Tiger Football

Five Reason Why Memphis Football Will Win The AAC Championship

No. 40 Alan Cross of the Memphis Tigers celebrates with quarter back No. 12 Paxton Lynch after rushing for a 1 yard touchdown against SMU.  Cross leads the Tigers in receiving touchdowns with three on the year including one for 50 yards.  The University of Memphis football team is bowl eligible for the first time since 2008.   (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

No. 40 Alan Cross of the Memphis Tigers celebrates with quarter back No. 12 Paxton Lynch after rushing for a 1 yard touchdown against SMU. Cross leads the Tigers in receiving touchdowns with three on the year including one for 50 yards. The University of Memphis football team is bowl eligible for the first time since 2008. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

For the first since 2008, the University of Memphis is bowl eligible.  It was a long and arduous path back to bowl eligibility for the much beloved Tigers full of embarrassing losses, a coaching change, and a jump (albeit for one year) to a BCS automatic bid conference.

The Tigers have gone 12-48 since their last trip to a bowl six years ago, but they are currently 6-3 on the year and Memphis fans everywhere are rejoicing.

Yet why merely settle for bowl eligibility?  This team should set their sights on something much more significant, a conference championship.

This was unexpected to say the least, especially since the Tigers are in just their second season of the American Athletic Conference.  With the Cougars loss to Tulane, all Memphis has to do is win out and they will get at least a share of the American Championship.

A conference championship would be historic for a Memphis program that last one a championship as a part of the Missouri Valley Conference way back when.

Five Reasons Why the Tigers Football Team Will Win the American Athletic Conference Championship:

1.  Favorable schedule down the stretch
To say the Tigers have an easy final three games of the year is disrespectful to USF, UCONN, and Tulane.  After all, they have scholarship players like Memphis and pride on the line also.  However, compared to the opponents Memphis had to start the year (Ole Miss and UCLA especially), the final three games of the year are, for lack of a better word, easy.

The Huskies and Tulane sit at the bottom of the American standings, and the Tigers final three opponents are a combined 9-19.

Not only is Memphis facing three overmatched teams, 2 of those games are at home.  The schedule could not be set up better for a six gamewin streak to end the year, and a conference championship.

2.  No UCF or East Carolina on the schedule
The scheduling gods really favored Memphis this year allowing the Tigers to avoid two of the best teams in the American.

The Pirates of East Carolina are ridding the nation’s third best passing attack all the way to an impressive 6-2 record, and had it not been for five turnovers in Philadelphia, ECU would still be undefeated in conference play.

UCF sits at 5-3 with respectable losses to Penn St. in Dublin by two points, and a Mizzo team that currently sits atop the SEC East.  The Knights were bitten by the turnover bug much like ECU, surrendering four turnovers in route to their only loss in AAC play.

Since Memphis currently holds the tie breaker over Cincinnati (who also only has one loss), and avoids both ECU and UCF, should the Tigers win out they are guaranteed at least a share of the American Conference Championship.  By the way, ECU and UCF play at the end of the year so one of them is guaranteed to lose one more game.

3.  The Tigers run game seems to be unstoppable
It has been a while since we have seen the University of Memphis field an offense this potent.  This is an offense that is currently fourth in the American in passing yards per game (240.7 ypg) thanks to the maturation of Paxton Lynch.

However it is the Tigers ground game that is proving to be among the best in the nation.  Memphis currently leads the conference in rushing with 192.2 ypg.  That is quite the feat considering that Memphis only managed 23 rushing yards against Ole Miss earlier in the season.  If you ignore that particular game the Tigers average rushing yards per game jumps to 213.4 ypg.  Brandon Hayes leads the way for Memphis with his burst and power averaging 102.3 ypg on the ground.  Opponents will have their hands full trying to stop Hayes the rest of the season.

4.  Defense is really stepping up
If the old saying is true, and defense really does win championships, the Tigers are in stupendous shape.  They have given up three touchdowns in a game just four times, and one of those was during the Tulsa game with the backups in.   Two of the teams to score at least three touchdowns on this tenacious Tigers defense are currently ranked in the top 20 of the College Football Playoff Rankings (No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 18 UCLA).  Memphis is allowing opponents to score just under 19 points per contest which is good for 13th best in the nation.

The Tigers are second in the American in tackles for loss thanks in part to star linebacker Tank Jakes’ 12 tackles for loss on the season (also good for second in the American).   Their ability to get penetration and make plays behind the line of scrimmage is the main reason why Memphis sits third in the American in both passing and rushing yards allowed and second behind East Carolina in total yards allowed.

Should this defense continue to wreak havoc in opponents backfields offenses will continue to have a rough time scoring, and we all know that if you cannot score you cannot win.

5.  Justin Fuente
The job head coach Justin Fuente has done since taking over in 2012 is truly remarkable.  He inherited one of the worst programs in the nation and all he did was lead them to three straight wins down the stretch of his first season, giving the Tigers a .500 record in conference for the first time since 2008.

Then, right in the midst of his rebuilding efforts, Memphis made the jump from an easier Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference, no easy task for a team that was as inexperienced as Memphis.

Even though the losses continued to pile up, fans saw signs of improvement.  Fuente had the Tigers within striking distance going into the fourth quarter much of last year, which is something people were not accustomed to seeing.  In fact, in three of the Tigers losses last season, Memphis was either leading or tied at some point in the fourth quarter.

This season Coach Fuente has gotten the program to turn the corner as is evident by the way they played on the road against UCLA and Ole Miss early in the year.  Memphis almost pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the college football season, but did not have enough to knock off the bruins in Pasadena.  The Ole Miss contest was a one possession game until the Rebels pulled away in the fourth quarter.

Fuente is proving that he is one of the best up and coming coaches in the sport, and has this team believing in themselves.  More importantly, he has the Tigers on the precipice of a conference championship, which is something nobody saw coming.

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CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him 
@conradicalness for live tweets from games.

Quarterback instructor Joe Dickinson having huge impact on Mid-South-area players

JOE COOL --- Joe Dicksinson, who served as an assistant to former Oklahoma legendary coach Barry Switzer in the mid-1980s, has trained a number of Mid-South-area quarterbacks during a football coaching career that spans nearly 30 years. (Photos submitted by Joe Dickinson0

JOE COOL — Joe Dickinson, who served as an assistant to former Oklahoma legendary coach Barry Switzer in the mid-1980s, has trained a number of Mid-South-area quarterbacks during a football coaching career that spans nearly 30 years. (Photos submitted by Joe Dickinson0

For Joe Dickinson, New Year’s Day essentially is a time of reflection.

Among the reasons is that he has the luxury of watching a number of the nation’s premiere quarterbacks, many of whom he trained intensely long before they entered the collegiate ranks.

“You’re just happy that you can give something back to the game,” Dickinson told MemphiSport during a recent telephone interview from Jacksonville, Fla. “It makes you feel very proud obviously. It makes you feel you’re still apart of the game. I stay in touch with a lot of them.”

Having served as quarterbacks coach for several high-profile coaches during his well-publicized tenure on the sideline, Dickinson is currently the lead quarterback instructor and cam director for DeBartolo Sports University, a position he’s held since 2007. Dickinson frequently conducts quarterback camps and private training nationwide. And, since 2007, more than 1,100 quarterbacks have been trained by Dickinson, ranging from amateur to professional levels.

Since joining DeBartolo Sports, Dickinson, 57, has had a profound impact on a plethora of up-and-coming quarterbacks, many of whom ultimately signed National Letters of Intent with major Division 1 programs.

This year was no exception for Dickinson, a quarterback coaching guru whom many have labeled the mastermind behind having trained an assortment of America’s most sought-after passers for the Class of 2014.

So far, at least seven high school quarterbacks who trained under Dickinson at DeBartolo Sports have inked with major colleges: David Cromwell (Alabama), Rafe Peavey (Arkansas), Landon Root (Northern Illinois), Travis Smith (Wake Forest), Collin Feller (Miami, Fla.), Tristian Threatt (Harvard), and Alexander Diamont (Indiana).

His Class of 2015 quarterbacks appears promising, considering Shawnee (Okla.) High highly-touted prospect John Jacobs III last week made a verbal commitment to play at East Carolina University next fall.

So how to explain the continuous success of Dickinson who, according to former San Francisco 49er offensive lineman Randy Cross, has had a major impact of how today’s collegiate game is played?

MID-SOUTH PRESENCE --- Since joining DeBartolo Sports in 2007, Dickinson has trained more than 1,100 quarterbacks, several of whom have ties to the Mid-South.

MID-SOUTH PRESENCE — Since joining DeBartolo Sports in 2007, Dickinson has trained more than 1,100 quarterbacks, several of whom have ties to the Mid-South.

For starters, Dickinson, a Wayne, Okla. native, has enjoyed a career in which he has been afforded opportunities to work alongside college football finest coaches, most notably former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl-winning coach Barry Switzer. Dickinson served as a graduate assistant to Swizter from 1983-85 during which he helped the Sooners to the 1985 national title.

“I’m a big fan of the way Joe coaches and handles quarterbacks,” said Cross, whose son, Brendan, trained under Dickinson before playing quarterback for Wake Forest. “There are people who have PR firms and all sorts of sponsors and stuff for quarterbacks. But the way Joe does it, he has invented the new way to throw. He knows it from a fundamental standpoint, from a mechanical standpoint.”

Not only that, Cross, who starred for the 49ers and won three Super Bowls between 1976-1988, said Dickinson’s contributions are still impacting the way the college game is played today, although he doesn’t remotely assist college coaches.

“College football coaches are recruiters,” Cross said. “They don’t have time to coach guys up. So they need guys like Joe Dickinson. He can help with footwork. He can help with throwing. He can help with film study, especially for young players who must know how defenses are set up. I think his insight is unique.”

Prior to joining the DeBartolo Sports staff, Dickinson enjoyed a prosperous collegiate coaching career that spanned nearly three decades.

From 1986-1989, for instance, Dickinson was the running backs coach at the University of Tulsa before assuming an offensive coordinator position at Marshall University in 1990. Consequently, he took his play-calling skills to nearby Northern Illinois, where he served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1991-95, a stint that allowed him to oversee the nation’s leading rusher, LeShon Johnson, who amassed 1,976 yards on 327 carries while finishing 6th in the Heisman Trophy voting.

In addition, Dickinson moved back to his native Oklahoma in 1996 during which he assumed a second stint with the Sooners’ coaching staff. He started as the running backs coach from 1996-97 before being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 1998 season. To his credit, Dickinson helped the Sooners to their best finish since 1995, but would leave the program four seasons later after the arrival of OU’s current coach, Bob Stoops.

Dickinson later accepted a running backs coaching position at Tulane before assuming a joining staff at Central Oklahoma from 2003-2006.

Having devoted a majority of his life to helping enhance the lives of athletes, Dickinson admittedly has never grown tired of his craft as arguably one of the best quarterback coaching minds in the game.

“I’ve played (football) in high school and college and I’ve always wanted to coach,” Dickinson said. “I’ve never thought of it as a job. It’s a great sport. It’s allowed me to do a lot for kids. It’s the best sport that teaches how the lessons of how life is.”

Something by which Dickinson, one of football’s brightest minds, relishes quite often.

Especially when he’s watching the annual New Year’s Day bowl games.

Andre Johnson, a senior writer for MemphiSport, is a regular contributor for Bleacher Report. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

5 Things You Missed At The University Of Memphis Tigers Football Spring Game

tigers helmetThe much anticipated third year under University of Memphis head football coach Justin Fuente is underway as the Tigers annual spring game ended Friday night.  Fans are expecting the program to continue to grow under Fuente after it made much needed strides the past two seasons.

Fuente inherited an ailing Tigers program two years ago, and while he has not wowed fans with his own win loss record (7-17 in two seasons), he has made the Tigers more competitive in their contests.

Last season the Tigers were mere seconds away from victory against UCF (Fiesta Bowl game winners), Cincinnati, and MTSU (a TAM team rival).  If the Tigers could have scored a touchdown instead of settling for five field goals against Houston they might have won that game too, and let us not forgot how closely they played rival Louisville on the road.

In 2013 the Tigers average margin of defeat was 12.6 points per game, which is better than the previous three years’ of 17.9 in 2012, 26.3 in 2011, and 27.5 in 2010.

However, the close losses last season were just that. Losses, which amounted to a less than stellar record of 3-9 (1-7 in the American Athletic Conference).

Memphis and Coach Fuente are looking to put last year’s near wins behind them with a fresh start in 2014.  While the Tigers have been practicing for a while in preparation for their 2014 campaign, fans got their first up close and personal look of the team Friday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

It was a great atmosphere.  A reported 7,400 fans showed up to cheer on the hometown Tigers.  There were the usual bouncey houses for the kids before the game, and in an interesting spring game twist a DJ was on the field managing to keep the fans energized and into the game with an array of songs and mixes.

Yet, there other sporting events going on in the great city of Memphis Friday night as well.  It was opening day at AutoZonePark for the Redbirds, the Grizzlies were fighting for a playoff spot, and Grizz did this.  So, if you were unable to make it to the game here are 5 things you missed at the University of Memphis Tigers football spring game…

1.  
The improvement of the offensive line…
Now it could be because they were facing the “younger team” as Coach Fuente called them (the gray team was comprised of second and third stringers), but the blue team, AKA the starters, did an impressive job of blocking up front.  There were a few times that Paxton Lynch was forced out of the pocket, but by in large the starting offensive line did an a good job in pass protection.  Perhaps more impressive was the job that they were able to do in the ground game, allowing Brandon Hayes and others to look stellar on the ground during the scrimmage.  Opposing defenses sacked the Tigers quarterbacks 28 times last year, a number that should decrease thanks to experience and depth up front.  In all there are five linemen on the Tigers roster with starting experience for Memphis, and all of them started three or more games in their careers.   

2.  There are several returning starters and they look more comfortable in Fuente’s system…
In addition to the three returning starters on the offensive line, Memphis brings back six more starters on the offensive side of the ball.  Defensively the Tigers return eight players to make a grand total of 17 returning starters for the Tigers.  What does that mean for Memphis and why is that such a big deal?  It is simple, the longer you have been in a system the more things become second nature and the less you have to think about what you have to do.  It becomes more of a reaction and less of a thought process.  This allows football players to play faster and more freely.  The experience gap between the older and younger players was noticeable early and often.  Everything seemed to go the blue team’s way and early on the gray team looked discombobulated.  “The younger guys really got a taste of the level you have to play at, and I think that is important going into the off season,” Fuente said after the game.  No play exhibited this confusion for the gray team more than a fumble that was caused when a player in motion in the backfield collided with the tailback on a handoff before any defender was within five yards of the two.  Coach Fuente will have to lean heavily on those who have experience this year if the Tigers are going to snap their bowl game drought.

3.  Finally the offense is playing that up tempo style…
Again, this could be because it was basically the starters versus the second and third team, but the blue team’s first offensive possession resulted in a score in just over four minutes.  With nine starters returning on offense, Memphis is deep enough, skilled enough, and understands enough about Coach Fuente’s system to be able to really push the pace of a game.  “We got a long way to go to be what we envision here offensively,” Fuente said, “but at times we flashed something that has a chance to be explosive.”   Expect the Tigers to push the tempo more this year than they have in the past seasons under Fuente.

4.  Running back will be a real strength for the Tigers this season…
With Brandon Hayes getting an extra year of eligibility and Doroland Dorceus returning as well, the Tigers bring back 1033 yards from a team that rushed for a total of 1660 last season.  Granted Hayes had nearly half of the teams total (he ran for 860 yards last season), but expect Dorceus to be a major contributor to the run game also.  After an early fumble on the first drive of the game for the gray tem, Dorceus settled down and had one of the most explosive plays of the game with a 50 plus yard touchdown run.  However, make no mistakes about it Hayes is on a different level than the rest of the running backs right now.  One man cannot bring him down and he rushed for three touchdowns during the spring game. “It is great having Brandon back,” Fuente stated after Hayes’ outstanding spring game performance.  “Not just because he is a great football player, but because he of the person he is…he is a very comforting force to have… he is a pretty intellectual football player.”  A good ground game will certainly take more pressure off of Paxton Lynch and the passing game, which will help the Tigers young signal caller.

5.  Paxton Lynch’s growth at the quarterback position…
It has been five years since the Tigers have started the same quarterback on opening day for consecutive years.  This is a trend that should end this year with Lynch.  Arkelon Hall was the last Memphis quarterback to accomplish this feat during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.  Since Hall left there has been a proverbial revolving door of quarterbacks from Taylor Reid to Jacob Karam and a slew of quarterbacks in between (anybody else remember when Cannon Smith started against Mississippi State in the season opener in 2010?).  Lynch should be the opening day starter unless something catastrophic happens, and continuity at the quarterback position will be an immense help to the Tigers.  There were several good throws by Lynch Friday night, but what is most impressing is the fact that he did not turn the ball over.  Fuente was pleased with Lynch’s performance on Friday, but understands that there is still room for his redshirt sophomore to improve. “I think he continues to get better.  We have got to get better around him… he continues to improve from and learn from his mistakes.”  Here is hoping that all of the Tigers learn from their mistakes and make the 2014 season better than the seasons of the past five years.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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University of Memphis tailback Marquis Warford requests transfer

Former University of Memphis freshman tailback Marquis Warford took to Instagram to set the record straight about the decision that was made for him to leave the team. 

It was announced earlier this week that Warford would be leaving the team and of course people began to speculate about the circumstances behind him leaving.  Reports began to surface that Warford had several altercations with teammates this season leading some people to speculate that he was being put off of the team for none football reasons.  Also adding fuel to the fire of this story is the fact that Tigers head coach Justin Fuente stated that he told Warford that he is “no longer welcome” on the Tigers football team.

With all of the speculation going on about why he was leaving the University of Memphis, Warford took to Instagram last night to let everybody know what was going on with his decision.

warford

Warford was the Tigers second leading rusher behind Brandon Hayes this year with 303 yards.  However, over half of those yards came against Arkansas State where he ran for 173 yards and a touchdown. 

After his stellar performance against the Red Wolves, many thought that Warford had cemented himself as the Tigers second tailback.  He continued to get carries the next three games following the Arkansas State contest, but he found himself in CoachFuente’s doghouse the last half of the season as he totaled just one carry in the final five games of the year.  The emergence of another freshman back, Doroland Dorceus, also cut into Warford’s carries. 

It appeared as though these two freshman backs along with freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch were going to be the backbone of the Tigers backfield for the next three years, but with Warford’s decision to transfer the Tigers will be looking for another playmaker to emerge on offense.

Since Warford was a true freshman this year he is able to transfer to another FBS school and maintain three years of eligibility after he redshirts the first year. However, if the reports about his issues with teammates are true (which according to Warford they are not) then it may be difficult for him to find another FBS program willing to take a chance on him, especially when you factor in the fact that he struggled with fumbles this year. 

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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5 Teams That Stand Between Memphis And Bowl Eligibility

The University of Memphis has been to just seven bowl games in the history of the football program.  They will need to win out to make it to their eighth.  The Tigers currently have a bowl record of 4-3. -Photo by Justin Ford USA Today Sports-

The University of Memphis has been to just seven bowl games in the history of the football program. They will need to win out to make it to their eighth. The Tigers currently have a bowl record of 4-3. -Photo by Justin Ford USA Today Sports-

There are just four games left for the University of Memphis this college football season and the Tigers are 2-6 so far.  If Memphis wins the rest of their games they will become bowl eligible for the first time since 2008. 

It will not be an easy task with three of the four games coming on the road including one game against the much despised Louisville Cardinals.  Memphis has only notched one road victory (against UAB last season) under Coach Justin Fuente during his short tenure at the school, so winning three games away from Liberty Bowl Memporial Stadium is going to be a challenge for this inexperienced team.

However, the Tigers caught fire last year around this time, winning their final three games of the year.  They have proven that they are capable of putting together a late season winning streak, and will need to replicate their performance at the end of last season if they want to go to a bowl this year.

Below are the 5 teams that stand between Memphis and bowl eligibility…

usfSouth Florida Bulls:  November 16, 2013
The Bulls have two wins and are the first team on the schedule that stands between Memphis and a possible bowl birth.  Coach Willie Taggert is in his first year with USF, and it has been a less than stellar campaign so far.  USF started the year off with an embarrassing loss to FCS foe McNeese State and rattled off four losses to start the year before upsetting Cincinnati (the same Cincinnati team that defeated Memphis at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium).

It has been 16 days since the Bulls last game, so the extra time should help their struggling offense get ready for the Tigers defense.  To call the South Florida offense bad would be an understatement, as the Bulls are the third worst offense in the FBS.  South Florida is the third worst rushing team in the American Athletic Conference (ahead of just SMU and UConn) and they are also the worst passing offense in the AAC.

Look for the Tigers to capitalize on the offensive shortcomings of the Bulls to try and find a way to get a win on the road.

louisvilleLouisville Cardinals: November 23, 2013
As if this rivalry needed any more fuel to the fire.  These two rivals last played in 2010, a game that saw the Cardinals amass 574 yards and 56 points.  The Tigers were shutout in that game, and are looking to get their first win against the hated Cardinals since 2003.

This will be by far the Tigers biggest hurdle to climb on their quest to reach bowl eligibility.  Louisville is ranked No. 20 in the BCS and the Cardinals are only three points away from being in the BCS Championship discussion (before their loss to UCF they were ranked as high as NO. 6 in the AP Poll).  They are tied with Alabama for the best scoring defense in the nation, and are allowing just 10.6 points per game.

Adding to an incredible defense for Louisville is an outstanding offense. Teddy Bridgewater is the leader on that side of the ball and is tenth in the nation in passing yards.  If Memphis is going to make it to bowl eligibility, they will have to pull off one of the biggest upsets in school history.

templeTemple Owls:  November 30, 2013
This is the lone Tigers home game during this four game stretch, and should Memphis do the unthinkable and beat Louisville this will be the most anticipated Tigers game of the past five years.  History will be made on that Saturday if for no other reason than Memphis has never played Temple in football.

The Owls have the seventh worst defense in the nation and are allowing opponents to average a staggering 30 points per game.  In addition to the Owls defensive woes, the offense is also less than impressive.  They are only averaging 373.8 total yards per contest which is good for the fourth worst in the AAC.

It will be the Owls last game of the year and they will be playing for little more than pride.  While this will be the Tigers last home game and they may be playing for something more, like bowl eligibility.

uconnConnecticut Huskies: December 7, 2013
The Tigers bowl hopes may come down to the last game of the year against a winless Huskies team.  With the exception of Michigan and South Florida games, all of the Huskies losses have been by double digits, including their 15 point loss to FCS opponent Towson.

UConn ranks near the bottom of the nation in almost every statistical category including rushing yards (120th nationally), total yards (119th nationally), total defense (117th nationally), and points against (105th nationally).  This will be the last game of the year for both teams, with the Huskies possibly looking to avoid a winless season and Memphis possibly looking to become bowl eligible.

memphis-tigers logoMemphis Tigers: the rest of the year
There is perhaps no bigger obstacle for Coach Fuente than his own team.  Years of subpar performances and embarrassing losses are difficult for any program to overcome, even if some of these players were not around for some of the defeats.

Memphis is still incredibly young, and prone to mistakes as is evident by their 19 turnovers on the season, good for fourth worst in the AAC.  It can be said that the Tigers are suffering from a severe case of fumblitis, a terrible disease that causes football players to cough up the football unexpectedly.  Only seven teams in the nation have lost more fumbles than the Tigers this season (Memphis has 11 fumbles lost, tied with SMU for the most in the AAC).

However, with all of the Tigers short comings they have managed to be on the cusp of winning some close games.  If not for a late field goal by Cody Clark and an inordinate amount of first half penalties the Tigers beat MTSU on the road.  The Tigers had UCF beat before the Knights scored two touchdowns in nine seconds, and a Brandon Hayes’ pass was intercepted in the end zone with 35 seconds left.  Heck if Memphis finds a way to get a touchdown or two instead of kicking five field goals against Houston they possibly win that game also.

It can be done, but Fuente has to get his players to believe that they can do something nobody believed was possible at the beginning of the year, and few believe can be done now.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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Memphis Tigers keep their bowl hopes alive after beating UT Martin 21-6

2013-11-09-20-13-31The University of Memphis football team has come a long way this season despite their overall 2-6 record.  They are playing a tougher schedule than last year, and have managed to avoid huge blowout losses unlike years past.

Since 2009 the Tigers have suffered a total of 45 defeats.  Of those losses 19 of them were by more than three touchdowns.  This season Memphis has managed to only lose by double digits three times and has yet to lose a game by 20 plus points.

Adding to the Tiger’s slow (but steady) improvement rate is the fact that they have avenged two of their losses from last year.

Brandon Hayes carried the load for the Tigers offense, rushing 27 times for 105 yards in the Tigers victory over the Skyhawks. While Paxton Lynch also made several key plays for Memphis, running for a touchdown just before halftime to give the Tigers a one point lead and throwing a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to make it an eight point game.

Memphis also defeated an Arkansas State team that beat them last year.  The Tigers defeated the Red Wolves earlier this year by 31 points, holding them to just 74 rushing yards, 255 total yards, and 7 points, well under the Red Wolves season averages of 190 yards on the ground, 425.6 total yards, and 27.3 points.

It is no secret that the Tigers have been down the past five years, with their last winning regular season and bowl appearance coming in 2008.

However, Coach Justin Fuente has the Tigers poised to make a significant run at bowl eligibility this year.

The biggest hurdle standing between Memphis and their first bowl appearance in four seasons is the Louisville Cardinals.

Of the remaining four games left on the schedule, Louisville is the only team with a winning record (and the only team ranked in the BCS).  In fact, when you exclude the hated Cardinals, the other three teams (USF, Temple, and UConn) only have three wins amongst them.

Sure three of these four games are on the road, but is it crazy to think that the Tigers might get six wins on the year and become bowl eligible?  No.

While the offense has struggled mightily at certain points during this year, the defense has been nothing short of superb.  On the defensive side of the ball, Memphis ranks 19th in total yards allowed and are only giving up 24.1 points per game.

Coming into their contest with UT Martin, Martin Ifedi was fifth in the nation in total sacks, and led the nation in sacks per game.  He leads the way for a defense that is averaging just over 6 tackles for loss per game.

The Tigers faced plenty of high powered offensive attacks earlier this year in Arkansas State, UCF, and Houston and they held all of them under their season averages in total yards and scoring.

Again, with the exception of Louisville, their next four games are against teams who have their fair share of offensive issues, and the Tigers should be able to capitalize on this.

Temple is only averaging 22.3 points per game, while neither UConn nor USF averages more than 17 points per contest (the Huskies rank 119th in the nation in points for averaging just 16.4 points per contest while the Bulls are 120th and scoring just 15.4 points in their games).

Statistically Memphis will finish the year against three of the worst offenses in the American Athletic Conference, and should be able to win these contest with their defensive abilities.

If playing one of the Tigers biggest rivals is not enough, defeating Louisville in two weeks may be the difference in making a bowl game and not making one.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.

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MSL Interview: Congressman Steve Cohen talks about Memphis football and more

steve_cohenCongressman Steve Cohen joined Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter on MSL to talk about sports (including University of Memphis football), Delta in Memphis, film funding in Tennessee, marijuana legalization (and why he thinks members of Congress should smoke some), plus much more.

Click here for more MSL interviews.

 

MemphiSport Live

 

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) on Sports 56 & 87.7 FM every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010, 2011 & 2012 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.

 

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @Marcus_Hunter7


Memphis-area sports fans experience disappointment trifecta

memphis miss 2Wednesday evening started as a dream come true for most Mid-South sports fans with three teams locals care about playing in meaningful games.

The Cardinals faced elimination in a pivotal Game 6 of the World Series against the Red Sox, while the Grizzlies tried to shake their woeful opening day record against a Spurs team that swept them out of last year’s Western Conference Finals.  On top of these two sporting events was the University of Memphis football team’s home contest against Cincinnati on national television.

What more could you ask for as a sports fan living in Memphis and surrounding areas? Three big games, all on TV, all with some significance, and all with a chance to create some positive vibes in the Bluff City.

Memphians raced home after work to get ready for their night of monumental sports proportions, only to have that dream day become a nightmare.

It started with the Grizzlies, who continued their streak of 13 straight opening night losses, followed by the Cardinals who were next to lose, and ended with the lowly Memphis Tigers losing a close one (again).

Memphis really struggled to score the ball, especially in the second quarter.

Some of you may be wondering which Memphis, Grizzlies or Tigers? To that I say- both.  Ironically, the second quarter for both teams inevitably did them in during their respective contest.

The Grizzlies managed seven (that’s right seven) points in the second quarter against the Spurs, and fell behind by 21 points at halftime after having a two point lead to start the second quarter.  To put this into perspective, the Grizzlies only had 27 first half points, and the team shot an awe-inspiring 11.1 percent after the second quarter.

Just like the Grizzlies, the Tigers lost control of their game in the second quarter.  After Paxton Lynch hooked up with Tevin Jones for a seven yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, it looked as if Memphis might have a chance to pull off an upset.  However, the Tigers gave up 14 second quarter points, and 21 unanswered points, to find themselves down 21-7 and never recovered.

In the second quarter, the Tigers offense managed to muster just 12 yards on 14 total plays while tallying four penalties for 34 yards.

St. Louis, the parent club to the Memphis Redbirds, also struggled offensively in their contest.

This was not a recent trend for the Cardinals in this year’s World Series.  They managed just 14 runs, batted a woeful .224, and could only muster 10 extra base hits the entire series.

Wednesday had the potential to be one of those nights that had people speaking positively about local sports teams.  Memphians expected somebody to win with three marquee games taking place.

Alas, neither team could manage to find consistent offensive production, causing all of them to fall short of victory.

At least, college basketball is right around the corner.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.

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Despite 1-5 Record, Things Are Looking Up For Memphis Football

Photo by Just Ford

Photo by Just Ford

It is the midway point of the University of Memphis football season and from a win loss stand point it looks exactly the same as the previous four seasons.  This marks the fourth time in the past five years that Memphis has only one win and five losses at the midway point of their football season (in 2009 the Tigers were 2-4 after six games).

However, these losses are not the same as the others in years past.  The Tigers average margin of defeat this year through six games is only 7.6 points.  By contrast, the average margin of defeat through six games was 16.8 points last season, 32 points in 2011, and 32.8 in 2010.

What is more encouraging about the Tigers football program so far, is that they were tied or leading in the second half of four of their five losses (the loss to SMU is the lone exception).  In fact, Memphis has been tied or held a lead in fourth quarter of three of their losses so far this season.

In years past, Memphis has left no doubt who the inferior team was on the football field, but this year they are doing more than keeping the games close and looking competitive.  They actually have chances to win games, and that has to count for something.

No teams do not get credit for almost wins, but after years of football futility teams do not just start winning.  However, even though the Tigers have five losses on the year, improvement can be seen all over the field for Memphis.

Individual defensive players like Martin Ifedi, Ryan Coleman, and Anthony Brown are improving weekly and are leading the way for a resurgent Memphis defense that has yet to allow a hundred yard rusher on the year.

The Tigers rank 14th nationally in total team defense allowing 327.7 total yards per game, ninth in rushing defense giving up just 99.9 yards on the ground per game, and are holding opponents to just 22.2 points per game so far this year.

The Tigers are also full of young contributors, with 10 true freshmen and 12 redshirt freshmen making significant contributions to the team.

Freshmen like starting quarterback Paxton Lynch (redshirt freshman) and running back Marquis Warford (true freshman) are being counted on by Coach Fuente to make significant contributions on the offensive side of the ball.

Lynch’s 279 yard game against UCF was good for fourth most passing yards by a freshman in school history, while Warford’s 173 rushing yards against Arkansas State is the second most rushing yards in school history by a freshman (Larry Porter holds the Memphis record with 206 rushing yards against Arkansas State in his freshman year).   Warford also leads the team in yards per carry with 6.3.

So while the results appear to be the same from a win loss stand point this year when compared to previous seasons, this is a different Tigers program, and fans have several things to be optimistic about.

If the old adage holds true that you have to crawl before you walk, the Tigers have now started taking one or two steps before falling back to the ground.  Assuming Coach Fuente continues to get his players to buy into the system and improve every week, the Memphis football program will be walking in no time.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.

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Fuente does not blame the officials for Memphis’ heartbreaking loss to UCF

American Logo Memphis UCFIt was another home football game for the Tigers, against another solid opponent, and a game most experts had Memphis losing handily.  Memphis proved them wrong and almost pulled off the upset against UCF, but fell just short in the end for a 24-17 defeat.

“I could not be more proud of our kids,” Coach Justin Fuente said after yet another close loss.  “We were not always right, we did not always make the play, but that is a group of men in there that went to battle against a good football team.  We came up short.”

If moral victories counted for anything the Tigers would be 4-0 and in the discussion for biggest surprise team in the nation.  Alas, there are no moral victories and the Tigers fall to 1-3 on the year with several crushing defeats.

Memphis has been on the cusp of winning in each of their three losses.  They are losing by an average of just 7.7 points per game, and have led or been tied in the fourth quarter of each of their losses.

In the first game of the season, Memphis came back to tie the game against Duke only to see the Blue Devils score 14 unanswered points to win the game.  Against MTSU, the Tigers committed an uncharacteristic 11 penalties in the first half and still had a chance to win, leading the Blue Raiders 15-14 before a late field goal put MTSU up for good.

The Tigers took a different route to defeat against the Knights.  It was a route that was paved by some questionable calls by officials that started with a fumble on a kickoff by Marquis Warford.  On the replay that was shown on the Liberty Bowl jumbotron, Warford looked like he was down before the ball was fumbled.  However, the refs ruled it a fumble and the subsequent touchdown scored by the Black Knights’ Drico Johnson on the recovery was upheld, giving UCF the lead.

Then there was a phantom holding penalty on the Joe Craig kickoff return for a touchdown that erased the score, causing the Tigers to start their last drive of the game on their own 25.

Even though there were two game altering calls in the final two minutes of the contest, Coach Fuente is not placing any blame on the officials, “The officiating is what it is.  I am upset we did not win the game, it is nobody else’s fault… it is on us.”

After two horrible calls by the officials, Paxton Lynch led the Tigers offense on a six play 69 yard drive that placed Memphis on the UCF six yard line.

It looked like Memphis was going to force overtime, but on the seventh play of the drive Coach Fuente called a halfback pass that was intercepted in the end zone sealing the Tigers defeat.

“It is an awkward situation there,” Coach Fuente said about the decision to run the halfback pass.  “We had the guy open and just did not get the ball out and I do not know why.”

To call the way the Tigers lost this game odd is an understatement, especially when you take into account that Memphis dominated UCF in almost every category.

The high powered UCF offense came in averaging 450 yards per game.  Memphis held the Black Knights to just 270 yards, including just 95 total yards in the first half.  UCF only mustered 160 passing yards against Memphis well shy of their 297.5 average on the year (in comparison the Black Knights threw for 358 yards against South Carolina last week and 262 against Penn State earlier in the year).

Coach Fuente and the Tigers will have to put this contest behind them if they are going to beat a Houston team next week that is undefeated on the year.

“We cannot let this game linger.  You cannot let a team beat you twice,” said Fuente.  “There are a lot of great lessons in this sport.  Life is not always easy.”

This year’s Tigers football team is finding out first hand just how difficult  life (and winning) can be.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.

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