2014 CFN Preview - Memphis Tigers
Memphis RB Brandon Hayes
Memphis RB Brandon Hayes
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 26, 2014


Preview 2014 - It's time for Memphis to take another big step forward. (Getty Images)


Memphis Tigers

Preview 2014
 

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By Richard Cirminiello

- 2014 Memphis Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Justin Fuente
Third year: 7-17
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 28, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 15
 Ten Best Memphis Players
1. DE Martin Ifedi, Sr.
2. CB Bobby McCain, Sr.
3. RB Brandon Hayes, Sr.
4. LB Tank Jakes, Sr.
5. DE Ricky Hunter, Jr.
6. LB Charles Harris, Sr.
7. NT Terry Redden, Sr.
8. OG Al Bond, Sr.
9. QB Paxton Lynch, Soph.
10. WR Joe Craig, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Austin Peay
Sep. 6 at UCLA
Sep. 13 OPEN DATE
Sep. 20 Middle Tennessee
Sep. 27 at Ole Miss
Oct. 4 at Cincinnati
Oct. 11 Houston
Oct. 18 OPEN DATE
Oct. 25 at SMU
Oct. 31 Tulsa
Nov. 7 at Temple
Nov. 15 at Tulane
Nov. 22 USF
Nov. 29 Connecticut

You’ve got to crawl before you walk. Memphis gets it. But Memphis is tired of crawling.

The Tigers have been rebuilding for too long. Since 2006, the program has had just one winning season, while losing 10 games four different times. It’s ready to start realizing some of the spoils that come with perseverance, dedication and hard work. It’s eager to—finally— compete at a higher level.

Third-year head coach Justin Fuente has been the architect of Memphis’ latest bid to revitalize the team, following in the footsteps of Tommy West and Larry Porter. For Fuente, progress has been dramatic, even if it’s not evident to the naked eye. The Tigers are bigger, faster and deeper than when the coach arrived from TCU. Tangible gains, the kinds that appear in the standings, though, remain elusive.

Memphis has won only seven games under Fuente. Not acceptable, but certainly not unexpected considering the mess that the coach inherited in 2012. The upcoming season, however, will be a pivotal one for the school and the staff. The systems are firmly in place, and the roster finally features depth, experience and a competitive environment. The next priority? Find some long-overdue answers on the offensive side of the ball.

The Tiger D is fine. Nah, it’s actually better than fine. Coordinator Barry Odom has excelled at coaching up marginal players and making sure that they operate with passion and energy for 60 minutes. It’s on the other side of the line, Darrell Dickey’s offense, that Memphis has faced its biggest challenges. The Tigers scored just 89 first-half points in 2013, and their passing game was among the least efficient in America. Dickey and second-year QB Paxton Lynch are easily Memphis’ two most important individuals as the 2014 campaign nears.

Memphis is moving in the right direction, even if absolutely no one is happy will the actual speed of the progress. Now it’s time for those gains in the weight room and on the practice field to generate positive results in the fall. The Tigers are close. They’ll inch even closer to their goals if the quarterbacks grow up in a hurry and the team as a whole starts learning how to pull out tight games.

What to watch for on offense: Brayden Scott—and other unproven hurlers—to become very popular around campus. Everyone loves the backup quarterback, especially when the starter throws more interceptions than touchdowns in a season. It’s Paxton Lynch’s job to lose, but that’s precisely what he’ll do if his decision-making doesn’t improve. Scott is a former three-star recruit from the 2013 class, with the live arm and the moxie to mount a challenge during the offseason.

What to watch for on defense: The Tigers will lead the American in many statistical categories. Memphis is deep, well-coached and senior-led on the defensive side of the ball. The team has all-star contenders at each level, which will make it tough on opponents to move the chains with any consistency. Beyond just the pure talent, the Tigers play well together as a collaborative unit, a key reason why they’ve been so surprisingly stingy the past two seasons.

The team will be far better if… it converts more third-down attempts, say 40%, this fall. Memphis hit on a paltry 31% of its third downs in 2013 to rank 120th in the FBS. It was a glaring shortcoming for an attack that sputtered incessantly and put too much pressure on an overworked defense. The Tigers must become more efficient across the board on offense or else there’ll be a hard cap on their 2014 ceiling.

The Schedule: The Tigers get a breather to start things off with Austin Peay, and they’re going to need it with what’s coming next. Three of the next four games are on the road, and they’re all brutal going to UCLA, Ole Miss and Cincinnati, and in the middle of it all a tough home game against a decent Middle Tennessee team. After kicking off the American Athletic season against Cincinnati and dealing with Houston at home, three of the next four conference games are on the road. The payoff comes late, closing out against South Florida and UConn at home.

Best offensive player:
Senior RB Brandon Hayes. Hayes has been Memphis’ best offensive performer, two seasons running, which explains the excitement that he’s back for a sixth year. He didn’t just lead the Tigers in rushing in 2013. He made life easier for rookie QB Paxton Lynch, who benefitted from the presence of a stable veteran in the backfield. Hayes is a good back. But he can be even more effective with even a little bit of balance to keep defenses from stacking the box.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Martin Ifedi. Ifedi is the Tigers’ best pass rusher, sure. More important, though, is that he’s the face of an overachieving Memphis D. The senior plays with a no-quit attitude, eating up blocks so that teammates can make plays. He sets the tone, and those around him often follow. When Ifedi’s ears are pinned back, everyone’s job on the Tiger defense gets a little bit easier.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Paxton Lynch. And it’s a landslide. There’s no getting around the fact that Memphis must improve on offense. The poster child for that pursuit is Lynch, who generally flat-lined as a true freshman starter behind center. If he can’t provide a little balance to the running of Brandon Hayes, the Tigers will once again be overly reliant on the defense. Someone on this roster, Lynch or otherwise, needs to ignite a feeble attack.

The season will be a success if ... the Tigers break through with the six wins required to bowl. This is now an experienced program littered with returning starters on both sides of the line. And the staff is entering its third season. Memphis is finally poised to turn a few of last year’s close calls into close wins. While the schedule is thorny, including non-conference games with UCLA and Ole Miss, the back end of the slate is soft. The Tigers could amass a wicked tailwind with a season-ending stretch against Tulsa, Temple, Tulane, South Florida and UConn.

Key game: Sept. 20 vs. Middle Tennessee. A visit from the Blue Raiders is an underrated tilt tucked discreetly between those trips to Pasadena and Oxford. Memphis cannot afford any long losing streaks if it hopes to sneak into the postseason for the first time in six years. The team will need to win two of the first six games of a rugged first-half schedule. Austin Peay will be one in the opener. Middle Tennessee, which has won the last two games in the series, has to be the other one to avoid prevent a possible 1-5 start.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Memphis 138.3 – Opponents 116.3
- Passing yards per game: Memphis 173.2 – Opponents 254.3
- Third-down%: Memphis 31% - Opponents 44%

- 2014 Memphis Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players