• The Tiger penalties have to stop. Since the Oakland Raiders franchise was born (in 1960), no pro team has led its league (first the AFL, since 1970 the NFL) in penalties more than the “Silver-and-Black” made famous by outlaw owner Al Davis. While no other team has led the NFL as many as 10 times over the last 53 years, the Raiders have paced pro football in penalties no fewer than 15 times. Somehow, this is a lauded part of the franchise’s image for ferocity. If you wear Oakland Raiders colors, breaking the law is cool, and that translates to committing penalties on the field.
The Memphis Tigers are not the Oakland Raiders. They escaped last Saturday’s game against FCS foe UT-Martin with the help of two field-goal attempts off an upright and despite twelve penalties that cost the U of M 123 yards and a player (almost two). After eight games, the 2-6 Tigers “lead” (trail, really) all of FBS with more than 80 yards per game in penalties. And these infractions are costing the team wins. In the two-point loss at Middle Tennessee in September, Memphis surrendered 145 yards in penalties (called by the same crew that worked the UT-Martin game). In the 10-point loss at Houston, the Tigers were penalized for 86 yards (four lost fumbles didn’t help). And in the five-point loss to SMU last month, the Tigers were penalized for 110 yards. I’ll venture to say one of those games goes the Tigers’ way if the penalties had been cut in half.
It’s sloppy. And it’s an ugly reflection on a team being built on discipline by a still-new coaching regime. The penalties have to stop. Make the opponent beat you.
• With every passing week, my favorite individual story of the season is that of Brandon Hayes. The senior tailback from White Station High School leads Memphis with 625 rushing yards and six touchdowns, two years after running for 556 yards — for the season — with Scottsdale Community College. Remember, Hayes walked on at Memphis as a freshman in 2010, only to lose that season to a broken foot. He returned to Memphis when Justin Fuente was hired before the 2012 season, and played without a scholarship until late October of his junior season. He led the Tigers with 576 rushing yards last year, surpassing 100 in each of the Tigers’ last two wins of the campaign.
Hayes has topped 100 yards in each of the Tigers’ two wins this season, meaning you can count on seeing a few carries by number-38 this Saturday at USF. Said Fuente at Monday’s press luncheon: “Brandon’s going to be our guy.” Hayes has a reasonable shot at a 1,000-yard season, which would place him in the top-15 in Tiger history. Better yet, he’s a nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy, given annually to the most outstanding college football player who began is career as a walk-on.
• The Tigers have three realistic chances at winning their first American Athletic Conference game, the first this Saturday against USF in Tampa. The programs last met in the 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl, the Tigers’ last taste of postseason play. (The Bulls won what amounted to a home game, 41-14.) USF is dead last in the American in total offense (256.0 yards per game) and scoring (15.4 points). They’ve scored but 12 touchdowns in their eight games (third-lowest total in the country). But among common opponents, USF beat a Cincinnati team that handled the Tigers. Their other win came at UConn (13-10) five weeks ago. It’s not the Bulls’ offense that concerns Fuente, not based on his remarks Monday: “It’s going to be a rough game, the way they play defensively and the way we’re capable of playing defensively.” Sounds like one of those 16-13, who-plays-less-poorly kind of games. Keep the penalties down, boys.