1st and Ten – New tires – After
years of driving the brand new Lexus, eventually changing the tires
becomes a necessity. No matter how sweet that ride has been, the tires
wear down and have to be swapped out at some point in its life span.
Consequently, that represents what the Memphis offense will encounter in
year one AD – after DeAngelo. Perhaps the greatest player in Memphis
Tiger history, DeAngelo Williams leaves one heck of a legacy and filling
his shoes is a lot like changing the tires. The Memphis offensive car
needs new wheels and needs them in a big way. Williams couldn’t have
more been dominant in his time as a Tiger, capping off a magnificent
career with 1,964 yards and 18 touchdowns. The offense revolved around
Williams for so long that thinking about how the Tigers will find a
replacement causes a headache. But, the tires, okay, so enough for the
analogy, the legs of Joseph Doss will be put to the test this season.
The good news is that Doss has electrifying and game breaking skills,
but can he carry it 26 times a game as Williams did last year? Not
presumably, but Doss got plenty of experience carrying the football as
Williams’ backup the past few years, piling up 440 yards at a 5.2 yard
per carry clip in 2005. Doss’s offensive line has experience and can
open holes for the slashing junior back, but there shouldn’t be anyone
expecting another nearly 2,000 yard season. However, that shouldn’t
mean that Doss can’t, and shouldn’t, be effective enough to counter the
passing game that should emerge this fall. The new tires may not have
twenty inch Giovanni hubcaps, but they’ll fit the Tiger ride nicely.
Get it? Good.
2nd and Seven – Q Mc is back –
Throughout defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn’s career, his defenses
have typically flourished when he’s able to unleash some speedy, nasty
linebackers on opposing offenses. After a strong 2004 season, Quinton
McCrary missed the entire 2005 season with an injury, taking away some
of the explosiveness that fits the JLD ‘D’ to a tee. Q Mc’s speed and
aggressiveness give Joe Lee the opportunity to run his complicated blitz
schemes, getting pressure on the QB with McCrary or deftly putting him
in position to make plays against the run. The Tiger linebacking unit
loses both Tim Goodwill and Carlton Baker and need a dynamic chess
piece, so to speak. With McCrary back, healthy, the Tigers have that in
3rd and Three – Sling it! –
Knowing how talented and productive Williams was in the run game, it was
easy to overlook the Tigers passing game shortcomings. Very easy. Add
to that the fact that WR turned QB Maurice Avery had to take over at
that position and it was surprising that the forward pass was even part
of the game plan over the second half of 2005 (they actually beat
Marshall last year throwing for a minus three yards – do you say that
you threw for minus three yards?). But, the days of flying Tigers may
be back with the arrival of former Hal Mumme protégé Martin Hankins.
The junior transfer from SE Louisiana has already thrown for over 7,700
yards and his ability to sling it all over the Liberty Bowl should push
the pass/run balance closer to the left (pass) than the right (run).
Will Hudgins, Patrick Byrne and Billy Barefield won’t give up the job
willingly, but Hankins wowed the coaching staff this spring, putting
himself into contention to take the first snap of the year at Ole Miss.
The man can throw it, that’s for sure and that might be the perfect
tonic for the Tiger offense.
4th and One – Sustaining success
– After not going to a bowl game for 32 years, the Tigers have gone to
three straight behind the running of Williams and the leadership of
Tommy West. The question, especially with Williams off to Charlotte, is
whether the Tigers can keep going to bowl games and keep winning them.
It’s not as if the Tigers have been playing in New Year’s Day bowl
games, but start naming the teams that went to bowl games in three
consecutive seasons and there are some teams you end up leaving out of
the discussion – Tennessee, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Penn State, Nebraska,
Clemson, Arizona State. How’s that for company? West’s challenge is to
keep that flame lit without #20 and to sustain the success that has
become as consistent as Memphis barbecue.