2007 Memphis Tigers

Posted Dec 31, 2007

2007 Memphis Tigers Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2007 Memphis Tigers

Recap: After plummeting to 2-10 a year ago, the Tigers did rather well to finish with seven wins, tie for second place in the Eastern Division, and qualify for a fourth bowl game in the last five years.  Memphis stayed above water behind the nation's 13th-ranked passing attack and a knack for pulling out close games, winning five by a field goal or less.  The defense, however, was a glaring and incessant liability, collecting just 15 sacks in 13 games, and finishing near the bottom of Conference USA in just about every statistical category.       

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Martin Hankins

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Jake Kasser

Biggest Surprise: In a crucial game for both programs, Memphis stunned Southern Miss in Hattiesburg on Nov. 10, 29-26, climbing one step closer to a berth in the New Orleans Bowl.  The Tigers trailed by 12 late in the game, but got a couple of Hankins touchdown passes in the waning minutes to pull out the victory.

Biggest Disappointment: Memphis was a no-show on Oct. 13 against Middle Tennessee State, losing badly to a mid-level Sun Belt program.  The Tigers managed just a single touchdown, the first time in 14 games that they'd been held below 10 points.               

Looking Ahead: Although head coach Tommy West has his sights set on another bowl invitation in 2008, to get there, he'll need to completely recharge the defense and find an adequate replacement for Hankins under center.  A name to monitor is Arkelon Hall, a JUCO transfer that was considered one of the nation's brightest quarterback prospects when he originally signed to play for Washington State in 2005.

- 2007 Memphis Preview
2006 Memphis Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 6-6
2007 Record:

Sept. 1 Ole Miss L 23-21
Sept. 15
Jville State W 35-14
Sept. 22 at UCF L 56-20
Sept. 27 at Arkansas St L 35-31
Oct. 2 Marshall W 24-21
Oct. 13
Middle Tenn L 21-7
Oct. 20 at Rice W 38-35
Oct. 27 at Tulane W 28-27
Nov. 3 East Carolina L 56-40
Nov. 10 at So Miss W 29-26
Nov. 17
UAB W 25-9
Nov. 24 SMU W 59-52 3OT
New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 21 Memphis L 44-27

Nov. 24
Memphis 55 ... SMU 52 3OT
Memphis stuffed SMU on fourth and goal from the two in the third overtime, and then Matt Reagan ended the thriller with a 32-yard field goal. Reagan had a shot to win it in regulation, but a bobbled snap caused a 32-yard attempt to go wide. The two teams traded field goals in the first overtime, Memphis scored first in the second overtime on Martin Hankins' fourth touchdown pass of the game on a six-yard throw to Greg Hinds, but SMU answered with a one-yard Chris Butler scoring run. The two teams traded punches all game long with SMU's Justin Willis putting on a show with four touchdown passes and a 48-yard touchdown dash. The offenses combined for 1,103 yards of total offense and 49 first downs.
Player of the game: In a losing cause, SMU QB Justin Willis completed 35 of 48 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions, and ran 23 times for 114 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 35-48, 375 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Justin Willis, 23-114, 1 TD. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 13-118, 3 TD
Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 30-59, 336 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
T.J. Pitts, 19-110, 1 TD. Receiving: Steven Black, 12-112

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Memphis flexed its offensive muscle against SMU, but the defense went bye-bye in the wild shootout. It didn't matter as the Tigers pulled off a key seventh win and will now be off to the New Orleans Bowl to face either Troy or Florida Atlantic. If the offense is as balanced as it's been the last few weeks, the Tigers should be able to outgun their way to a win. This might not have been a special season, but after last year's 2-10 debacle, going to a bowl is important.

Nov. 17
Memphis 25 ... UAB 9
Matt Reagan hit four field goals, Will Hudgens punched it in from one-yard out, and Joseph Doss ran for a 20-yard touchdown as Memphis cranked out 563 yards and had few problems in the win. UAB only managed a field goal and a one-yard Brandon Thornton touchdown run, but couldn't keep up with the Tiger offense. Jake Kasser and LeRico Mathis combined for 25 tackles for the Tigers.
Player of the game: Memphis RB Joseph Doss ran 19 times for 168 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: UAB - Passing: Sam Hunt, 11-19, 121 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Joseph Webb, 9-44. Receiving: Frantell Forrest, 7-48
Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 14-26, 298 yds
Joe Doss, 19-168, 1 TD. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 4-159

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Now that Memphis is bowl eligible, it's time to make a statement with a win over SMU. The offense is cranking out yards in chunks, moving the ball at will on UAB, but it needs to finish off drives better than it did this week. Doing more on third downs will be a must in a bowl game, which the Tigers will get to as long as they don't mail it in against the Mustangs.

Nov. 10
Memphis 29 ... Southern Miss 26
Martin Hankins connected with Carlos Singleton on a 52-yard touchdown pass with 1:04 to play, after getting the Tigers close with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Earnest Williams with 4:21 to play, to pull off the shocker. Southern Miss got two Justin Estes field goals and an 82-yard Brandon Sumrall interception return for a touchdown in the second half, but couldn't hold on late with the Tigers holding on to the ball for 12:32 in the fourth. Hankins finished with four touchdown passes, but Memphis only ran for 26 yards.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Martin Hankins completed 35 of 48 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 35-48, 396 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Joseph Doss, 13-13. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 8-124, 1 TD
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 11-17, 123 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Damion Fletcher, 21-97, 1 TD. Receiving: Torris Magee, 4-76, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... With the shocking win over Southern Miss, Memphis is back on track for a possible bowl bid. With few Conference USA teams to be eligible for the spots. all the Tigers need to do is get by UAB and SMU, the league's two worst teams, and it's off to a bowl game. Martin Hankins continues to be as effective and productive as any quarter back in the country, but it would be nice if he got more help from a running game. Against the Blazers and Mustangs, he should be able to bomb his way to wins.

Nov. 3
East Carolina 56 ... Memphis 40
East Carolina ran for 491 yards helped by 301 yards from Chris Johnson along with four touchdowns. Jonson tore off scoring runs from 16, 44, and 70 yards, and then put the game out of reach with a 50-yard dash late in the fourth. The Memphis defense couldn't slow down the Pirates, but the offense exploded with Martin Hankins and the passing game bombing away for 416 yards with four touchdown passes. Down 21-6, the Tigers got back in the game with two Hankins touchdown throws only to see ECU pull away with a 28-point third quarter. The ECU passing game also got involved as Pat Pinkney threw two touchdown passes in the third. In all, the two teams combined for 1,134 yards of total offense.
Player of the game: East Carolina RB Chris Johnson ran 20 times for 301 yards and four touchdowns and caught two passes for 12 yards..
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 8-16, 105 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 20-301, 4 TD. Receiving: Dwayne Harris, 4-26
Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 34-60, 416 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Miguel Barnes, 5-42. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 8-107, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The run defense got plowed over for the second straight week allowing 301 rushing yards to Chris Johnson after giving up 278 to Tulane's Matt Forte. Martin Hankins has been amazing in an attempt to bomb the Tigers back into games, but it wasn't enough this week. Still in the hunt for a bowl spot, MU has to win two of its final three games. An upset over Southern Miss would be a nice start, but to have any shot, the run D will have to keep Damion Fletcher and the Golden Eagles to under 200 yards on the ground.

Oct. 27
Memphis 28 ... Tulane 27
Duke Calhoun caught a five-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds to play to overcome a 278-yard rushing day from Tulane's Matt Forte. The Green Wave got a Forte 51-yard touchdown dash in the second quarter, and a one-yard score in the fourth for a 27-21 lead, but the Tigers were able to go 80 yards in nine plays to get the win. Earnest Williams scored twice for the Tigers including a 47-yard pass play in the final moments of the first half.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Martin Hankins completed 25 of 38 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 25-38, 355 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Joseph Doss, 15-50. Receiving: Maurice Jones, 4-117
Tulane - Passing: Anthony Scelfo, 7-15, 84 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Matt Forte, 44-278, 2 TD. Receiving: Matt Forte, 2-15

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... For the second straight week, Martin Hankins bailed out the defense with a big late drive. The defense got ripped apart by Matt Forte and the Tulane running game, but Hankins was able to keep pace with key throw after key throw when the Tigers absolutely needed one. Now in range for bowl eligibility, a win over East Carolina would do wonders. With three of the final four games at home, there's no reason to not finish at least 6-6.

Oct. 20
Memphis 38 ... Rice 35
Martin Hankins threw three touchdown passes, including a 45-yarder to Maurice Jones with just under six minutes to go, to get by the Owls. Rice marched back with a 20-yard James Casey touchdown catch, but down three, never got the ball back. Jarett Dillard caught touchdown passes from five, nine, and 42 yards out in the see-saw battle, while Hankins connected with Brett Russell from ten yards out and Greg Hinds from six yards out, and Joe Doss added a 15-yard touchdown run for the Tigers. Memphis cranked out 571 yards to Rice's 418.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Martin Hankins completed 21 of 32 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 21-32, 306 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Joseph Doss, 24-175, 1 TD. Receiving: Steven Black, 6-61
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 28-44, 289 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Chase Clement, 6-41, 1 TD. Receiving: Joel Armstrong, 8-71

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Memphis got a near perfect offensive day against Rice, held the ball for 13:22 in the second quarter, and 37:32 for the game, and still had to fight to the finish. Joe Doss ran as well as he had all season long, and Martin Hankins was on fire, mainly because he had ten days to throw the ball. The lost season could quickly turn around against East Carolina next week, but the defense has to be far tighter and the offense has to keep exploding. This isn't a good enough team to make a slew of mistakes and not get big offensive numbers.

Oct. 13
Middle Tennessee 21 ... Memphis 7
DeMarco McNair ran for touchdowns from 55 yards and one yard, and Dwight Dasher tore off a 61-yard scoring run as Middle Tennessee ran for 260 yards in the win. Memphis managed a 19-yard Duke Calhoun touchdown catch late in the first quarter, but couldn't get the offense going from there, finishing with only 248 yards.
Player of the game: Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher completed 16 of 26 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 19 times for 180 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Dwight Dasher, 16-26, 230 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Dwight Dasher, 19-180, 1 TD. Receiving: Desmond Gee, 4-41
Memphis - Passing: Will Hudgens, 13-35, 134 yds, 1 TD
T.J. Pitts, 14-49. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 4-51, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Where does Memphis go from here? Just when it seemed like the Tigers were going to go on a big run and turn its season around, it came up with a clunker against Middle Tennessee and now has to win on the road at Rice and Tulane just to get in range for a possible bowl bid. If the offense tanks like it did this week, it's not going to happen. The running game never got on track, and the passing game was inefficient and ineffective. Eventually, the team will come up with a consistent stretch of games. It just might be too late.

Oct. 2
Memphis 24 ... Marshall 21
Playing just two days after the death of defensive tackle Taylor Bradford, Memphis got three Matt Reagan field goals and two second half touchdown passes from Will Hudgens to pull off the win. The two teams traded scores throughout, with Marshall getting a 20-yard Cody Slate touchdown catch for its first points, and a four-yard Darius Passmore scoring grab with 5:22 to play for the final points. The Herd's final drive got to the Memphis 41 before stalling.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Will Hudgens completed 30 of 45 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Will Hudgens, 30-45, 346 yds, 2 TD
T.J. Pitts, 14-57. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 6-74
- Passing: Bernard Morris, 23-32, 220 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Darius Marshall, 15-90, 1 TD. Receiving: Darius Passmore, 7-69, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Obviously playing with a heavy heart, after the death of a teammate, Memphis came up with a fine performance under the circumstances. With Martin Hankins still suffering from a hip injury, Will Hudgens picked a great time to play a tight, efficient game against Marshall, bombing away all game long. With no running attack to help him out, the offense was all on the passing game. With Middle Tennessee, Rice and Tulane ahead, now is the time to go on a winning streak and get the season started.

Sept. 27
Arkansas State 35 ... Memphis 31
Down 31-6, Arkansas State stormed back in the second half with 29 unanswered points, kicked off by an 89-yard Kevin Jones punt return for a score. and followed up by three Corey Leonard touchdown passes. The final score, on a one-yard throw to Preston Brown, came midway through the fourth quarter, and then ASU held on with the final Memphis drive stalling at midfield. The Tigers got an 80-yard touchdown pass from Dave Thomas to Steven Black, and an 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown from 300-pound defensive tackle Freddie Barnett, but they couldn't get on the board in the second half.
Player of the game: Arkansas State QB Corey Leonard completed 16 of 37 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 22 times for 74 yards.
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 10-21, 119 yds
Joseph Doss, 17-50, 1 TD. Receiving: Maurice Jones, 3-71
Arkansas State
- Passing: Corey Leonard, 16-37, 255 yds, 3 TD
Corey Leonard, 22-74. Receiving: Levi Dejohnette, 7-99, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Barring a miracle turnaround, the collapse against Arkansas State might mean the end of the the Tommy West era. The Tigers blew a 31-6 lead with inefficient offense, and several bad plays along with penalty after penalty after penalty. The defense wasn't awful, but the entire team broke down with a special teams gaffe, rough offensive play, and not enough key stops. A quarterback has to emerge from the fray. Martin Hankins wasn't the answer this week.

Sept. 22
UCF 56 ... Memphis 20
UCF got up 49-0 by early in the third quarter helped by three Kevin Smith touchdown runs and a 72-yard Kyle Israel pass to Kamar Aikin, and then everyone took the rest of the game off. Memphis scored some cosmetic points with three touchdown passes from three different quarterbacks, but the damage had already been done. UCF cranked out 313 rushing yards for the game, and was able to make it a laugher in the second quarter helped by the special teams and Memphis penalties setting up short touchdown drives.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 22 times for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Memphis - Passing: Will Hudgens, 5-9, 88 yds, 1 TD
Joseph Doss, 9-48. Receiving: Maurice Jones, 3-50
UCF - Passing: Michael Greco, 11-12, 151 yds
Kevin Smith, 22-124, 3 TD. Receiving: Kamar Aiken, 4-131, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It wasn't just that Memphis got blasted by UCF, it's that it wasn't even a game. The MU passing attack failed to bomb its way back into the game thanks to a great day from the Knight defense, while the Tiger D struggled to hold up against the UCF O line. Watch out for Arkansas State next week. If the Tigers can't figure out how to sell out a little more to make a few key stops, it'll be a long day against the Indian ground attack, if this game was any indication.

Sept. 15
Memphis 35 ... Jacksonville State 14
Memphis jumped out to a 14-0 first half lead on a five-yard Miguel Barnes touchdown run and a 48-yard scoring play from Carlton Robinzine, Jacksonville State started to come back on a two-yard Anthony Jones score, but the Tigers answered as Martin Hankins connected with Maurice Jones for a 58-yard touchdown just before halftime. Hankins' third touchdown pass of the game, a 20-yard play to Greg Hinds, gave the Tigers a comfortable lead. This was a historic game, as it was the first time a female officiated a FCS game.
Sarah Thomas served as the line judge.
Player of the game: Memphis QB Martin Hankins completed 16 of 22 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Jacksonville State - Passing: Cedric Johnson, 23-39, 214 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Cedric Johnson, 13-71. Receiving: James Wilkerson, 5-73
Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 16-22, 3 TD, 1 INT
T.J. Pitts, 11-52. Receiving: Earnest Williams, 5-67
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Tigers can be forgiven for not being razor-sharp against Jacksonville State after last week's game against Arkansas State was postponed. Even so, there was good offensive balance a tremendous game from Martin Hankins, who spread the ball around well to a slew of receivers. Also important was the work gotten in by the backup running backs. In all, ten different Tigers got carries. Now the offense will have to be better and more effective early against UCF team that gave Texas all it could handle.

Sept. 1
Ole Miss 23 ... Memphis 21
In yet another great game before Memphis and Ole Miss, the Rebel defense came through with a stop on a two-point conversion attempt with :31 to play. Down 23-0 late in the third quarter, Memphis came roaring back as Joe Doss ran for a one-yard score and Matt Malouf ran for a four-yard touchdown before Martin Hankins found Duke Calhoun for an eight-yard score in the final moments. The Rebel offense struggled, but got a blocked punt for a score and a 99-yard Dustin Mouzon interception return for a touchdown. Greg Hardy started off the scoring with a 16-yard catch for the Rebels.
Player of the game ... Ole Miss CB Dustin Mouzon had six tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery and two interceptions, one of which went for a 99-yard touchdown.
Stat Leaders: Ole Miss- Passing: Seth Adams, 19-30, 201 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 23-79  Receiving: Marshay Green, 5-59
Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 41-60, 343 yds, 1 TD, 4 INTs
Joseph Doss, 14-59, 1 TD  Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 10-87, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It took a while to get going against Ole Miss, but once the Tigers got down 23-0 and had to bomb away, QB Martin Hankins did a fantastic job of rallying the team into a position to send the game into overtime. While the Tigers came up just short, they showed great fight and have to try to use the momentum to come up with wins over the next two weeks against Arkansas State and Jacksonville State. However, to do anything in Conference USA play, the running game has to get going, while the defense has to play as well as it did against the Rebels.

Sept. 1 - Ole Miss
Offense: The offense needed more out of the running game after a woeful 2005, and it got it with BenJarvus Green-Ellis coming up with a 1,000-yard season as the workhorse for the offense. Now the offense has to figure out how to score after averaging 15.7 points per game (up from a whopping 13.45 per game in 2005). The passing game needs a lot of work, and the hope will be for the young receiving corps to step up and become passable. There will be a quarterback battle into the fall with Brent Schaeffer needing to prove he can move the offense, or he'll be unseated be Seth Adams, who's the more efficient passer. The massive line should be better after years of seasoning.
Defense: This should've been the year when everything started to come together for the Rebel defense, but the loss of all three starting linebackers, along with some major uncertainty in the secondary, will make this an inconsistent year, at least early on. The defensive line will be the strength with end Marcus Tillman on the verge of stardom, and the tackle combination of Peria Jerry and Jeremy Garrett to be among the best in the league ... if they stay healthy. The secondary lost some of its top safety prospects to the depleted linebacking corps, and the corners have to be far better. Ole Miss only picked off three passes last year. That can't happen again.

Sept. 8 – at Arkansas State
Offense: Run, run and run some more. At least that's what ASU has done over the last several years, and it has the talent in the backfield to do it again with speedy quarterback Corey Leonard leading a loaded group of runners with several great backs to hand off to. Reggie Arnold is the best of the bunch, but he's one of just four good options to carry the load. Two problems with what ASU likes to do. 1. The line needs major revamping losing three key players and 2) the receiving corps might be the team's second biggest strength behind the running backs. The underutilized corps has speed to burn, but Leonard couldn't get them the ball on a consistent basis last season. That has to quickly change.
Defense: It's all up to the defensive line. The linebacking corps, despite some huge losses, will be surprisingly solid with Koby McKinnon returning with plenty of help around him. The safeties are tremendous with Tyrell Johnson and Khayyam Burns each on the fast track to All-Sun Belt honors. The corners are deep and potentially a major strength of the defense. And then there's the line, which has to figure out how to get to the quarterback at some point. The return of Brian Flagg and Brandon Rollins from injuries will be a huge boost. The 4-3 alignment works, and it should produce the league's best statistical pass defense.

Sept. 15 – Nicholls State

Sept. 22 – at UCF
Offense: Quarterback Steven Moffett and premier receiver Mike Walker have graduated, so logic dictates the Knights will lean on junior Kevin Smith for a while.  He's as good as any back in the league when he's healthy, and has the luxury of four starting linemen returning.  Don't expect any drop-off from Moffett to senior Kyle Israel.  In fact, the veteran of 16 games and five starts was so sharp down the stretch in 2006, some around the program feel he could be even better running the pro-style offense if a couple of the young receivers emerge.
Defense: Nothing typified UCF's collapse in 2006 more than the shoddy play of the defense, which finished 106th nationally and allowed almost 30 points a game.  The secondary was a particular mess, prompting George O'Leary to open up the competition at every spot, despite the return of four starters.  The coach had a chance to take the wrappers off some of his young kids late last year, which will benefit players, such as tackles Torrell Johnson and Travis Timmons and end Jared Kirksey, this season.  More than anything else, the Knights are looking to improve their team speed after looking a step slow throughout the 2006 season.

Oct. 2 - Marshall
Offense: Not since Byron Leftwich graduated has Marshall been Marshall on offense.  That should begin to change this fall provided erratic senior quarterback Bernard Morris can make the most of a receiving corps that's brimming with young game-breakers.  All-conference back Ahmad Bradshaw, a 1,500-yard rusher in 2006, left early for the NFL, leaving Chubb Small to shoulder the load.  If he can't handle the promotion, look for one of three blue-chip freshmen to rise up and accept an expanded role.  While the offensive line has pending issues at tackle, Doug Legursky is a beast at center that could parlay big efforts early versus Miami and West Virginia into post-season awards.
Defense: Disgusted with the play of last year's defense, head coach Mark Snyder changed course, hiring veteran Steve Dunlap as the coordinator.  While last year's team sat back, and often paid for the conservative approach, the 2007 edition will attack wherever and whenever it makes sense.  The chief attacker will be junior end Albert McClellan, a sack machine that'll be in the mix for just about every individual award given to defensive players.  At linebacker, junior Josh Johnson is good enough to consider early entry into the 2008 NFL Draft once the season concludes.  Dunlap's biggest concerns in his first season on the job surround a pedestrian group of tackles and a beatable secondary that allowed way too many long gainers last season.

Oct. 13 - Middle Tennessee
Offense: The offense was strange last year finishing sixth in the league in total yards but first in scoring. In other words, the O took advantage of almost every opportunity despite not being all that good scoring on 33 of 36 chances in the red zone. Even without long-time starting quarterback Clint Marks, the passing game can't help but better whether it's Joe Craddock, or one of three other options under center. The receiving corps is experienced, but unless Bobby Williams plays up to his talent, it won't be much better. The running game will be the strength with DeMarco McNair and speedsters Desmond Gee and Phillip Tanner running behind a massive line.
Defense: This should be one of the Sun Belt's best defenses in time, but only if the back seven can fill all the holes. The front four will be regulars in the backfield with three all-conference caliber ends in Erik Walden, Sean Mosley and Tavares Jones along with nose tackle Trevor Jenkins. The linebackers are a big problem needing to replace all three starters, but they aren't the problem the cornerbacks are. Bradley Robinson is an all-star, but there's no depth and a concern at the second spot. Damon Nickson will carry things for a while at safety.

Oct. 20 – at Rice
Offense: Todd Graham and his staff are gone, but the spread attack is alive and well at Rice, good news for an offense that returns its starting quarterback and All-American wide receiver.  Although Chase Clement to Jarett Dillard will be a familiar phrase this fall, the Owls are also developing a bunch of good-looking, young pass-catchers that are ready to contribute.  The quest for offensive balance, however, won't be so easy now that underappreciated running back Quinton Smith has exhausted his eligibility.  Last year was a painful transition for the offensive line, but with four starters back and a full year in the system, there are no excuses for not being much better in pass protection.   
Defense: In an attempt to bolster a run defense that allowed more than 300 yards to five straight opponents in 2006, Rice is shifting from the 3-3-5 to the 4-2-5.  The move puts another big body in the box, but also puts an enormous burden on a line that lost three of last year's best linemen to graduation.  The new scheme encourages constant pressure from a back seven that boasts the young athletes, such as junior linebacker Brian Raines and sophomore safety Andrew Sendejo, to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.  Lost in last year's statistically awful season was the fact that the opportunistic Owls paced Conference USA in turnovers and sacks.

Oct. 27 – at Tulane
Offense: New head coach Bob Toledo would like to get vertical get the passing game moving, but it's not going to happen at the expense of the ground attack. With a good back in Matt Forte to work with, the Green Wave will try to run the ball to create some semblance of balance, but the offensive line might not be in place to do it. Scott Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback job in a four-man race, and he has some decent young receivers to work with.
Defense: Tulane hasn't played consistent defense in a few years, and it needs to count on experience, especially up front, to change things around. Eight starters return led by senior tackles Frank Morton and Avery Williams. The secondary needs to be far better after allowing over 250 passing yards a game, but that could be a bit of an issue with two new starting corners being broken in. The new coaching staff will use a variety of formations and schemes to try to get more production, and while the overall defense should be better, there will still be times when it'll get bombed on.

Nov. 3 - East Carolina
Offense: Skip Holtz likes to spread the field out and turn his quarterback loose, but with the battery of James Pinkney and Aundrae Allison gone, the Pirates will put more emphasis on the ground game.  That means extra carries this year for versatile senior Chris Johnson and his young understudies, Dominique Lindsay and Norman Whitley.  While strong-armed sophomore Rob Kass will replace Pinkney behind center, an adequate replacement for Allison will be much tougher to find.  Look for the quarterback to utilize a group of tight ends that has the potential to be as good as any in Conference USA.  For ECU to improve on last season's weak offensive output, the veteran line needs to give Kass an extra second or two in the pocket and create more daylight for the backs.        
Defense: If the Pirate defensive line doesn't outright dominate at times this season, heads will roll at the end of the year.  There's way too much talent and depth on this unit for it not to make a quantum leap from 2006.  Junior end Marcus Hands, in particular, has the size and quickness to be special after underachieving last fall.  Penetration up front figures to help a secondary that's easily the weak link of this defense.  Three starters, including both corners, need to be replaced from a group that was one of the underrated team strengths for the past two seasons.

Nov. 10 – at Southern Miss
Offense: While it's become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year's league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that's replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.
Defense: The "Nasty Bunch" defense that's become the trademark of Southern Miss football under Jeff Bower should be one of the nation's top ranked units in 2007.  It's fast and experienced, and if Bower gets his way, about to become as physical as his vintage teams of the late 1990s.  The Eagles return nine starters, including the entire front seven and five players that earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Good luck moving the ball on this veteran group.  If there's a weak link on defense it's in the secondary, where two new starting corners will be broken in.  One way to help rookies Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee will be to get more pressure on the quarterback than last year, when USM was No. 81 in the country in sacks.

Nov. 17 - UAB
Offense: From the staff and the system to the personnel, the offense will be getting a complete facelift in 2007.  Nothing will look the same which isn't such a bad thing considering how poorly the unit executed last season.  New coordinator Kim Helton is installing a pro-style attack that sprinkles in some no-huddle and option calls, but realizes he'll have to tailor the first-year playbook to the talent he inherits.  All eyes in August will be on the continuing quarterback battle between senior Sam Hunt and sophomore Joseph Webb, a potential savior once he gets up to speed.  Whether or not the offense climbs out of the Conference USA cellar will depend heavily on the maturation of a rebuilt line that's replacing four senior starters. 
Defense: While the back seven of the defense figures to be a strength in 2007, you might not know it unless the defensive line can effectively replace three key starters from last year.  Senior end Brandon Jeffries will be productive, but after him, UAB is feverishly searching for answers to prevent opposing passers from having all day to throw.  Junior college transfer Antonio Forbes is being counted on to deliver right out of the gate at tackle.  The linebackers have a budding star in junior Joe Henderson and senior free safety Will Dunbar is one of just a handful of Blazer defenders with all-league potential.

Nov. 24 - SMU
Offense: In sophomore Justin Willis, SMU has a legitimate franchise quarterback with the physical tools to move an offense and the intangibles to lead a program to victories and eventually bowl games.  He'll be growing alongside classmate Emmanuel Sanders, who ignited a mediocre receiving corps last year with 46 catches and nine touchdown receptions.  Junior back DeMyron Martin is eyeing the kind of rebound year that'll refocus his career while giving more balance to the offense.  He'll have the luxury of running behind a seasoned line that returns four starters.  If, as expected, the Mustangs are playing in shootouts this year, they've now got the offensive weapons to keep pace.
Defense: The Mustangs will spend the better part of the year trying to replace three starters from the 2006 defensive line, including standouts Justin Rogers and Adrian Haywood.  If they can solve that complex riddle, look out.  The back seven, led by Butkus Award candidate Reggie Carrington, is very fast and very capable of spurring an improvement from last year's middling results.  The more likely scenario has the line struggling to create a consistent push and the secondary getting burned by opposing hurlers with way too much time to find their targets.



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