Southern Miss Golden Eagles (4-2. 3-0 CUSA) vs. Memphis Tigers (1-5, 0-3 CUSA)
October 16, 2010 at 12pm ET/ 11am CT
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN
One thing about the Memphis Tigers this year is that they’re not very memorable, at least in the sense that they aren’t known for anything in particular that they do on the field. Yet.
“I think we’re still searching for our identity,” head coach Larry Porter told the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Monday. "If you look at all the inconsistencies of our lineup, all our youth, the newness ... at times it's been difficult to do certain things based on not wanting to put certain people in positions they haven't been in."
With half of the games in Porter’s inaugural season at the helm of Tiger football already completed, his team is in serious need of an on-field catalyst, someone who can light a fire in his teammates and help them find the second wind (and second win) they need in order to help keep their season alive. Maybe it will come from recently promoted senior return man D.A. Griffin, who took snaps on four special teams units last weekend. Maybe it will come from omnipresent senior linebacker Jamon Hughes, who finds himself in the same tackles bracket as Notre Dame stud Manti Te’o (both rank in the top 20 nationally). Whoever creates the spark had better do it sooner rather than later, or the Tigers will be in danger of allowing their season slip from between their collective paws.
"We need to finish," senior running back Gregory Ray said. "We've got to be focused when we get inside the red zone and quit making stupid mistakes." His sense of final-season urgency is almost palpable, but the grass does not look much greener in the second half of the Tigers’ schedule. With 41 freshmen on the roster this season, eight of whom have started at least one game, these cubs have some learning to do, and so far, they haven’t learned quickly enough – a 56-0 drubbing by a 3-2 Louisville squad this past weekend certainly testified to that. On the bright side, it can’t get much worse without someone violating an NCAA regulation, and if Tiger fans have seen anything from Porter this season, it’s the kind of mental toughness that doesn’t equate to letting things like that slide under the radar.
Southern Miss rolls into Memphis for the annual Black and Blue Bowl having won 4 of their last 5, the letdown coming last week in Hattiesburg in an ugly back-and-forth tug of war that the Golden Eagles lost to ECU, 44-43. USM’s Achilles heel, as that game demonstrated, is penalties: they lead the nation in penalty yards per game, including a whopping 150 yards ceded to the Pirates in the loss. If the Tigers can keep their cool, they can force USM into long yardage downs and shorten the field for themselves on offense. The other side of the coin, unfortunately, is that penalty yards won’t matter if the defense continues to give up big plays. In the loss to Louisville, Memphis allowed Cardinal touchdowns on plays of 39, 48, 74, 28 and 28 yards; Louisville ranks 29th nationally in plays from scrimmage over 10 yards, with Southern Miss just ahead of them in 24th.
On offense, it will be important for the Tigers to make things easy on themselves by improving their protection of freshman quarterback Ryan Williams, who was sacked five times last Saturday. In their win against MTSU, the Tigers’ protection schemes allowed only two sacks; in their other five games (all losses), Tiger quarterbacks have been sacked 16 times. Regardless of the health of the offensive line, Memphis needs to preserve the health of their starting quarterback in the worst way, or else be forced to line up with Cannon Smith under center.
And if that’s not enough to get a rise out of these Tigers, they’re a whole shade bluer than we thought.
This article was first posted to Springs on Sports. If you liked what you read, feel free to check out the site.
(Photo attribution to Patrick Boyd, 10/27/07, some rights reserved.)