The University of Memphis Tigers attempt to gain their first win of the 2000 season tonight against Louisiana-Monroe. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. A crowd of 20,000 or less is expected to attend the game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Memphis is a 17-point favorite.
Besides getting their first win, the Tigers will attempt to put the brakes on a week of criticism for their anemic offensive showing in the opener, a 17-3 loss to Mississippi State. In that game, Memphis managed only 168 yards while turning the ball over five times.
Tonights opponent, UL-Monroe, is also 0-1, losing its first game to Minnesota , 47-10. The two teams have met only once in the past, with Monroe (then known as Northeast Louisiana) winning at Memphis in 1979. The Indians head coach, Bobby Keasler, was highly successful in nine seasons at McNeese State. He was 78-34-2 and was named Southland Conference Coach of the Year five times. He returned to his alma mater last season and led the team to a 5-6 mark.
But the real opponent for Memphis tonight will be themselves. Can the offense move the ball while cutting down on the number of turnovers? Can the defense, ranked fourth nationally after holding Mississippi State to a mere 127 yards, continue their excellent play. To silence the critics, the Tigers need to win by more than what the Las Vegas handicappers think.
Defensive end Andre Arnold had three quarterback sacks against Mississippi State, a career best for the junior from Columbus, Georgia.
Six Tiger players made their first career starts against Mississippi State. Josh Eargle and Jimmond Pugh stared in the offensive line. Tripp Higgins and Dernice Wherry started at wide receiver and tailback respectively. And Greg Harper and Derrick Ballard started at linebacker. Ballard, and deep snapper Gared Pigue were the only true freshmen to start.
Junior place kicker Ryan White, a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award his first two years, was selected to the Playboy 2000 All-American team. White has made 29 of 35 field goal attempts in his career and has kicked 47 out of 47 points after touchdown. His longest field goal is 52 yards.
Senior tight end Billy Kendall has caught at least one pass in 17 consecutive games, going back to his sophomore season. He caught a career high 6 vs. Arkansas State last season. Kendall is the all-time reception leader for tight ends at Memphis.
When Memphis travels to Jonesboro next week, it will be the Tigers first road game at Arkansas State since 1956. Memphis won that game 34-0, but the Indians hold a 9-6 advantage over the Tigers in Jonesboro.
Freshman deep snapper Gared Pigue, from Nashville Goodpasture Academy, was the starting deep snapper in game one. He recovered a fumbled punt.
(You can e-mail Dennis Freeland at firstname.lastname@example.org)