Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mississippi State 49, Memphis 7

Posted By on Sat, Sep 4, 2010 at 9:09 PM

You can’t second-guess a man making his head-coaching debut, can you? Especially after he’s been taken to the woodshed as an introduction to the new job. So I’ll merely wonder . . .

I wonder what Memphis coach Larry Porter saw in Cannon Smith over three series — each of them three-and-out — that had him change his mind (and quarterback). Unless Porter entered tonight’s opening game at Mississippi State knowing Ryan Williams was the man to move his offense, a hook in the first quarter has to be considered premature. And if Porter knew Williams was the man to move his offense . . . why name Smith the starter before the final week of training camp?

Fun stuff. Nothing like an early-September quarterback controversy to distract media types from a few glaring issues with the 2010 Tigers.

Having finished 2009 as the 116th-ranked defense among 120 in college football’s top division, the Tigers gave up 295 yards to the Bulldogs before halftime. After averaging 144 yards through the air last season, MSU had 167 tonight . . . before halftime. The Bulldogs finished the game with 372 passing yards and a total of 569.

• Marcus Ball will make the interception he missed — allowing the Bulldogs’ second touchdown in the first quarter — more often than not, so we’ll consider that early score a fluke. But two touchdowns covering more than 50 yards each (one on the ground, one through the air) in the season’s first 30 minutes? Perhaps most disheartening of all, MSU had six scoring drives that took less than three minutes off the game clock. (In the second half, ESPN analyst Herm Edwards alluded to how “tired” the Memphis defense had to be. Fact is, they weren’t on the field long enough to be tired. This was no grind-it-out offense wielded by Mississippi State.)

• Speed has to remain a concern for Porter and the new Memphis coaching staff, as the gaps downfield when Chris Relf or Tyler Russell dropped back to pass were too large for the Tiger defenders to close. Speed can be inherited, but it’s hard to coach.

• As for the offense, today’s scheme certainly went against convention. Instead of emphasizing the run — and thus shortening the game against a superior opponent — the Tigers came out throwing, with 11 of their 15 first-quarter plays going through the air. Ryan Williams finished with 10 completions in 17 attempts for 85 yards and two interceptions. Smith returned late in the third quarter and completed 10 of 15 for 111 yards and the Tigers’ only touchdown, a 27-yard catch-and-run by Marcus Rucker. On the ground, Jerrell Rhodes and Gregory Ray combined for 46 yards on 19 carries.

• The loss was the Tigers’ worst opening-game defeat since 1952, when Memphis fell to Ole Miss, 54-6. But it wasn’t close to the worst in the Tiger record book. Memphis was edged by Ole Miss in 1935 . . . 92-0.

The Tigers open Conference USA play next Saturday at East Carolina.

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