LAST WEEK: 9-0
MEMPHIS over Tulsa
Texas-El Paso over NEW MEXICO
Southern Methodist over RICE
NORTH CAROLINA over East Carolina
SOUTHERN MISS over Marshall
RUTGERS over Tulane
UTEP kicker Dakota Warren converted an 18-yard field goal as time expired in El Paso tonight, giving the Miners a 16-13, come-from-behind win over the Tigers. Memphis didn’t trail until that final play, leading the game with less than six minutes to play before Warren tied it with a 27-yard field goal.
The loss drops Memphis to 1-3, 0-2 in Conference USA play. UTEP improves to 3-1 (1-1).
The Tigers held the ball almost 10 minutes more than UTEP, though the teams each gained a total of 288 yards. (The Miners’ game-winning drive began on their own four-yard-line with 3:13 to play.) The U of M offense was evenly split, with 144 yards coming on the ground, 144 through the air.
Freshman quarterback Ryan Williams completed 20 of 30 passes and connected with Jermaine McKenzie on a 15-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter that gave Memphis a 10-3 lead at the half. Jerrell Rhodes led the Tiger ground attack with 90 yards on 23 carries.
UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe came into the game averaging 271 passing yards per game and was held to exactly 100 yards under that figure.
The victory is UTEP’s first in four games against Memphis.
The Tigers return home next Saturday to host Tulsa at the Liberty Bowl. Kickoff is 6 p.m.
Saturday, 8 pm, El Paso
• UTEP enters Saturday’s game with a record of 2-1, with each of its games being blowouts. The Miners whipped Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 31-10, and New Mexico State, 42-10, in their two previous games at the Sun Bowl, but lost at Houston, 54-24, on September 10th. UTEP is trying to improve on a 2009 campaign that saw the Miners finish 4-8 (3-5 in C-USA play).
• UTEP is one of two programs on the Memphis schedule against which the Tigers have a winning record. In fact, the Tigers have never lost to the Miners. Memphis won, 27-20, in 2005; 38-19 in 2006 (the only time the teams have played in El Paso); and 35-20 in 2009 (Tommy West’s last victory as head coach).
• UTEP enters the game ranked third in total offense among the 12 teams in C-USA (466 yards per game), while the Tigers are 11th (312.3). UTEP is sixth in total defense (410 yards allowed per game) while the Tigers are eighth (436.3). UTEP’s offense is second only to Tulsa in first downs (25.7 per game), while Memphis is 11th in C-USA (14.7).
• Miner quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, a senior, is among the top signal-callers in C-USA. Vittatoe has passed for 815 yards in three games, completing 59.5 percent of his passes and connecting for eight touchdowns (five of them in last week’s win over New Mexico State). Vittatoe ranks third in C-USA in total offense (298.7 yards per game). His primary target has been senior Kris Adams, who has 12 catches for 248 yards and three scores. Vittatoe passed for 319 yards against the Tigers last year at the Liberty Bowl.
• Through the first three games of his Tiger career, freshman quarterback Ryan Williams has passed for 507 yards, or 169 per game. As a freshman in 2001, Danny Wimprine averaged 148 yards per game.
• Senior Greg Ray and freshman Jerrell Rhodes combined for 167 rushing yards against Middle Tennessee. This marked steady improvement on their combined total against Mississippi State (46 yards) and East Carolina (93 yards). For the underdog Tigers to remain competitive this fall, these two ball carriers must make an impact.
• Tiger linebacker Jamon Hughes is third in Conference USA in total tackles, with 35. Safety Marcus Ball is tied for 10th with 23. Against the Blue Raiders, seven different Tigers had at least three solo stops (Hughes, Ball, Frank Trotter, Winston Bowens, DeRon Furr, Torenzo Quinn, and Corey Jones).
• Tiger coach Larry Porter speaks often about the importance of avoiding “self-inflicted wounds.” The Memphis win over Middle Tennessee last week was the first game in which the Tiger offense did not have a turnover since the 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl, a stretch of 14 games. Better yet, the Tiger defense forced four turnovers for the first time since the Middle Tennessee game in 2007.
• The last time Memphis opened with three of its first four games on the road was 2004. That team opened the season by beating Ole Miss in Oxford and started 3-1 on its way to an 8-4 season.
LAST WEEK: 8-3
TCU over SOUTHERN METHODIST
UTEP over Memphis
HOUSTON over Tulane
MARSHALL over Ohio
Southern Miss over LOUISIANA TECH
TULSA over Central Arkansas
Baylor over RICE
TENNESSEE over Alabama-Birmingham
KANSAS STATE over Central Florida
Homecomings should all be so sweet. Returning to the Memphis Tiger sideline he knew so well as a player 17 years ago, Larry Porter earned his first victory as a head coach Saturday night, beating Middle Tennessee 24-17 in front of 27,965 fans at the Liberty Bowl. Turns out there will be more to discuss about the Tigers’ home opener than a vastly improved tailgating atmosphere.
Simply allowing fewer than seven touchdowns would have been considered an improvement on the Tigers’ first two games. Holding the Blue Raiders — favored to win the Sun Belt Conference — to a total of 287 yards and 17 points can be called what it is: progress. “This was a total team effort,” said a smiling Porter after drying off the Gatorade from his white vest. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team. It’s not about me; it’s about those young men.”
Senior tailback Greg Ray was the offensive star, carrying the ball 25 times for 121 yards, including a pair of 9-yard touchdown jaunts. Freshman quarterback Ryan Williams was steady, if unspectacular, in his first full game under center, completing 15 of 28 passes for 129 yards and a 22-yard scoring strike to Jermaine McKenzie in the second quarter. The Tigers did not turn the ball over against Middle Tennessee, while the defense intercepted three Logan Kilgore passes (two of them by freshman cornerback Todd Washington).
SATURDAY, 6 pm, Liberty Bowl
• After losing its opener to Minnesota, Middle Tennessee crushed Austin Peay last week, 56-33. The Blue Raiders gained 654 yards of total offense behind what amounts to a third-string quarterback. With Dwight Dasher — a candidate for the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Year award — serving a suspension and Logan Kilgore sidelined with a toe injury, Jeff Murphy stepped in and completed 23 of 36 passes for 301 yards (with one interception). Murphy could get the start against the Tigers, barring an 11th-hour end to Dasher’s suspension. (He’s being penalized for having accepted a loan.)
• Middle Tennessee and Memphis have played twice since the Blue Raiders returned to college football’s highest level in 1999. Middle won both games: 21-7 in Memphis in 2007, then 31-14 last year in Murfreesboro. Overall, the Blue Raiders own a 14-7-1 edge in the series, dating back to 1925. (Dasher threw for 231 yards and ran for 89 more in the victory last season.)
• Middle Tennessee is 9-1 against teams from Tennessee since 1999, losing only to UT in 2002. Over the last ten years, Memphis is 6-7 against teams from Tennessee. The wins have come against Chattanooga (4), Tennessee Tech, and UT-Martin.
• Not only did Sports Illustrated pick Middle Tennessee to win the Sun Belt Conference, they predicted the Blue Raiders would go 8-0 in league play (11-1 overall). Last season, they finished 10-3 (7-1 in the Sun Belt).
• The 98 points the Tigers have given up in their first two games are the most over such a stretch since 1935, when Memphis lost to Ole Miss (92-0) and Arkansas State (18-0). The Tigers played four seasons under Spook Murphy (1960-63) in which they didn’t give up 98 points all season.
• On Monday, Tiger coach Larry Porter announced that freshman Ryan Williams will get his first start at quarterback Saturday against the Blue Raiders. The decision was made easy by the apparent concussion suffered by Cannon Smith in the East Carolina game, but the case could be made for Williams starting over a healthy Smith. Through two contests, Williams has completed 67 percent of his passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns. According to U of M media relations, the last time a true freshman started at quarterback for the Tigers was Tim Jones in 1986.
• Saturday’s game will be the latest home opener for the Tigers since they played Ole Miss to start the season on September 19, 1970.
Last week: 7-2
Kansas over SOUTHERN MISS
Middle Tennessee over MEMPHIS
VIRGINIA TECH over East Carolina
SMU over Washington State
Troy over UAB
BOWLING GREEN over Marshall
Northwestern over RICE
OKLAHOMA STATE over Tulsa
Central Florida over BUFFALO
UTEP over New Mexico State
UCLA over Houston
Maybe the blue jerseys will help.
Two weeks in their road whites have made for an ugly start to the 2010 season for the Tigers. The East Carolina Pirates looked very much like the two-time defending Conference USA champions they are in beating Memphis this afternoon in Greenville, North Carolina. Now 2-0 (with both victories over league opponents), East Carolina has scored 100 points while the Tigers have allowed 98 in their two losses.
Cannon Smith again got the start at quarterback for the Tigers, only to see three of his team's first four drives end with turnovers (including an interception that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown by ECU's Derek Blacknall). After the Memphis defense forced a punt on the Pirates' opening possession, East Carolina needed less than six minutes of combined possession time to score four touchdowns in taking a 28-3 lead after the first quarter.
Ryan Williams relieved Smith as the Memphis signal-caller after four series, and tossed a touchdown pass to Gregory Ray early in the second quarter. He added two more touchdown passes, completing 18 of 25 throws for 293 yards. Williams may have locked up his first college start next week at the Liberty Bowl.
After accumulating 583 yards in their season-opening thriller against Tulsa, the Pirates gained 425 yards against Memphis. (The Tigers allowed 569 at Mississippi State in their opener.) The Tiger offense was much improved since the MSU blowout, compiling 413 yards.
Freshman Jerrell Rhodes led the Tigers in rushing with 59 yards. Marcus Rucker was tops among receivers with five catches for 49 yards, including a touchdown.
The Tigers return to action next Saturday for their home opener against Middle Tennessee. Blue jerseys required.
Saturday, 11 a.m. (CSS)
• Both the Tigers and Pirates gave up 49 points in their season-openers last weekend . . . but East Carolina actually won. In a game that saw 12 lead changes and a combined offensive outburst of 1,117 yards, ECU beat Tulsa, 51-49, when Justin Jones hauled in a 33-yard Hail Mary pass from Dominique Davis as time expired at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. East Carolina finished the game with 538 yards of total offense.
• Like Memphis, East Carolina is in its first season under a new coach: Ruffin McNeill. The Pirates have won each of the last two Conference USA championship games, beating Tulsa in 2008 and Houston last season. ECU finished 2009 with a record of 9-5. The Pirates’ only loss in C-USA play last season came at SMU. They lost the 2010 Liberty Bowl (on January 2nd) to Arkansas, 20-17, in overtime.
• The Tigers gave up 569 yards in the blowout loss at Mississippi State, and accumulated only 237 on offense (just 41 rushing). If there’s a silver lining, it may be the variety of receiving options quarterbacks Cannon Smith and Ryan Williams have. Despite a total of only 20 pass completions, 10 different Tigers caught at least one. Junior Jermaine McKenzie led the way with five grabs for 45 yards.
• Tiger punter Tom Hornsey certainly did his job in Starkville, averaging 48.7 yards on nine kicks. (For some perspective, East Carolina and Tulsa combined to punt only seven times in their game.)
• East Carolina owns a 12-6 lead in its series with the Tigers, dating back to their first meeting in 1990. ECU has won the last four contests, averaging 39.7 points per game. On a dreary Tuesday night at the Liberty Bowl last October, East Carolina beat Memphis, 38-19, in front of a sparse crowd. None of the top passers, rushers, or receivers from either team in that game will be on the field Saturday.
• Memphis hasn’t won a C-USA opener since 2000 (coach Rip Scherer’s final season), when the Tigers beat Army, 26-16. A Tiger loss would mean a third straight 0-2 start to a season.
• This is the first season since 1995 that the Tigers play their first two games of the season on the road. Fifteen years ago, Memphis opened with losses to Mississippi State and Michigan.
LAST WEEK: 10-1
West Virginia over MARSHALL
HOUSTON over Texas-El Paso
EAST CAROLINA over Memphis
NORTH TEXAS over Rice
SOUTHERN MISS over Prairie View
TULSA over Bowling Green
UCF over North Carolina State
SMU over Alabama-Birmingham
Ole Miss over TULANE
In last week's issue, we touched on how invisible the four retired jerseys — honoring past Tiger football greats — are at the Liberty Bowl. Here are the names and details:
• #83, Isaac Bruce — If you didn't figure this one out, you didn't pick up the Flyer, where the photo at left appeared. Bruce's 74 receptions and 1054 receiving yards in 1993 remain Memphis records.
• #30, Dave Casinelli — Tailback for the undefeated 1963 Tiger team. First Tiger to rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,016) in ’63. Remains second on career rushing chart with 2,636 yards.
• #20, DeAngelo Williams — Fourth player at college football's highest level to rush for more than 6,000 yards in his career. Had more 100-yard games (34) than any player in NCAA history. Holds NCAA record for career all-purpose yards: 7,573. Now starring for the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
• #8, Charles Greenhill — A graduate of Frayser High School, Greenhill only played one season with the Tigers (1983) before being killed in the plane crash that also took the life of Memphis coach Rex Dockery.
You can’t second-guess a man making his head-coaching debut, can you? Especially after he’s been taken to the woodshed as an introduction to the new job. So I’ll merely wonder . . .
I wonder what Memphis coach Larry Porter saw in Cannon Smith over three series — each of them three-and-out — that had him change his mind (and quarterback). Unless Porter entered tonight’s opening game at Mississippi State knowing Ryan Williams was the man to move his offense, a hook in the first quarter has to be considered premature. And if Porter knew Williams was the man to move his offense . . . why name Smith the starter before the final week of training camp?
Fun stuff. Nothing like an early-September quarterback controversy to distract media types from a few glaring issues with the 2010 Tigers.
Having finished 2009 as the 116th-ranked defense among 120 in college football’s top division, the Tigers gave up 295 yards to the Bulldogs before halftime. After averaging 144 yards through the air last season, MSU had 167 tonight . . . before halftime. The Bulldogs finished the game with 372 passing yards and a total of 569.
• Marcus Ball will make the interception he missed — allowing the Bulldogs’ second touchdown in the first quarter — more often than not, so we’ll consider that early score a fluke. But two touchdowns covering more than 50 yards each (one on the ground, one through the air) in the season’s first 30 minutes? Perhaps most disheartening of all, MSU had six scoring drives that took less than three minutes off the game clock. (In the second half, ESPN analyst Herm Edwards alluded to how “tired” the Memphis defense had to be. Fact is, they weren’t on the field long enough to be tired. This was no grind-it-out offense wielded by Mississippi State.)
• Speed has to remain a concern for Porter and the new Memphis coaching staff, as the gaps downfield when Chris Relf or Tyler Russell dropped back to pass were too large for the Tiger defenders to close. Speed can be inherited, but it’s hard to coach.
• As for the offense, today’s scheme certainly went against convention. Instead of emphasizing the run — and thus shortening the game against a superior opponent — the Tigers came out throwing, with 11 of their 15 first-quarter plays going through the air. Ryan Williams finished with 10 completions in 17 attempts for 85 yards and two interceptions. Smith returned late in the third quarter and completed 10 of 15 for 111 yards and the Tigers’ only touchdown, a 27-yard catch-and-run by Marcus Rucker. On the ground, Jerrell Rhodes and Gregory Ray combined for 46 yards on 19 carries.
• The loss was the Tigers’ worst opening-game defeat since 1952, when Memphis fell to Ole Miss, 54-6. But it wasn’t close to the worst in the Tiger record book. Memphis was edged by Ole Miss in 1935 . . . 92-0.
The Tigers open Conference USA play next Saturday at East Carolina.
Saturday, 6 pm (ESPNU)
• The Bulldogs hold a decided edge in the series, having won 31 of 42 games. The programs haven’t met since 2003, after having played every season between 1974 and 2003. The last Memphis victory came at the Liberty Bowl in the 1993 season-opener, when the Tigers upset the 23rd-ranked Bullies, 45-35. The Tigers are 4-14 in Starkville, but coach Larry Porter is actually undefeated there. He won twice as a player and three times as an assistant at LSU.
• The Tigers and Bulldogs have met in seven season-openers. Memphis won in 1979 and 1993. MSU won in 1953, ’54, ’75, ’80, and ’81.
• A victory for the Tigers in Starkville would end a five-year drought for the program. Memphis hasn’t won a season-opener since beating Ole Miss to start the 2004 campaign.
• The Tigers have had trouble, historically, scoring against the Bulldogs. Over its 10-game losing streak from 1994 to 2003, only once did Memphis exceed 20 points.
• Memphis coach Larry Porter was part of two big season-opening wins during his playing days with the Tigers. As a sophomore, he helped Memphis upset 16th-ranked Southern Cal in Los Angeles. Then as a senior in 1993, he was part of the victory over Mississippi State.
• In 2009, the Bulldogs led the SEC in rushing with an average of 228 yards per game (good for ninth nationally), thanks largely to the efforts of the since-departed Anthony Dixon. (Dixon finished his career with 3,994 yards, eighth in SEC history.) Four of five starters return for the MSU offensive line. Quarterback Chris Relf and tailback Robert Elliott will be the chief threats this season. The Tiger defense allowed an average of 174 yards on the ground a year ago.
• Over the last 10 seasons, Mississippi State has won 42 games, fewest in the SEC except for Vanderbilt (34).
• Memphis is the first of three C-USA teams on Mississippi State’s schedule this season. The Bulldogs play Houston and UAB in October. The Tigers face one other SEC team (Tennessee on November 6th).
• Coming off a 5-7 season a year ago, the Bulldogs will be playing their second season under coach Dan Mullen. At five of Mullen’s previous stops (Wagner, Notre Dame, Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida), his team’s record improved in year two.
You'd think I would have learned a lesson from years of bracket busting during college basketball's March Madness.
I'm forecasting the Conference USA football season, one week at a time. All for fun, pride (we'll see), and the dream of an undefeated weekend.
• OHIO STATE over Marshall
• SOUTH CAROLINA over Southern Miss
• TULANE over Southeastern Louisiana
• UAB over Florida Atlantic
• Texas over RICE
• UCF over South Dakota
• MISSISSIPPI STATE over Memphis
• HOUSTON over Texas State
• UTEP over Arkansas-Pine Bluff
• EAST CAROLINA over Tulsa
• TEXAS TECH over Southern Methodist