Friday, October 31, 2014

Tigers 40, Tulsa 20

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 11:57 PM

With former Poison frontman Bret Michaels serving as a Friday-night opening act, the Memphis Tigers had a spotlight unlike many in the recent history of the football program. It took a while for their high-scoring offense to warm up, but the Halloween tilt with Tulsa proved, indeed, nothing but a good time.

After falling behind 14-3, the Tigers scored 17 points over the last 8:10 of the first half, capped by a 51-yard touchdown run by Brandon Hayes, the longest of the senior's career and the first of three scoring jaunts he had for the night. Defensive end Martin Ifedi tied the U of M career record for sacks with the 21st of his career and kicker Jake Elliott delivered four field goals — two of them longer than 50 yards — as the Tigers improved to 5-3, just one win shy of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008.

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"[Tulsa] is a tough squad, and they're playing their tails off," said a gracious Tiger coach Justin Fuente after the game. (Fuente played high school football for current Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship.) "They're playing with a bunch of young kids, and a bunch of guys who are beat up. They're going to be a dangerous team in the coming years. I couldn't be happier to get out of this game with a win. Our kids didn't panic when things weren't going well. We were prepared for a dogfight tonight."

This being Halloween — the Tigers' first game on the holiday in 16 years — Charlie Brown would have described the third quarter as less a dogfight and more of "a rock." Tulsa punted six times and Memphis four in 15 minutes of play that took almost an hour off the lives of participants and the 26,846 fans who braved the chill. Two Elliott field goals — one from 47 yards, the other from 51 — ended the only punt-free drives of the period.

Hayes put the game out of reach with a 30-yard scamper with 10:06 left in the game. The 14-yard touchdown he scored with 2:50 to play gave Hayes a career-high 197 yards for the game, and gave Memphis precisely the number of points the Tulsa defense has allowed, on average, in eight games this season. (The Golden Hurricane fell to 1-7.) "This team is different from all the teams I've played for," said Hayes. "We have something special going on, in all phases of the game. It's a great feeling, going into the next four games with a winning record."

Hayes smiled when asked about his long runs and record night. "I wasn't thinking about the yards, just getting into the end zone," he said. "I felt like I needed to do something [before halftime]," he said. "I saw a little crease, and made a play. To be honest, I thought someone was backside, about to tackle me the whole time. I just focused on not fumbling the ball."

Tiger quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 18 of 31 passes for 183 yards and scored the Tigers' first touchdown of the game, his seventh rushing TD of the season. The Tiger offense gained 426 yards (to 411 for Tulsa), but struggled on third down (6 for 17).

Senior cornerback Bobby McCain led the Memphis defense with seven solo tackles, with lineman Terry Redden adding six. The Tigers held Tulsa to 62 yards on the ground.

The Tigers play again next Friday night (at Temple), the first of four games to build their bowl resume. You can hear Bret Michaels, can't you? The Memphis Tigers have something to believe in.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"American" Football Picks: Week 10

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Last Week: 4-0
Season: 47-13

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FRIDAY
Tulsa at Memphis
Cincinnati at Tulane

SATURDAY
UCF at UConn
Houston at USF
East Carolina at Temple

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 at 8:00 AM

• The University of Memphis lost a certifiable legend with the passing of John Bramlett last week. “The Bull” starred as a Tiger on both the gridiron and baseball diamond, building a reputation somehow tougher than the nickname he carried his entire adult life.

With Bramlett’s death, there are only two living members of an exclusive club of six: Tiger football players to have their jerseys retired. Gone before Bramlett were Charles Greenhill (who died in the 1983 plane crash that killed Memphis coach Rex Dockery), Dave Casinelli (killed in a car wreck in 1987), and Harry Schuh, who died in 2013, two years after his jersey was retired. The U of M program is long overdue for actually displaying the names and numbers of these honored greats at the Liberty Bowl. (There’s a handsome wall display at the practice facility on the south campus, but it’s seen only by members of the program, insiders, and wandering media types.) The city of Memphis owns the Liberty Bowl, but the U of M can display banners on game day as it chooses. The Tigers have rightfully honored six great players, including Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate Isaac Bruce and current Carolina Panther DeAngelo Williams. Let’s see their names and numbers prominently displayed at the stadium their alma mater calls home.

John Bramlett

• Speaking of retired jerseys, the next Tiger to be honored should be former quarterback Danny Wimprine. The Louisiana native passed for 4,445 more yards than any other Memphis quarterback (10,215), and tossed 81 touchdown passes (second on the list is Martin Hankins with 43). We need to start tracking Paxton Lynch’s numbers relative to Wimprine’s. If Lynch stays healthy and plays four seasons, he’ll be the first Tiger quarterback to threaten Wimprine’s records. Through his sophomore season (2002), Wimprine had thrown for 4,149 yards and 37 touchdowns. Seven games into his sophomore campaign, Lynch’s numbers are 3,764 and 19.

• This may be the only time all season you read “American Athletic Conference” and “Power Five” in the same sentence. Because the American is woefully weak at the bottom of the league standings, the polar opposite of anything resembling the likes of the Big Ten, ACC, or, gulp, SEC. You might say, actually, the American includes a “Sour Five,” four of whom play the Memphis Tigers over the next five weeks. (Memphis handled the fifth member of this ignominious group — SMU — last Saturday.) Check out the rankings of the Sour Five in scoring among the 128 FBS teams: 97 (Tulsa, this week’s opponent), 108 (USF), 119 (Tulane), 127 (UConn), and 128 (SMU). At 4-3, Memphis could enjoy its longest stretch of success since winning five of six games to finish the 2007 regular season. (SMU and Tulane were among the victims seven years ago.) Tulsa, it should be noted, is 122nd in points allowed (40.7 per game). Needless to say, a loss to any team not named Temple will leave a sour taste.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tigers 48, SMU 10

Posted By on Sat, Oct 25, 2014 at 4:08 PM

It's the closest the Tigers will likely come to consecutive bye weeks. With two weeks to prepare for this afternoon's game in Dallas, the U of M left little doubt these two programs are heading in opposite directions. Two years after losing on the same field, 44-13, the Tigers gained 582 yards (230 on the ground), nearly matching the 610 they piled up in a win at Cincinnati three weeks ago. Quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 17 of 23 passes for 307 yards — a stellar 13.3 yards per attempt — before being removed for Jason Stewart after the game was decided late in the third quarter.

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Thanks in part to a Lynch fumble recovered by the Mustangs in Tiger territory, the score was only 7-0 after the first quarter, the lone touchdown a 54-yard catch-and-run by freshman wideout Phil Mayhue. Memphis opened things up in the second quarter, though, scoring three touchdowns on the ground: one-yarders by Jarvis Cooper and tight end Alan Cross and a 38-yard scamper by senior Brandon Hayes. A 37-yard field goal by Jake Elliott made the score 31-7 and put the game out of reach at halftime.

A 7-yard touchdown run by Cooper and a 29-yard scoring pass from Stewart to freshman Robby Young (a graduate of Christian Brothers High School) highlighted the second half for the Tigers, who improved to 4-3 with the win (2-1 in American Athletic Conference play). The margin of victory is the Tigers' largest over an FBS opponent since a 45-6 win over Tulane in 2008.

Hayes topped the century mark in rushing with 101 yards on just 13 carries, while Cooper added 93 yards on 16 attempts. Ten different receivers caught passes for the Tigers, Tevin Jones leading the way with five receptions for 70 yards.

The Tigers held SMU to 251 yards of offense and forced a pair of turnovers. The victory ends a three-game losing streak for Memphis in the series.

The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl for a rare Friday night tilt (Halloween football!) with Tulsa on October 31st. The Golden Hurricane has struggled almost as much as SMU with a record of 1-6. Three straight bye weeks?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"American" Football Picks: Week 9

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Last Week: 3-1
Season: 43-13

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THURSDAY
UConn at East Carolina

FRIDAY
USF at Cincinnati

SATURDAY
Memphis at SMU
Temple at UCF

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 at 8:00 AM

• The Tigers lead the American Athletic Conference in rushing (195.8 yards per game) despite not having a player ranked higher than ninth individually (Sam Craft, with 50.2 per game). This is partly explained by the injury that ended Doroland Dorceus’s season after just four games (and 237 rushing yards). Senior Brandon Hayes missed a game and has seen carries taken by Craft, but the White Station alum has still averaged 46.2 yards per game. Add freshman Jarvis Cooper (171 yards) and Paxton Lynch (133 yards despite being penalized by sacks on his rushing totals), and the Tigers have what amounts to a four-man band of ball carriers behind a line that continues to create gaps. If you’re looking for a magic number behind Tiger victories this season, start with 200 rushing yards. Memphis is 3-0 when gaining 200 on the ground, and 0-3 when they fall short of the figure.

• With the second half of the season upon us, let the campaign officially begin for Tank Jakes as the American’s Defensive Player of the Year. Having already been named Defensive Player of the Week twice, Jakes leads the AAC in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (12, four more than anyone else in the league). And here’s a telling figure: Among Jakes’s 50 total tackles, only 13 have been assisted by teammates. (Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc leads the American with 75 tackles, but 40 of them are the assisted variety.) Among the eight players in the AAC with more total tackles than Jakes, none have fewer than 20 assisted hits. Jakes has been, quite literally, a one-man wrecking machine all over the field for Memphis. Particularly with Martin Ifedi’s extended absence, it’s hard to imagine a defensive player providing more value than Jakes has midway through the 2014 season.

June Jones knew what he was doing when he resigned two games into his seventh season as coach of the SMU Mustangs. This is the worst team in college football, and by some distance. The Mustangs rank dead last among 128 FBS teams in both scoring (6.5 points per game) and points allowed (48.0). The closest game they’ve played is a 45-24 loss to East Carolina on October 4th. The Cincinnati team that Memphis handled earlier this month (41-14) beat SMU last Saturday, 41-3. This Saturday will be the first FBS “gimme” the Tigers have played in quite some time, a game to shake off any rust after a bye week . . . and make sure players return to Memphis healthy for what will be a short week of prep before Tulsa arrives on Halloween night. There’s a compassionate part of me that feels for the program that gave us Don Meredith and Eric Dickerson, a program that only three years ago destroyed the Tigers (42-0) at the Liberty Bowl. On the other hand, this is a team that destroyed the Tigers three years ago at the Liberty Bowl. Time to balance the scales a little.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"American" Football Picks: Week 8

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Last Week: 4-2
Season: 40-12

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FRIDAY
Temple at Houston

SATURDAY
Cincinnati at SMU
Tulane at UCF
USF at Tulsa

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"American" Football Picks: Week 7

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Last Week: 3-1
Season: 36-10

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THURSDAY
BYU at UCF

SATURDAY
Houston at Memphis
Cincinnati at Miami
UConn at Tulane
East Carolina at USF
Tulsa at Temple

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 8:00 AM

• Five games provide some healthy perspective on the strength of a football team. The Tiger offense isn’t the juggernaut unleashed against Austin Peay in the season opener, though based on last Saturday’s win at Cincinnati (only the fourth time in Memphis history the Tigers have gained 600 yards), the offense may well be a junior-juggernaut. The Bearcats, of course, gave up 700 yards the previous week against Ohio State, so wave these numbers at your discretion.

The Tigers struggled mightily at Ole Miss on September 20th, but in light of the Rebels’ upset of Alabama last week, trailing 7-3 in Oxford (in the fourth quarter, no less) may become a calling card for this team. Memphis took hits at Vaught-Hemingway — on both sides of the ball — unlike any they’ll take the rest of the season. As Sam Craft and a band of replacement runners carved up Cincinnati for 299 rushing yards, the Memphis offensive line must have felt like a man or two had been removed from the field for the Bearcat defense. There were gaping holes and time aplenty for Tiger quarterback Paxton Lynch (311 yards). Memphis has rushed for more than 250 yards in three of its five games. They exceeded 200 but once the entire 2013 season. This is very good, folks.

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Since the turn of the century, Memphis has won four games before October 15th only three times. In 2000 and 2001, the Tigers still finished with a losing record (4-7 and 5-6, respectively). The 2004 team went 8-4. Amid all the (rightful) joy over a “new era” of Tiger football, this good, clean start to the season may be the freshest element. Come mid-October, football teams are beaten up. As temperatures drop, fatigue peaks. But give a team something to play for, make Halloween the start of a stretch drive — not just for bowl eligibility, but for a premium bowl — and greatness often emerges. Justin Fuente and his coaching staff will find motivation easier with every win they put in the book.

This week’s tilt with Houston could be the first of seven straight games in which the Tigers are favorites. (Read that again.) The combined record of the Tigers’ remaining foes is 10-23. After being picked to finish third in the American Athletic Conference, the Cougars opened their season with a loss to Texas-San Antonio and have but two wins (over Grambling and UNLV). Houston has a defense that will resist more than that of Cincinnati, though, one that ranks second in the American, allowing 313.6 yards per game. (The Tiger offense averages 441.6.) For the first time in several meetings between these programs, Memphis may actually have the quarterback advantage. Lynch has thrown for 1,158 yards, completing 62.3 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and only three interceptions. The figures for Houston’s John O’Korn: 944, 51.7, 6, and 8. Reports have indicated the Cougars may go with Greg Ward Jr., more of a dual threat than O’Korn.

Keep your eye on my two favorite stats of the season so far. The Tigers are plus-7 in turnover margin, having gained 12 and lost five (second in the league). And Memphis has been remarkably efficient when given a chance to score. On 24 trips into the opponent’s red zone, the Tigers have scored 22 times . . . 17 of those touchdowns. Protect the ball. Score when you can. Simple game, right?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tigers 41, Cincinnati 14

Posted By on Sat, Oct 4, 2014 at 9:54 PM

The Memphis Tigers sent a message to the rest of the American Athletic Conference tonight: Come and get us.

Playing without their top two running backs, and coming off a game in which the offense gained but 104 yards, the Tigers manhandled a Cincinnati team picked to win the American during the preseason. Memphis scored on five of its first six possessions and gained 612 yards on 94 plays, improving to 3-2 on the season and 1-0 in AAC play.

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The Tigers conceded an 80-yard touchdown pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay on the game's first play from scrimmage, but answered quickly and frequently behind quarterback Paxton Lynch and fill-in tailback Sam Craft. Lynch tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Jones to tie the game on the Tigers' first possession, then found Adrian Henderson for a 29-yard score to give Memphis the lead for good just four minutes into the game.

Tiger linebacker Tank Jakes made life miserable for Kiel, an early-season conference player of the year candidate. Jakes sacked Kiel twice in the first quarter and delivered a hit to Kiel's chest on the last play of the first half that ended the Cincinnati quarterback's night. The Tigers led 27-7 at the break.

The Bearcats closed to within 13 on its first drive of the second half, but Memphis answered with a lengthy drive of its own, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown run by Craft, who finished the game with 172 yards on 38 carries.

Memphis scored at least 35 points for the fourth time in five games this season. The last time the Tigers scored 35 in four games for an entire season was 2007, the program's last winning season (7-6). Based on Lynch's performance as a sophomore, they'll score 35 a few more times this fall. Lynch completed 18 of 25 passes against Cincinnati for 311 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 45 yards and two more scores.

The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl next Saturday to host Houston in a game that kicks off at 6 p.m.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"American" Football Picks: Week 6

Posted By on Thu, Oct 2, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Last Week: 6-1
Season: 33-9

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THURSDAY
UCF at Houston

SATURDAY
Memphis at Cincinnati
Tulsa at Colorado State
SMU at East Carolina

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM

• There’s one (and only one) silver lining to the news that the Tigers’ sophomore tailback, Doroland Dorceus, has been lost for the season with a right-knee injury. When was the last time an injury to a second-string player in this program felt so damaging? Dorceus will be missed, and he’ll be missed because he provided the kind of depth that made him all but interchangeable with first-string tailback Brandon Hayes. Leading the Tigers with 237 rushing yards over four games, Dorceus was second-string only according to the depth chart.

Play calling was not impacted with Dorceus on the field (beyond the priority of getting him the ball). Production didn’t drop with Dorceus on the field. And Hayes was a better player late in games because of the relief Dorceus provided. That all changes with Dorceus removed from the Tiger ground attack. Freshman Jarvis Cooper has teased with his early-season performance (even at Ole Miss last weekend). And Hayes is accustomed to shouldering a workload. Losing Dorceus isn’t a death knell for the Memphis offense. But the grind of the conference schedule just got that much . . . grindier.

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• The Tigers finished September right where they wanted to be: 2-2. A win at UCLA or Ole Miss would have been a celebrated bonus, but Memphis wanted (needed!) to enter its conference schedule with a .500 record. This Saturday the Tigers face a real measuring stick for growth of the program. The Cincinnati Bearcats were picked to win the American Athletic Conference, and even after being dusted by Ohio State last weekend, Tommy Tuberville’s squad seems to have the kind of offensive attack that can win games by halftime.

Quarterback Gunner Kiel — a Notre Dame transfer — leads the American in passing efficiency, having thrown for 1,041 yards and 14 touchdowns (two interceptions) in three games. Wideout Chris Moore caught three of Kiel’s passes against the Buckeyes, all for touchdowns that totaled 221 yards, earning Moore the American’s Offensive Player of the Week award despite his team’s lopsided loss. The idea of Memphis cornerback Bobby McCain battling Moore downfield is a scintillating angle to the Tigers’ first conference test. Cincinnati gave up a whopping 710 yards (on 101 plays) to the Buckeyes. Memphis may get the chance to win a shootout in the stadium where Justin Fuente’s old friend, Andy Dalton, now plays on Sundays.

• The Larry Porter years weren’t all bad. Ron Leary and Dontari Poe were teammates in 2010 and 2011, each suffering 21 losses in 24 games. Last weekend, Leary and Poe played important roles in the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively, winning big games in Week 4 of the NFL season. Starting at left guard for Dallas, Leary has been part of three straight wins for the Cowboys and helped tailback DeMarco Murray take over the NFL’s rushing lead with 534 yards. And coming off a Pro Bowl season, Poe has established himself as one of the two or three best nose tackles in the NFL. (The Chiefs are 2-2 after steamrolling New England Monday night.) Both Leary and Poe were recruited by Tommy West. They’re reminders that, even in the darkest of days, a college football program can yield a little light.

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