Player to Watch: Memphis Running Back Kenneth Gainwell

By John Morgan on December 26, 2019 at 1:53 pm
Nov 29, 2019; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers running back Kenneth Gainwell (19) rushes in the first quarter as Cincinnati Bearcats safety Darrick Forrest (5) defends at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Tigers have been impressive all season en route to a 12-1 record and an American Athletic Conference championship. The Tigers have an explosive offense, but freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell has emerged as a playmaker. For Penn State to prevail in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, they must limit the versatile back's impact on the game. 

Gainwell redshirted a season ago, but hit the ground running (and receiving) in 2019. He has amassed 1,957 all-purpose yards this season, which includes seven 100-yard rushing games and a 200-yard receiving game. Against Tulane in October, Gainwell had 104 yards rushing and 203 yards receiving on nine receptions. On the season, he has fifteen touchdowns and was named a second team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association.

The numbers are impressive, but the personal story behind the Gainwell family is inspiring. His brother, Curtis Gainwell Jr., who suffered a stroke in 2013 is the source of his inspiration and the story featured on ESPN Gameday is worth your time.

The Penn State defense has faced their share of good running backs, but Gainwell adds an element that they haven't seen often. His pass-catching ability adds another dimension that will task the Nittany Lion linebackers all game. In his December 20th press conference, head coach James Franklin said, "We've been impressed with the quarterback, Brady White, the running back Kenneth Gainwell's had a fantastic year, redshirt freshman, and two wide receivers, Antonio Gibson and Damonte Coxie, both had great years."

Gainwell is certainly not the only weapon for the Tigers, but he may be the most important one for the defense to stop if the Nittany Lions are to get a Cotton Bowl victory.