So much for the value of a bye week. With two weeks to prepare for tonight’s homecoming tilt with Houston, the Tigers showed some promise — at least in game plan — in the first quarter. Emphasizing the run (14 of their first 17 plays were on the ground), Memphis held the ball for 11:36 of the first quarter, keeping Conference USA’s second-leading offense on the sideline for extended stretches.
So much for the value of ball control, too. The Cougars led, 7-3, after the game’s first 15 minutes. Before the second quarter was halfway finished, the rout was on.
The loss drops Memphis to 1-7 and was the sixth time in eight games the Tigers have given up at least 41 points. Yet this may have been the U of M defense’s weakest performance to date. Houston scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions and did not punt the entire game. The Cougar offense accumulated 37 first downs (the previous high against Memphis was 28) and 651 yards (previous high was 574). Quarterback David Piland completed 20 of 23 passes for 292 yards and five touchdowns, doing a Case Keenum impression that would impress the most jaded of injured Heisman Trophy candidates. Michael Hayes rushed for 123 yards to lead Houston and Patrick Edwards scored three touchdowns (two on pass receptions, one on a 74-yard punt return).
“After two weeks, we expected to play better than we did,” said coach Larry Porter after the game. “It’s also become obvious that our biggest battle is amongst ourselves. Defensively, we didn’t stop them enough to give ourselves a chance to get something going offensively. We did some good things the first couple of drives, but then we stalled. Their speed was a big issue, and we didn’t tackle as well as I’d have liked.”
Greg Ray was a light in the darkness for the U of M, rushing for a career-high 176 yards on 23 carries. Starting quarterback Ryan Williams completed only two of seven passes for 27 yards. Cannon Smith wasn’t much better, connecting on two of five tosses and throwing an interception (the Tigers’ only turnover of the game). Smith scored on a keeper for the Tigers’ final points midway through the fourth quarter.
Despite losing Keenum — the reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year — in their third game of the season, the Cougars find themselves atop the league’s West Division with a record of 4-1 (tied with SMU). Tonight’s game marked the fifth time this season Houston has topped 40 points. (Their game at 4-0 UCF next Friday will be among the top battles in C-USA this season.) “It was their speed,” acknowledged Porter. “It was like we were stuck in mud. They were running by us, left and right. I knew they had really good team speed.”
With Tennessee (2-6 after losing to South Carolina today) coming to the Liberty Bowl next Saturday, Porter addressed the season-long goal of finding players capable of moving the ball down field. “We’ve got to find some balance, and some ways to move the ball offensively,” he said. When asked about any potential controversy over his quarterback position, Porter was succinct: “It’s more about what we’re doing right now than who’s doing it.”
With their seventh loss of the season, the Tigers are officially eliminated from bowl contention.
Saturday, Liberty Bowl, 6 p.m.
• The course of Houston’s season was altered on September 18th, when quarterback Case Keenum — a Heisman Trophy candidate and reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year — tore his ACL in the Cougars’ loss to UCLA, ending his senior season. (Keenum has appealed for an extra year of eligibility.) Since Keenum went down, the Cougars have gone 2-2, beating Tulane and (last week) SMU, while losing to Mississippi State and Rice. Houston enters this weekend’s game with an overall record of 4-3. The Cougars are 3-1 in C-USA play, tied atop the West Division with SMU.
• Even without Keenum, the Houston offense has been among the best in the country. The Cougars average 442.6 yards per game, second in C-USA and 23rd in the nation. Their average of 39.6 points per game ranks first in C-USA and 9th in the country.
• David Piland — a freshman — has taken over quarterback duty for Houston. Piland passed for 233 yards in the victory over SMU last weekend, and has a total of 816 yards for the season (six touchdowns and three interceptions). His primary targets are Patrick Edwards (38 receptions for 561 yards) and James Cleveland (31, 448). Edwards leads C-USA in punt returns with an average of 12.1 yards.
• Junior Bryce Beall is the Cougars’ top ball carrier with 629 rushing yards on the season. His average of 89.9 yards per game is second in C-USA behind SMU’s Zach Line. With 12 touchdowns, Beall is tied with Southern Miss kicker Danny Hrapmann for the C-USA scoring lead (72 points).
• Houston ranks seventh in C-USA in total defense, giving up an average of 401.1 yards per game (and 29.6 points). The Memphis defense, though, ranks last in the league in both yardage allowed (447.6 per game) and points (39.4).
• This will be the 21st meeting between the Tigers and Cougars, with Houston holding an 11-9 edge. (The Tigers are 5-5 against Houston in Memphis.) Memphis beat Houston three straight times during the DeAngelo Williams era (2003-05), but has lost the last two contests, 23-20 (in overtime) in 2006 and 55-14 last season.
• Memphis quarterback Ryan Williams ranks fourth among C-USA quarterbacks in efficiency rating (130.4), behind SMU’s Kyle Padron (136.6), Tulsa’s G.J. Kinne (136.0), and East Carolina’s Dominique Davis (131.6). Williams has completed just under 60 percent of his passes and has thrown only five interceptions in 132 attempts.
• Tiger linebacker Jamon Hughes leads C-USA with 86 tackles, an average of 12.3 per game. He was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week after his 21-tackle effort against Southern Miss on October 16th.
• Saturday’s game will be Larry Porter’s first Homecoming as head coach of his alma mater. As a player, Porter’s teams went 2-2 in Homecoming games.
• The Tigers have a record that’s spooky-good around Halloween. Including games played on October 30th or November 1st, Memphis is 22-11-1 when playing within 24 hours of All Hallow’s Eve.
• Among the 97 players on the current Tiger roster, 55 of them are either freshmen or sophomores. The Memphis roster features a total of 20 seniors. The roster features 34 players from within 17 miles of the U of M campus.
In the first AP poll of the 2010-11 college basketball season, Memphis is ranked 19th, 21 voter points behind Washington (and 188 points ahead of #20 Georgetown).
Defending champion Duke tops the poll with 55 of 65 first-place votes. The rest of the Top 10, in order: Michigan State (8 first-place votes), Kansas State (2), Ohio State, Pitt, Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, and Syracuse.
Gonzaga (12) and Butler (17) are the only teams outside the "power six" conferences ranked ahead of the Tigers.
Four teams in the Top 25 are on the Tiger schedule: #7 Kansas (Dec. 7), #20 Georgetown (Dec. 23 at FEF), #23 Tennessee (Jan. 5), and #12 Gonzaga (Feb. 5).
LAST WEEK: 3-2
Houston over MEMPHIS
SOUTHERN MISS over Alabama-Birmingham
NOTRE DAME over Tulsa
TULANE over Southern Methodist
Texas-El Paso over MARSHALL
UCF over East Carolina
Consider how hard it must be to earn Defensive Player of the Week honors when your team gives up 41 points.
Such is the plight of Tiger linebacker Jamon Hughes, quietly having the finest season of any Memphis player, but part of a defense that has allowed an average of 39 points per game. On Monday, the senior was honored by Conference USA after collecting 21 tackles — the most by a Tiger in 31 years — against Southern Miss last Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. He's the first Memphis player to earn DPOW honors since Clinton McDonald in September 2008.
Hughes leads C-USA with 86 tackles this season (ranking second in the entire nation), and has led Memphis in tackles every game this season.
Football teams often play an entire season without seeing a kicked ball hit an upright. But it happened twice — at either end of the field — in the first five minutes of this afternoon’s tilt between the Tigers and Southern Miss at the Liberty Bowl. And the symbolism for a game — and season — was painfully evident.
The 36-yard field-goal attempt by the Eagles’ Danny Hrapmann deflected sharply downward, but over the crossbar and between the uprights for the game’s first points (confirmed only after an official review). After Memphis scored a touchdown on its ensuing possession for one of the few leads it will hold this season, the point-after attempt by Paulo Henriques found the right upright and came crashing down to the turf . . . not over the crossbar. Lost point, lost game, lost season.
The Tigers held their 6-3 lead (courtesy of a 22-yard Marcus Rucker touchdown reception) for just over five minutes before Johndrick Morris caught a scoring pass from Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis. Another Davis touchdown pass — to tailback Desmond Johnson — widened the gap to 17-6 as the first quarter expired, and the Tigers would never be closer on the scoreboard.
“We dug ourselves another hole,” said Tiger coach Larry Porter after the game. “We didn’t respond, and it was hard to overcome, the way we played offensively. We have to take a look at all the negatives, and address those so we can become a better football team.”
For the third straight game, the Tigers were unable to force a turnover (while the offense lost a pair of fumbles inside Memphis territory). Southern Miss outgained the Tigers, 515 yards to 269, with Kendrick Hardy rushing for 105 on only 11 carries (one of them a 59-yard scoring jaunt in the fourth quarter). The Tigers’ running game was nonexistent, Jerrell Rhodes and Greg Ray combining for 60 yards on 19 carries.
In addition to his early touchdown reception, Rucker hauled in an 81-yard scoring strike from Ryan Williams in the fourth quarter. A tandem Memphis fans hope to cheer through the 2012 season, Williams and Rucker connected on four passes for 155 yards. “He’s the one consistent guy we have at the receiver position,” said Porter. “We’ve got to find a way to continue to get him the ball. He had a good game today, but I still don’t think we have an established playmaker on offense. That’s why we tried to manufacture some ways today, to get guys in a situation where they could make some plays. We have to narrow our scope and focus on a few guys, and find ways to get them the ball.”
Senior linebacker Jamon Hughes was again a stalwart for the Memphis defense. He made a total of 21 tackles, a career high, and picked up his second sack of the season. “It’s a reflection of his commitment, his leadership,” stressed Porter. “He practices just as hard as he plays. We need to get some other guys seeing it that way.”
Porter said he and his staff would take advantage of the upcoming bye week as best they can. “We need it in a bad way,” he said. “We’ve got to settle our personnel, big time. So many injuries, guys in and out of the lineup, and it shows up on game day. When we send them out there, we hold them accountable. We need to redefine some of the techniques and fundamentals of football, and allow them to really and truly draw some confidence, so we can come out of the back end of this season an improved football team. We’ve got to settle our offense, in general.”
The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl on October 30th for this year’s homecoming game against Houston.
Saturday, 11 a.m., Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
• As the Tigers aim to erase memories of last week’s 56-0 defeat at Louisville, Southern Miss enters Saturday’s game with the bitter taste of a 44-43 loss to East Carolina — in Hattiesburg — still in their mouths. The loss dropped the Golden Eagles a game behind ECU in Conference USA’s East Division standings and ended a four-game winning streak for coach Larry Fedora’s squad. Now 4-2, Southern Miss also lost to South Carolina on September 2nd in Columbia.
• Southern Miss is currently sixth in C-USA in total offense (404 yards per game), while the Tigers are last in the 12-team league (275.8). The Golden Eagles are second in total defense (291.8), while the Tigers are 10th (436.3). Southern Miss leads C-USA in rushing defense (92) and is tied for the top with eight interceptions in their six games.
• Three Southern Miss players have rushed for 200 yards this season, led by Desmond Johnson with 296. Johnson averages 4.9 yards per carry and has also caught 14 passes for 76 yards. Quarterback Austin Davis averages 200 yards passing per game and has completed 62 percent of his throws. Davis ranks fifth in C-USA in total offense (236 yards per game). Memphis quarterback Ryan Williams is 10th (133.4).
• Southern Miss has one of the finest kickers in C-USA in Danny Hrapmann. The freshman leads the league in scoring (61 points) and has been perfect on field goals, connecting on all 14 of his attempts.
• The Tigers and Golden Eagles have played a total of 60 times, more than any other opponent on the Memphis schedule. The first Black-and-Blue Bowl was played in 1935 (a 12-0 Southern Miss win), then the teams met every season from 1952 to 1979. After a one-season interruption in 1980, the teams resumed the series and have played every year since. Southern Miss owns the overall edge, 38-21 (with one tie, in 1972). The Tigers are 15-17 against the Eagles at home, and have won four of the last six meetings. Southern Miss won last year in Hattiesburg, 36-16.
• Through six games, the Tigers have given up 235 points, more than they gave up in an entire season — three times — under Rip Scherer (1996, 1999, and 2000).
• With 111 passing yards Saturday, Williams would become the first Tiger freshman to pass for 1,000 yards since Danny Wimprine in 2001. Wimprine, it should be noted, was a redshirt-freshman, while Williams was playing high school football a year ago.
• Jerrell Rhodes and Greg Ray are competing for the Tiger rushing lead. Through six games, Rhodes has 332 yards on 83 carries, while Ray has carried the ball 77 times for 297 yards. Jermaine McKenzie leads Memphis with 214 yards on 14 receptions.
• Tiger linebacker Jamon Hughes is tied for the C-USA lead with 65 total tackles. Having played six games, his average is slightly below that of Marshall’s Mario Harvey and Tulane’s Trent Mackey, who have each played only five games.
• Saturday will be the 45th anniversary of a rare Tiger victory over a Top-10 opponent. On October 16, 1965, Memphis beat 10th-ranked Mississippi State, 33-13. The game was just the second for the Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
LAST WEEK: 5-2
Central Florida over MARSHALL
Southern Miss over MEMPHIS
Houston over RICE
Texas-El Paso over UAB
TULSA over Tulane
N.C. State over EAST CAROLINA
Southern Methodist over NAVY
Six games into the first year of the Larry Porter era, the Tiger football team is halfway to matching the 2-10 season that led to the dismissal of Porter’s predecessor, Tommy West. Considering the 56-0 loss at Louisville last Saturday, Tiger fans might be grateful for another win this fall, as the second half of the schedule — featuring Southern Miss, Houston, Tennessee, and UCF — is going to be tougher than the first. The good news may be that four of the remaining games will be played at the Liberty Bowl. The bad news may be that the program’s biggest supporters will be eyewitness to a kind of football that makes teeth-grinding a habit.
Here are five things we’ve learned over the first half of what we can only hope is the transition year of transition years for the Memphis program.
• Football fans love celebrating the rare team with no weaknesses. The 2010 Tigers are a rarity, in that the team has no strengths. They are near the bottom of the national rankings in total offense (276 yards per game) and total defense (436). They’ve had trouble running the ball (101 yards per game behind the tandem of Greg Ray and Jerrell Rhodes) and have gained as many as 200 passing yards in only one game. A veteran offensive line — forecast to be the strength of the squad — has given up 18 sacks in six games. The defense has forced a total of six turnovers, but four of them came in a single game (the only win of the season, over Middle Tennessee).
If you’re looking for a blanket diagnosis of the many symptoms that are hurting the Tigers, it’s team speed. Or the woeful lack thereof. Receivers aren’t escaping opposing defensive backs. The Tiger secondary is being outrun, often to the end zone. Memphis has given up 233 and 299 rushing yards in its last two games, gaps being opened by opposing blockers that the Tigers simply can’t close.
An ugly season for the Tigers got considerably uglier this afternoon at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. If the University of Memphis aspires to membership in the Big East, highlights from today's thorough drubbing — at the hands of a team picked to finish near the bottom of the league — won't be part of the application package.
Cardinal quarterback Adam Froman completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Graham near the end of the first quarter to open the scoring, and by halftime, Memphis was down 35-0. The Cardinals' Bilal Powell dashed 74 yards for a touchdown to highlight the second quarter. Powell finished the game with 204 yards on only 18 carries, with a pair of scores.
The Tiger offense managed only 39 yards on the ground (factoring in 39 yards lost on quarterback sacks by the Cardinals). Freshman quarterback Ryan Williams completed 15 of 27 passes for 174 yards and an interception. Jermaine McKenzie led the Tiger receiving corps with three catches for 71 yards.
Ugliest stat of the day: Memphis owned the edge in time of possession (33:14). This was because all seven Louisville scoring drives took less than four minutes off the clock. Four of the drives took less than two minutes. This was a rout.
Now 1-5, Memphis has given up at least 48 points in four of its six games and managed to score 20 in only two. The Tigers return to Conference USA play next Saturday when they host Southern Miss at the Liberty Bowl.
Saturday, 1 p.m., at Louisville
• Louisville enters Saturday’s game having alternated wins and losses over their season’s first month. The Cardinals lost at home to Kentucky on September 4th, beat Eastern Kentucky a week later, then fell at Oregon State, 35-28, on September 18th. After a bye week, Louisville won at Arkansas State last Saturday, 34-24. Saturday’s game is the Cardinals’ last tune-up before Big East play begins.
• Senior quarterback Adam Froman has completed 58 percent of his passes for Louisville, averaging 235.5 yards per game, with five touchdowns and four interceptions. His favorite target has been senior Doug Beaumont (16 receptions for 244 yards). Another senior — Bilal Powell — leads the Cardinal ground game, having rushed for 485 yards through four games. Powell averages 6.6 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns.
• Charlie Strong is in his first season as head coach of the Cardinals, having spent the last seven years at Florida, where he was defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer. Strong aims to improve a team that finished 2009 with a record of 4-8 (1-6 in the Big East).
• Louisville owns a 22-19 edge in the series with Memphis. The Cardinals have won the last two meetings (in 2004 and 2008) and 11 of the last 13 (the Tigers won in 1997 at the Liberty Bowl and in 2003 at Louisville). In six of the last seven contests, Louisville has scored at least 32 points, the exception being the U of M win in ’03 (37-7). Once members of the Metro Conference, Memphis and Louisville played every year from 1968 to 2004 except for three seasons: 1984, 1985, and 2000.
• The Tigers have fallen near the bottom of Conference USA in total offense (286.4 yards per game), ahead of only Tulane. The Tiger defense is eighth (408.8). The Memphis passing game has sputtered of late, with the team’s rushing total matching or exceeding yardage through the air in each of the last three games. For some perspective, last season’s 2-10 squad averaged 373.1 yards per game of total offense. The last time a Memphis offense averaged fewer than 300 yards for an entire season was 2000.
• If you’re looking for an ugly stat (or two), turn to the Memphis special teams. The Tigers are dead last in C-USA in both kickoff returns (17.9 yards per return) and punt returns (1.6). Worse, in five games, the Tigers have forced their opponent to punt a total of five times.
• The Tigers are trying to avoid their third 1-5 start since 1987. The ’98 team started 1-5 on its way to a 2-9 record. In 2006, the Tigers started 1-5 and finished 2-10.
• Senior linebacker Jamon Hughes is playing his way into the all-conference discussion. Hughes had a total of 12 tackles against Tulsa last week (five of them solo) and is third in C-USA with an average of 11.6 tackles per game. As a junior in 2009, Hughes averaged 7.2.
• Right guard Dominik Riley — a preseason all-conference selection — is expected to play against Louisville after missing the Tigers’ last two games with a knee injury. Junior Michael Antonescu remains atop the official depth chart, having replaced freshman Ricky Hart (Riley’s backup) last week when Hart injured his ankle against Tulsa.
• A pair of freshmen continue to play large roles in the Tiger secondary. Todd Washington will start his fifth straight game at one cornerback position, opposite Mohammed Seisay, who has started at the other corner since the opener against Mississippi State. The two have combined for 25 tackles and four interceptions.
LAST WEEK: 4-2
UCF over Alabama-Birmingham
LOUISVILLE over Memphis
Army over TULANE
SOUTHERN MISS over East Carolina
SMU over Tulsa
HOUSTON over Mississippi State
UTEP over Rice
There are days when I wonder if the Tiger football program deserves fans like Tommy Vollmar. A former player himself (he was a member of the 1999 squad), Vollmar has taken tailgating up a notch this season, transforming what originally was a vehicle designed to save lives into "The Battle Cat."
You can find the Fanbulance at sections 260 and 261 of Tiger Lane, before, during, and after every Memphis home game.
"My tailgate team is an avid mix of alums and former players," says Vollmar, "who support the football team in every way we can. The Fanbulance is just one way in which we showcase our True Blue support."
Vollmar and his Fanbulance crew are involved in local youth football. And they're convinced the U of M — regardless of its record — is on the right path. "We're in it for the long haul," stresses Vollmar, "and Coach Porter is the right man for the job."
I found this question (and Coach Porter's answer) provocative, from today's press luncheon:
Q: Do results like that against Tulsa (a 48-7 loss) have an impact on recruiting?
A: Not when you are relentless, give great effort and have a good game plan. I mean, you have to have a game plan for recruiting just as much as for opponents. I don't see that as an issue for us. Hopefully, here within a week or so, you guys will see a couple, three, or four guys added to our commitment list. So, to me, that should help based on guys knowing that we need help. (We will continue to put) ourselves in position to keep selling our message and making sure that we let kids know where we are. In fact, I encourage our staff to call guys even more so. Some people when you're not doing as well like to hide. You still have to call with that same tone and same energy and let guys know the future of this program is very promising.
FOOTNOTE: Porter didn't share any specifics on quarterback Ryan Williams' injury, or the likelihood of Williams playing this Saturday at Louisville.
There’s nothing ambiguous about a 48-7 loss. This may be small consolation to Tiger coach Larry Porter and his overmatched team tonight, but it may provide clarity to the motivational tools Porter will require as his first season in command of the Memphis program continues to unfold. Judging by another sparse crowd at the Liberty Bowl — 22,231 — the tools may be needed as much for the program’s fan base as for its players.
A Tiger defense that had shown steady improvement over the season’s first four games regressed against a Tulsa offense that entered Saturday’s game ranked fifth in the country with 523 yards per game. After giving up 288 yards last week at UTEP, Memphis surrendered 447 to the Golden Hurricane, a total that would have been considerably higher were it not for the short field Tiger turnovers provided all night.
On the U of M’s first drive of the game, freshman quarterback Ryan Williams was intercepted by Tulsa freshman Marco Nelson at the Tiger 48-yard-line. Six plays and two minutes later, Golden Hurricane quarterback G.J. Kinne ran in from the eight-yard-line for a 7-0 Tulsa lead. (A front-runner for C-USA’s Offensive Player of the Year now that Houston’s quarterback Case Keenum is out for the season with an injury, Kinne passed for 214 yards — well under his average of more than 300 — and two touchdowns before leaving the game with 11 minutes to play, the game decided.)
The Memphis offense showed life early in the second quarter, with Greg Ray and Jerrell Rhodes sharing the rushing load on a 60-yard drive that culminated in a 22-yard touchdown scamper by Rhodes. Down 14-7, the Tiger defense then forced a Tulsa punt after three plays, only to see sophomore Curtis Johnson fumble the kick, giving Tulsa the ball at the Memphis 30-yard-line. Kevin Fitzpatrick hit his first of two field goals four plays later and the rout was on. (Could have been much uglier: Tulsa was only able to convert three second-quarter turnovers into six points.)
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance early,” said Porter after the game. “This game was laced with turnovers. Going into halftime, we were only down two touchdowns, and I thought we had a chance if we came out and played hard, put ourselves in position to put points on the board. Obviously, that didn’t happen. We didn’t execute on offense or defense in the second half.
“I don’t think we’re going backwards. We just have to put a 60-minute game together, where we’re playing together: offensively, defensively, and special teams.”
Williams was forced from the game with 8:06 left to play in the second quarter, having suffered an apparent head injury. (The freshman quarterback remained in uniform — though without his helmet — on the Tiger sideline for the duration of the game.) Sophomore reserve Cannon Smith — having recently been activated after his own concussion — was ineffective, completing only four of eight passes for 18 yards. Also injured tonight was freshman guard Ricky Hart (filling in for the injured Dominik Riley), who left with a right-leg injury just five minutes into the contest.
Rhodes led Memphis with 62 rushing yards (averaging 6.2 per carry) with Ray adding 48. No Tiger receiver caught as many as three passes. On the defensive side, Jamon Hughes led the way with 12 tackles, DeRon Furr adding 10.
“There were some guys who played hard till the bitter end,” said Porter. “We have to find 11 guys on both sides of the ball who will give us that for 60 minutes.”
Now 1-4, the Tigers will prepare for a road trip to Louisville, where they’ll face the Cardinals next Saturday afternoon. Louisville beat Arkansas State tonight, 34-24, and is 2-2 on the season.
“We’ll come back strong,” Porter emphasized, “just as aggressive. We’ll continue to challenge them, and they’ll respond. It’s not just [the players], it’s us coaches. We’re all in this together, and that’s the only way we’re going to get through this.”