Thursday night’s home opener did not go as well as Tiger fans hoped it would. Mississippi State looked seemingly unstoppable at times but Memphis did show spurts of good play. Now that the dust has settled and the emotions of the game have had time to calm down, here are three encouraging and three discouraging signs from the U of M’s 45-point loss to MSU…
3 Encouraging Signs
1) Gibson ran the football like a man
Artaves Gibson saw a lot of playing time and made the most of his opportunity. The 6’ 1’’ 220 lb. freshman made defenders miss in traffic and punished them when he got into space. He had 17 carries for 85 yards and most importantly he took care of the football. With Jerrell Rhodes’ injury and Billy Foster’s ability to politely place the ball on the ground expect this super freshman to get more opportunities to shine.
2) Both Andy Summerlin and Taylor Reed played well
The quarterback position was a major question mark for the Tigers going into opening night and both QBs played on Thursday. Summerlin started and his arm strength and ability to make the necessary throws were all on display. Unfortunately he was not able to make the deep throws because he did not have enough time (see 3 Discouraging Signs). When Reed came into the game Memphis ran more quick routes and used their tailbacks more as safety valves for the true freshman. Reed made some great throws that receivers did not catch (see 3 Discouraging Signs) and some good check downs. Overall both quarterbacks played better than expected.
3) They were playing the No. 20 team in the nation
Yes, Memphis was blown out and it was tough for Memphis fans to watch, but they were playing a team that is bigger, faster, and more athletic than they are. It’s not like they took a whooping from UAB or Tulane, this is the No. 20 ranked team in the nation. The reason why Memphis looked so inferior to Mississippi State was because right now they are inferior. Nothing Memphis could have done would have prevented the beat down that they took. A loss is a loss whether by 1 or 100 and it was not a conference game so Memphis can still compete for a C-USA championship. Everybody needs to take a deep breath and calm down. Now if they lose to Arkansas State, then start panicking.
3 Discouraging Signs
1) The O-line did not give the quarterbacks enough time
Summerlin was under distress the entire time he was in the game. On pass plays you can see him making his reads but by the time he gets to his second read he is running for his life. There were plays during the game where Summerlin did not have time to let the receivers finish running their routes. I know Mississippi State’s D-line is supposed to be good but Memphis made them look phenomenal. Coach Porter is going to have to figure out a way to improve the O-line otherwise it will not matter who the quarterback is because they will be on the ground most of the game.
2) Special teams play was bad (real bad)
With the exception of the two kicks that Paulo Henriques put out of the end zone, Memphis’ special teams were pitiful. Memphis started every drive during the entire 1st quarter inside their 15 yard line. EVERY SINGLE DRIVE! In contrast Mississippi State started all but one drive (the opening kickoff) in Memphis territory. The punts throughout the game were low line drives and the coverage was slow to cover it allowing Mississippi State to cross into Memphis territory most of the game. Add to it that the kick return team for Memphis was unable to get across the 20 yard line all game and you have an inept special teams unit. Memphis will not win games if the special teams cannot find a way to give Memphis better field position.
3) The defense is giving up too many big plays
The switch to a 3-3-5 is not paying the dividends that Coach Porter thought it would. The safeties gave up entirely too many big plays through the air and once Mississippi States tailback got to the second level nobody was there to tackle them allowing Vick Ballard to score twice on runs more than 40 yards. The linebackers did not shed blocks and the D-line did not get consistent pressure on Relf. On both of the touchdown passes thrown by Relf he had all day to throw and safeties were caught peeking into the backfield allowing wide outs to run right by them. Porter is going to have to find a way to sure up the defense if the Tigers are to stand a chance this season.
C.J. Hurt covers Tiger football for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @churtj09.
Photos by JD Meredith.