Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 8:00 AM

• “I think it’s important to not get too high after the successes while managing the lows as well . . . . The best part and the worst part of this business is you don’t have a lot of time to celebrate and you don’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself.” Two days after the first real blowout loss of his head-coaching career, Justin Fuente provided his latest dose of perspective on the construction project he’s taken on. You can imagine the words spoken in the Tiger locker room as easily as they were delivered at the coach’s weekly press luncheon.

Tiger fans were able to relish the first win under Fuente — over Rice on October 6th — for precisely a week. Then the East Carolina Pirates did what East Carolina Pirates do to the Memphis Tigers. The 41-7 loss was the U of M’s seventh straight in the series with ECU, matching the longest such streak of the program’s time in Conference USA. (UAB won seven in a row from 2000 to 2006 and UCF — this Saturday’s opponent — has won seven straight since 2005.) The Tigers find themselves in the toughest stretch of their season: three of four games on the road, with the only home game against the top team in C-USA’s East Division. And no time to feel sorry for themselves.

At the midpoint of the 2012 season, the Tigers have been outscored 190-110. At the same point a year ago, the aggregate score was 220-81. Marginal gain. (The Tigers were 1-5 a year ago, just as they are today.) The U of M remains starless on offense, without a player in C-USA’s top 10 for rushing or receiving yardage. (Jacob Karam ranks 10th — in a 12-team league — with 156.7 passing yards per game.) But the Tiger offense has avoided calamity, giving up a moderate number of sacks (14) and only one interception thrown by Karam. (That one pick, of course, was returned for a touchdown by Middle Tennessee.)

Defensively, the Tigers are in the middle of the C-USA pack, allowing 423.3 yards per game. (The average last year was 491.) But it was the defense that won the Rice game (allowing only a field goal) and the Tiger pass rush picked up more sacks last Saturday at ECU (5) than it had the previous five games combined. Let’s keep our eyes on sophomore end Martin Ifedi the rest of the season.

The good news this weekend is that the Tigers will be playing UCF in C-USA play for the last time. (The Knights own a 7-1 lead in the series and have scored at least 28 points in every meeting.) The bad news . . . UCF will be joining Memphis in the Big East for 2013 and beyond. Coach George O’Leary’s program has played in the C-USA championship game three times, winning twice (2007 and 2010). And they’ve made Bright House Networks Stadium in sunny Orlando a fun place to be on fall Saturdays. (The capacity at BHN: 45,000.) U of M athletic director Tom Bowen would be smart to have his counterpart at UCF (Todd Stansbury) on speed dial. UCF has shown football can be done well at a school surrounded by national powers.

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