CFN Preview 2013 - Memphis Tigers
Memphis QB Jacob Karam
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Memphis Tigers
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By Richard Cirminiello
Now that Memphis has amassed a little tailwind, can it continue pushing the rock uphill as a member of a tougher league?
Second year: 4-8
Off. 22, Def. 21, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Memphis Players
1. DE Martin Ifedi, Jr.
2. RB Brandon Hayes, Sr.
3. NT Johnnie Farms, Sr.
4. QB Jacob Karam, Sr.
5. P Tom Hornsey, Sr.
6. NT Terry Redden, Jr.
7. WR Keiwone Malone, Jr.
8. TE Alan Cross, Soph.
9. FS Lonnie Ballentine, Sr.
10. CB Bobby McCain, Jr.
8/31 OPEN DATE
9/14 at Middle Tennessee
9/21 Arkansas State
9/28 OPEN DATE
10/12 at Houston
11/2 OPEN DATE
11/9 UT Martin
11/16 at USF
11/23 at Louisville
12/7 at Connecticut
The Tigers suffered through the anticipated growing pains that accompany a new staff and a thin roster, yet closed out the 2012 season with their first three-game winning streak in more than four years. But can the beleaguered program stay hot as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the league formerly known as the Big East?
Yeah, the old Big East is a shell of its former self, but it'll still feature more landmines for second-year head coach Justin Fuente and his assistants. Heck, Memphis was failing to compete in Conference USA, last posting a winning mark in 2007. And at least for this year, the AAC features Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati.
Although the Tigers are still enduring a severe talent gap compared to their competitors, the team scored 98 more points than it did in 2011, and allowed 57 fewer. At a school like Memphis, it counts as progress. Not only will the holdovers be better acclimated to the coaches, their systems and their philosophies, but the 2013 edition is flush with veterans. In fact, no unit was hit especially hard by graduation.
The offense is welcoming back last season's steady quarterback, Jacob Karam, top two rushers, Brandon Hayes and Jai Steib, and six of the top seven receivers. The O-line, though, will miss all-star Jordan Devey, leaving sophomore Taylor Fallin with sizable shoes to fill at left tackle.
Considering its recent track record of imploding, the D performed remarkably well for coordinator Barry Odom. The unit will once again take its lead from a front seven that looks very Big East-like. Linemen Martin Ifedi, Terry Redden and Johnnie Farms, in particular, will help mask some of the program's deficiencies in the secondary.
Memphis was excited when the Big East extended an offer last year. Increased exposure, television and otherwise, never hurts recruiting or ticket sales. Now it's up the Tigers to prove that they belong in a conference that still has an automatic BCS bowl bid for one more year. After doing some nice things in 2012, Fuente and his staff have an opportunity to take another step out of the abyss created by predecessors Tommy West and Larry Porter.
What to watch for on offense: The Tigers to continue relying on small ball. Naturally, Memphis would like to make a few more downfield connections than it had in 2012, unleashing the speed of wide receivers Keiwone Malone and Joe Craig. However, its bread and butter will remain the safer stuff that doesn't ask diminutive QB Jacob Karam from straying outside his comfort zone. The Tigers will hammer defenses on the ground with the one-two punch of Brandon Hayes and Jai Steib, mixing in play-action to the tight end tandem of Alan Cross and Jesse Milleson, which produced eight touchdown grabs last fall.
What to watch for on defense: Winning the line of scrimmage by a nose. Whatever deficiencies the Tigers might have, nose tackle is not one of them. Essential to the success of the 3-4, Memphis is well-stocked at the position. Either Johnnie Farms or Terry Redden is capable of starting. In fact, both did in 2012, splitting snaps and earning all-star recognition. The duo will once again form a feisty tag-team in the middle, forcing opposing teams to develop ways to handle their quickness, hot motors and fresh legs.
The team will be far better if… the offense converts more third downs. Tom Hornsey is a terrific punter, but the Tigers need to see a little less of him this fall. The team ranked 93rd nationally, converting just 36% of its third-down attempts. The ripple effect led to fewer scoring drives, bigger deficits and too much time on the field for the D. When Memphis drove deep last year, it had a respectable success rate. The problem is that it didn't reach the red zone nearly enough in 2012.
The Schedule: The Tigers are picking the wrong time to upgrade the schedule. However, for most BCS teams, starting out against Duke, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State wouldn't be a problem, and the Tigers might be underdogs in all three games. They only leave the state once from the start of the season until November 16th, but then comes the payoff going on the road for three of the final four games dealing with USF, Louisville and Connecticut while hosting Temple. Missing Rutgers is a big break.
Best offensive player: Senior RB Brandon Hayes. For the longest time in 2012, it looked as if Hayes was going to be an afterthought in the offense. And then he got a chance in the spotlight. From not even playing in the first three games to Offensive MVP, the Chicago native and transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College authored quite a turnaround in his Memphis debut. Hayes led the team with 576 yards rushing and six scores on 118 carries, most of which came in the final month of the season.
Best defensive player: Junior DE Martin Ifedi. The 6-3, 260-pound worker is the catalyst for an underrated and overachieving D-line. Ifedi will be looking to build on a breakthrough campaign that included 46 stops, 11 behind the line and 7.5 sacks to earn Second Team All-Conference USA. He's a grappler, fighting through blocks and refusing to quit before the whistle blows. With a successful year behind him, and a date with Big East tackles ahead, Ifedi has an opportunity to enhance his reputation outside of Tennessee.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore LT Taylor Fallin. Congratulations for winning the job at the most important position on the O-line. Now go out and adequately fill the shoes of all-star blocker Jordan Devey. Fallin has a high ceiling, yet also has minimal experience at this level, a major concern since he'll be tasked with protecting the backside of QB Jacob Karam. The Tigers are green off the bench at quarterback, so keeping Karam upright is a top priority for the entire offense.
The season will be a success if ... Memphis looks as if it belongs in its new league. The Tigers aren't winning the American Athletic Conference, and is a longshot to win the six games needed to go bowling. However, it's imperative that the program continues to move in the right direction after finishing so strong a year ago. If Memphis can match last season's win total, while competing with the likes of Temple and Connecticut, it'll indicate that brighter days are ahead for Fuente & Co.
Key game: Sept. 7 vs. Duke. Are the Tigers still feeding off their strong November of last year? We'll know right away in the opener. Memphis is a veteran team, which will be hosting a Blue Devils squad undergoing a little bit of transition under David Cutcliffe. Fast starts are essential to a program like the Tigers. And upsetting an ACC opponent that bowled in 2012 would absolutely qualify as a fast start in Memphis.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Passing first downs: Memphis 79 – Opponents 126
- First-quarter scoring: Memphis 44 – Opponents 78
- Passes intercepted: Memphis 8 - Opponents 3
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