• Third Down Stinks
Compare the numbers from last year’s Duke game and last Saturday’s, and there’s one stat line that is particularly ugly (and familiar): the Tigers’ conversion rate on third down. In 2012, Memphis converted but one of 11 third-down opportunities at Duke. This year, the figure was two for 13. Related to these numbers, a year ago Memphis made only nine first downs against the Blue Devils. This year: 12. Throw the figures in a bag, shake it and this is what you get: Duke ran 84 plays against Memphis in 2012 and 82 this year. The Tigers ran but 50 plays a year ago and 57 last Saturday. Forget the disparity in overall strength, speed, and talent. If I let your team run 25 plays more than I get to run . . . I lose the game.
Memphis faced too many third-and-longs in its opener, partly the result of its running game averaging 2.7 yards per play. The Blue Devil front seven is a veteran unit, one of the best the Tigers will face this season. So credit to a defense for making third down so uncomfortable. But the U of M will have to improve its third-down conversion rate before the numbers that matter — on the scoreboard — show improvement.
• Fourth Down Ain’t That Bad
There are football fans who will tell you “star punter” is an oxymoron. Very few of those fans (none?) look forward to seeing the guy with the big leg trot on the field after another failure on third down. Here in Memphis, though, we should enjoy the Tom Hornsey Show while we can. For the Tigers are suiting up the best college punter on (at least) two continents.
Following the Tigers’ second drive of the season last Saturday (yep, a three-and-out), Hornsey trotted onto the field, the ball on his team’s 18-yard-line. By the time he finished his work, Duke had possession . . . on its own 3-yard-line. The 79-yard punt was the second-longest in Memphis history (Roland Eveland kicked one 85 yards in 1950). Now remember, a punt’s distance is measured from the line of scrimmage, though the punter stands roughly 15 yards behind the line when the ball is snapped. Last Saturday at the Liberty Bowl, an Australian punter with a leg that would be the envy of any kangaroo essentially punted a football the entire length of the field. Those who saw it will remember it. And Hornsey will help the Tigers win football games this year. Cheer him while you can.
• A Raider Rivalry
The best college football team in Tennessee plays in Nashville these days. The historical power in Knoxville is scratching its way back to respectability. But neither Vanderbilt nor Tennessee is on the Memphis schedule, making it imperative that the Tigers win their game in Murfreesboro this Saturday. Lose to Middle Tennessee — from Conference USA! — and the Tigers will spend the next three months knowing they are the fourth-ranked team in the Volunteer State.
Don’t like the concept of Memphis-Middle being a “rivalry game”? Perhaps it’s worth reconsidering. Since renewing a long-dormant series in 2007, the Blue Raiders have won four of five meetings, including two at the Liberty Bowl. Quarterback Logan Kilgore will be familiar to Memphis fans, having thrown for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last year’s game. Sophomore tailback Jordan Parker has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the Raiders’ first two contests. Saturday night will be a battle, one worthy of intrastate rivals.