Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tigers 63, Austin Peay 0

Posted By on Sat, Aug 30, 2014 at 10:33 PM

This was a game a long-suffering Memphis Tiger fan base had coming. After nine straight season-opening losses — and just three years after starting a season with a 59-14 loss — the Tigers took it all out on an undermanned Austin Peay program aiming to recover from a winless 2013 season. Playing under a steady drizzle, Memphis scored touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions to secure the game before halftime, five different Tigers reaching the end zone before the season was 30 minutes old.

The most disoriented man among the 27,361 fans at the Liberty Bowl had to be 2013 Ray Guy Award-winner Tom Hornsey, who didn't see the home team punt until the final play of the first half. The win was thorough by every measure, Memphis accumulating 545 yards of offense on 82 plays (compared with 146 on 50 for the Governors).

"We have a lot of things we can do better," warned a stolid Justin Fuente after the game. Said the Tiger coach, "There are a lot of things for us to coach off of. We were going to grade how we played, and at times we played well. I'm happy with the way the kids prepared."

Paxton Lynch

The only negatives to report from the Tiger side of things were four fumbles (three of them recovered by Memphis players) and a leg injury that sent senior defensive end Martin Ifedi to the locker room with just under nine minutes to play in the third quarter (the Tigers led 49-0 at the time). The status of Ifedi's injury won't be known until Sunday at the earliest.

Memphis had not shut out an opponent since 2000 and hadn't scored 63 points since 1969. (The point total is fourth highest in the program's history, seven shy of the record: 70 against Tampa in 1949.) Sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 20 of 27 passes for 242 yards, passing for two touchdowns and running for two more. (Lynch was relieved by junior Jason Stewart midway through the third quarter. Senior tailback Brandon Hayes ran for 59 yards on 11 carries and scored on a three-yard dash in the first quarter. It was freshman Jarvis Cooper, though, who stole the spotlight with his running in the second half. The West Memphis product galloped 101 yards on eight carries and scored the Tigers' final touchdown with 5:53 left in the game.

Fuente mentioned a "delicate balance" his team aimed to maintain, executing an offensive game plan, allowing younger players to get playing time they might not get in a closer contest, but then not coming across as unprofessional to an opponent Fuente and his staff respect. (The Tiger staff knows a thing or two about rebuilding a program.) "You gotta take it as a whole, and see if the kids are taking what you're emphasizing," said Fuente.

Justin Fuente

No fewer than 26 Tiger defensive players were credited with at least an assisted tackle, suggesting the Memphis defense is as deep as it's been in years. One defensive starter not credited with a tackle was Bobby McCain, but the senior cornerback intercepted his first pass of the season and returned it 29 yards in the first quarter. "It was great putting a zero up there," he said after the game. "Felt really good for the defense. It looks good on the scoreboard, but there are still things we need to work on. Some things have to be corrected. It's gonna be fun watching the film, but we're going to make sure, starting tomorrow, we're game-ready for UCLA [next week]."

"We executed," added a smiling Hayes. "We didn't have a lot of penalties [6], and we were able to put up a lot of points. A good win. Our coaches told us not to be lackadaisical; don't look at the scoreboard. Do what you'd do in any other game. Hopefully this was a positive look for the fans." When asked about his understudy, Cooper, Hayes smiled even bigger: "Jarvis had a great game today."

The Tigers travel to Southern California next week to face UCLA, who beat Virginia earlier today. The Bruins are a consensus top-10 team. Memphis has not beaten a ranked opponent since upsetting Tennessee in November 1996.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"American" Football Picks: Week 1

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 8:00 AM

The aim is a simple one: improve on last season's record of 57-23. Seventy-one percent may be good enough in some corners of cyberspace, but not here. Away we go . . . .

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THURSDAY
Tulane at Tulsa
Temple at Vanderbilt

FRIDAY
Texas-San Antonio at Houston
BYU at UConn

SATURDAY
Austin Peay at Memphis
North Carolina Central at East Carolina
Western Carolina at USF
Penn State vs. UCF (in Ireland)

SUNDAY
SMU at Baylor

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 8:32 AM

• Austin Peay is a big game.
The Governors are an FCS program that went 0-12 last season. They are a team Memphis must and should beat. But consider them a tune-up for UCLA and you’re misjudging the start to year three of the Justin Fuente era at the U of M. The Tiger program has not reached a point where any opponent can be considered inferior, a walkover, a “gimme.” Simply recall the last two games of the 2013 season, when many considered the Tigers favored to beat a pair of American Athletic Conference bottom feeders. Temple and UConn won those two games by a combined 55 points. It’s been ten years — a decade — since Memphis won its opening game. (DeAngelo Williams was a junior when the Tigers beat Ole Miss in Oxford to start the 2004 season.) Players and coaches these days like to emphasize the need to “take care of business” when hosting an underdog. Forget what comes next week. The Liberty Bowl hosts a big game this Saturday.

Paxton Lynch


• Watch the players not wearing number 12.

When I recently asked Fuente about the development of sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch, he said something simple but illuminating: “I’m just as interested in the other 10 around him playing better, to help him out. I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.” All eyes tend to follow the quarterback when an offense takes the field. And with 12 starts already under his belt, Lynch knows the spotlight he’s taken, and the expectations — from his coaches and Tiger fans — that come with the position. But Lynch’s performance this season will reflect the continued development of those “around him” on the Tiger offense. A veteran receiving corps has to stretch the field more than it was able to a year ago. Brandon Hayes and Doroland Dorceus have to create some second-and-short scenarios that tend to expose a defense. And then there’s the offensive line. Senior Al Bond is entrenched (likely at right tackle), but who plays the other four positions remains in question, the hope being depth has finally made starting slots hard to win for a Memphis blocker. Not since 2008 (Brandon Pearce) have the Tigers suited up a first-team all-conference selection on its offensive line. Memphis needs a star in the trenches.

• A packed house?
Attendance at the Liberty Bowl has always been a measuring stick for the Tiger program. (What exactly it measures remains debatable.) The cavernous (60,000-plus) stadium will never be full for a Memphis game unless an SEC foe is in town. So we’re left to determine how many empty seats make a positive indicator. Just over 39,000 fans came out to watch Fuente’s debut in 2012 (a loss to UT-Martin). Last year, 44,237 showed up to see the Tigers lose to Duke. The Tigers wouldn’t see a crowd of 40,000 the rest of the season (six more home games). Needless to say, 40,000 fans this Saturday would be considered a booming start to the season. It’s still (barely) August, sure to be hot. But the only SEC team with local ties playing at the same time will be Mississippi State. If you’re a Memphis football fan, the Liberty Bowl will be the place to be Saturday night. Here’s hoping the action on the field is a better story than the number of empty seats.

And a fourth thought (just this week). The Tiger schedule has two very distinct halves, the first arduous, the second stuffed with teams forecast to finish near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference. And Memphis will not play consecutive home games until the final two contests on the schedule. Trends will be hard to read (or forecast) beyond the most famous cliché in sports: “One game at a time.” That said, I do indeed believe this is the year Tiger fans have been waiting for. The U of M may be 2-4 after the Houston game (October 11th), but if key players can avoid major injury, the Tigers will finish strong and gain bowl eligibility (6-6) in their season finale against UConn (November 29th).

Be sure and check out the Flyer’s annual Tiger football preview in this week’s print edition, on streets Wednesday.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Wait 'Til This Year: Brandon Hayes"

Posted By on Sun, Aug 17, 2014 at 8:00 AM

The third in a series of promotional videos for the 2014 Tiger football season, featuring senior running back Brandon Hayes. "Finishing Strong."

The University of Memphis - Wait Til This Year - Hayes from archer malmo on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Wait 'Til This Year: Charles Harris"

Posted By on Sat, Aug 16, 2014 at 8:00 AM

The second in a series of promotional videos for the 2014 Tiger football season, featuring senior linebacker Charles Harris. "No excuses."

The University of Memphis - Wait Til This Year - Harris from archer malmo on Vimeo.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Wait 'Til This Year: Bobby McCain"

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 9:56 AM

The Tigers are rolling out a series of promotional videos (produced by archer>malmo), emphasizing 2014 as the year a long wait is over. Check out this clip featuring senior cornerback Bobby McCain. "It's gonna happen."

The University of Memphis - Wait Til This Year - McCain from archer malmo on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Memphis Tiger Trivia Answer: Rushing Leaders

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 8:00 AM

This season, senior tailback Brandon Hayes will aim to become the seventh Tiger to lead the team in rushing three consecutive seasons. Name the first six.

• Dave Casinelli (1961-63)
• Skeeter Gowen (1969-71)
• Wayne Prior (1986-88)
• Larry Porter (1991-93)
• Gerard Arnold (1997-99)
• DeAngelo Williams (2002-05)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Memphis Tiger Trivia (Aug. 12)

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 8:00 AM

This season, senior tailback Brandon Hayes will aim to become the seventh Tiger to lead the team in rushing three consecutive seasons. Name the first six.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Memphis Tiger Trivia Answer: Football Upsets

Posted By on Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 8:00 AM

It's been five years since the Tigers have met a Top-10 team on the gridiron. (Memphis opened the 2009 season against 8th-ranked Ole Miss.) The drought may well end on September 6th, when the Tigers travel to Pasadena to face UCLA and Heisman-candidate Brett Hundley. (The Bruins are ranked 7th in the preseason coaches poll.) It's been even longer since the U of M beat a ranked a team.

Name the last five times Memphis upset a Top-25 football team.

Tennessee.jpg

• November 9, 1996: Tigers 21, #6 Tennessee 17
• September 4, 1993: Tigers 45, #23 Mississippi State 35
• September 2, 1991: Tigers 24, #16 USC 10
• October 8, 1988: Tigers 17, #14 Florida 11
• October 10, 1987: Tigers 13, #15 Alabama 10

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Memphis Tiger Trivia (Aug. 5)

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 8:00 AM

It's been five years since the Tigers have met a Top-10 team on the gridiron. (Memphis opened the 2009 season against 8th-ranked Ole Miss.) The drought may well end on September 6th, when the Tigers travel to Pasadena to face UCLA and Heisman-candidate Brett Hundley. (The Bruins are ranked 7th in the preseason coaches poll.) It's been even longer since the U of M beat a ranked a team.

Name the last five times Memphis upset a Top-25 football team.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Antonio Burks Named Basketball Coach at Soulsville Charter School

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 5:37 PM

It's as nice a Memphis basketball story as you'll read this year. Former Memphis Tiger and Grizzly Antonio Burks has been named the men's basketball coach at Soulsville Charter School, a program funded by the Soulsville Foundation, which also manages and operates the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

antonio-burks.jpg

After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, Burks rose to stardom over three years at the University of Memphis under coach John Calipari. The quicksilver point guard played for the 2002 NIT champions and was named Conference USA Player of the Year after his senior season in 2003-04. Burks was chosen by Orlando in the second round of the 2004 NBA draft, but never suited up for the Magic. He played a total of 81 games for the Grizzlies during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

Burks's playing career ended in 2009 when he was shot and nearly lost his life during a backyard robbery of a card game in Memphis. His gradual but steady recovery has proven to be a more rigorous challenge than any he faced on the hardwood.

The 34-year-old Burks starts his new job next week.

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