Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

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• I was surprised to hear the announcement before last Saturday’s game against East Carolina that senior transfer Sylar Jones would get the start at quarterback. Starter Taylor Reed and backup Andy Summerlin were nursing injuries, sure, but not of the debilitating variety. But the start for Jones made sense for two reasons: (1) The Tigers were coming off a game at Rice in which the offense failed to score a touchdown against one of the weakest defenses in Conference USA and (2) if not now (again, Jones is a senior), when?

Jones completed a deep pass to Curtis Johnson and showed some mobility Reed and Summerlin haven’t (he carried the ball six times for 18 yards). But an ill-advised pass into coverage from deep in Tiger territory led to an interception and long return for East Carolina, setting up a go-ahead touchdown for the Pirates early in the second half. Jones had to leave the game early in the fourth quarter after sustaining an injury to his hip. With five games left in his college career, Jones will likely return to emergency duty. After the ECU loss, coach Larry Porter was unequivocal about his signal caller: “Taylor Reed is our starting quarterback,” he said.

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• Four-hundred yards is a magic number in college football. If an offense gains 400, it will likely be in the top half of its league’s total-offense rankings. Conversely, if a defense can hold an opponent under 400 yards, it will be among the top units in the conference. Through seven games, the Tigers have gained 400 yards only once (in the victory over Austin Peay). The Tiger defense has allowed fewer than 400 yards only twice (against Austin Peay and Rice). The numbers suggest systemic flaws, the kind that go beyond, say, a weak running game, or poor secondary play. Memphis has passed for as many as 332 yards (against Austin Peay), but as few as 87 (in the loss to Arkansas State). On the ground, the Tigers rushed for 164 yards in the opener against Mississippi State, but was embarrassed by the SMU defense for a net loss of 14 yards.

The defensive struggles have been just as severe. In only one game (Austin Peay) have the Tigers held their opponent to fewer than 150 yards rushing. The East Carolina game was the first since the opener in which the Memphis defense didn’t get a sack or interception.

• Last week’s announcement that Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference have formed an alliance comes across as a concession to me. Why would members of these two leagues form an alliance — with the hope of somehow gaining an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game — if not to create a “Plan B” for schools left out of the realignment of the current power conferences? The thought of a C-USA vs. MWC “championship game” calls to mind images of baseball’s Triple-A championship (a game between the Pacific Coast League champ and International League champ that is nothing more than a glorified — and sparsely attended — exhibition).

Considering the shaky ground the Big East is standing upon, and the league’s mentioning C-USA members UCF, SMU, and Houston (no Memphis) as possible new members, it appears the Big East train has left the station for the Tigers. To consider possibilities of joining the Big 12 at this juncture seems like a reach at best (however much geographic sense it might make). Tiger fans might start doing their homework on the likes of Wyoming, San Diego State, and New Mexico.

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