doyle field goals. Freshman QB Seth Henigan had a reasonable debut (265, 1 TD) as did freshman running back Brandon Thomas (146, 1 TD). Maybe the Tigers just liked watching Doyle work.

Keep An Eye on Thomas

If you saw Brandon Thomas’s name and reflexively muttered “DeAngelo Williams,” you’re well within your rights. Thomas hails from North Little Rock and was recruited by Arkansas State as a 3-star talent. He averaged more than 9 yards per carry against Nicholls. Prepare to getting plenty of helpings of Thomas.

So (Claps Hands Once Crisply) Who’s Starting at QB for Arkansas State?

That really is the $50 question, partly because I bet $50 on the Red Wolves to cover the early +5 spread. If I want to see the dividends, then I really want to see Layne Hatcher lead the Arkansas State offense onto the field on Saturday evening. But who truly knows the serpentine mind of Butch Jones? Fo sho, Memphis don’t.

To be clear, Justin Blackman wasn’t bad in his Red Wolves debut. The Florida State transfer completed better than 61% of his passes and provided some impressive wheels when the pocket collapsed. But Hatcher simply has a deeper relationship with the offense, transmogrifying WR Corey Rucker (138, 3 TDs) from an afterthought to the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week on just a quarter-and-a-half worth of work. For all of Blackman’s obvious talent, Hatcher simply makes quicker decisions.

After the UCA win, Butch Jones implied that practice would determine the starter this week, but it’s hard to sit Hatcher.

Red Wolves Defense Is BACK

With at least one NFL level wideout in the huddle, the UCA Bears are more a passing offensive than one built for the run. But still, the Red Wolves defense held the Bears to just 42 yards, and only 2.2 yards per carry. Credit the pressure brought by Kivon Bennett and Joe Ozougwu, transfers out of Tennessee and North Texas who had UCA quarterback Breylin Smith ducking and dodging all evening.

Not to be overlooked, the Red Wolves pass defense was much improved over recent years. Samy Johnson and Elery Alexander both collected picks (give some credit to pressure on the QB), but it was the freshman Taylon Doss who shined brightest, seemingly delivering big tackles time and time again. The secondary hasn’t achieved “lockdown” status yet, but fans are no longer closing their eyes when the opposing QB chunks a deep ball.

We Need Marcel Murray and Lincoln Pare

Marcel Murray and Lincoln Pare were named the 1-2 combo at running back on the two-deep, but it was Yale transfer Alan Lamar who got the start and the bulk of carries against UCA. Murray (63 yards, 9.0 per carry) received just seven carries – and nearly equaled the output of Lamar (67, 1 TD). The Red Wolves piled up 194 ground yards on UCA, and that was without single touch for Pare. What gives?

Coach Jones declared that he had four excellent running backs (presumably Lamar, Murray, Pare and Iowa State transfer Johnnie Lang), and that it was simply logistics that kept Pare out of the mix. Regardless, we’ll need to see plenty more of Murray and at least a dose of Pare to keep the Memphis defense sucking wind.

Enough Stalling, Fool. What’s the Outcome?

Both teams used barely a chapter of the playbook to defeat their FCS foes. In the Red Wolves case, only a fraction of the weapons were used as well. There’s still plenty of data to be gathered for both programs.

Vegas likes Memphis to win this game. But I like the home team. The Red Wolves have superior experience on both sides of the ball. The Hatcher/Rucker connection is too devastating to contain. The crowd will be projecting overwhelming pulses of Big Wolf Energy. Field goals won’t be enough to win at The Cent.

Red Wolves 45, Memphis 28

PHOTO CREDIT: Entitled “Tragically Unused”

UPDATE: Red Wolves aren’t wearing the uniforms we deserve, but the uniform we need.