Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 8:00 AM

The Temple game was a dud, and considerably so. It was the first game under second-year coach Justin Fuente in which the Tigers seemed to take a step back. They weren’t prepared to play a very beatable Temple team . . . and on Senior Day. The U of M gave up 534 yards (their most allowed this season) against an Owl team that entered the game averaging 387. Worse, the Tiger offense managed only 228 yards (its fewest this season) against a defense surrendering an average of 497. Fuente recognized the sorry play for what it was. He was curt, if apologetic, during a five-minute postgame press conference. At Monday’s press luncheon, he said, “One thing people may say in our short time here is our kids have played really hard. We haven’t always played with great intelligence or really well, but our kids have played really hard, and we cannot lose that.” Message: the Tigers didn’t play hard enough last Saturday. Fuente insisted the only players traveling to Connecticut this weekend will be those ready to compete, to fight. I’d expect a significant boost in energy level when Memphis takes the field at UConn, however cold it may be.

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A casual observation about the Memphis offense: It does not attack the middle of the field. At least not with the passing game. Among Paxton Lynch’s 29 passes in the Temple game, I counted one that traveled ten yards down the field and between the yardage numbers. (It was an ill-advised throw to Sam Craft, who was covered by three Owls. Luckily fell incomplete.) It seems the Memphis passing game is crafted toward quick releases to the flanks, or longer attempts down the sideline. What are the sidelines if not another pair of defenders? I’d like to believe there are more opportunities for the likes of Joe Craig, Keiwone Malone, and Alan Cross across the middle, where space can be found beyond a defense’s front seven. Fuente and offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey have forgotten more about passing the football than I’ll ever know. But I wonder if there’s a significant blind spot, be it with Lynch or the passing scheme as it currently exists.

I miss the Black-and-Blue Game. For only the second time since 1952, the Tigers will not face Southern Miss on the gridiron. And this is a loss for Tiger football. The Golden Eagles have fallen on hard times (1-11 this season) and the Tigers are in a better league for the future of the football program. But regional rivalries in college football still count for a lot. Among the Tigers’ new conference foes, find that rival. After Louisville leaves for the ACC next season, the only American team in a neighboring state will be new arrival East Carolina, whose campus sits merely 830 miles from Memphis. Tulsa and Tulane join the American next year, too. Tiger football rivals? Come on. Memphis will play the latest regular-season game in its history this Saturday at UConn. Tigers and Huskies in December . . . gets the heart pumping for basketball, no?

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