• How do we define a “playmaker” on the football field? It’s a vague description, really. (How do we define a “play”?) Generally, playmakers can be categorized as the famous line about pornography goes: “I know it when I see it.” Marcus Rucker led the Tigers with 41 receptions in 2010, while Tannar Rehrer was the top wideout a year later with 70 catches. Who was the playmaker? Rucker got into the end zone eight times (to Rehrer’s four) and Rucker piled up 704 yards (12th in Memphis history) while Rehrer’s 70 receptions only gained 593 yards. Rucker was a playmaker. (Less so as a senior last season, when he caught 47 passes for 525 yards and only three touchdowns.)
The 2013 Tigers desperately need a playmaker. (For these purposes, we’re qualifying playmakers as those who catch passes. Brandon Hayes has been solid on the ground for Memphis, and his 31-yard TD jaunt last week against Cincinnati was certainly a “play.”) Joe Craig leads Memphis with 26 receptions, but averages barely 10 yards a catch (272 yards). Mose Frazier has shown the ability to catch the ball downfield (he averages 17.4 yards per catch), but has only caught 14 balls and scored a single touchdown. Depending on how you measure, the Tigers dropped between six and ten passes in their loss to Cincinnati, killing “plays” and leading to a miserable two-for-twelve conversion rate on third down. You know the best place to find playmakers? In the winning locker room.
• I don’t like the Tigers’ new chrome helmets. I’ve tried to let them grow on me, but I liked them less in the Cincinnati game than I did in the opener against Duke. And I have three primary gripes:
1) The Tigers have a cool logo. That tiger leaping through a bold “M” is a brand instantly recognizable, here and abroad. (As nice as the Grizzlies’ logo is, it doesn’t incorporate the one letter that most says “Memphis.”) Unless you’re standing on the sidelines at the Liberty Bowl, a logo is impossible to see on those chrome domes. The sheer brightness of their reflection prevents your eye from absorbing a logo, much less blue tiger stripes as they wore against the Bearcats. (Try black for those stripes if the helmets are used again.)
2) There’s a sameness to the chrome look. We can thank Phil Knight and Nike for this trend in college football, but silver and gold are not (and will never be) the primary colors for this sport. I know the team when I see a crimson helmet, have a pretty good guess when I see a bare white helmet, and can sure as hell see a certain orange T on a non-chrome helmet. Here’s hoping this love affair with a chrome sparkle is temporary.
3) Memphis just isn’t a chrome town. “Shiny” is not an adjective often used in describing the Bluff City or its people. It certainly doesn’t apply to its teams. There’s a reason “grit” and “grind” took hold of this community two years ago. The still-struggling Tiger football program may shine under Justin Fuente in the near future. Let’s not pretend it is now.
• For a team sporting a 1-6 record, every game is a big game. And when UT-Martin visits the Liberty Bowl this Saturday afternoon, it’s a must-win for the Tigers. The U of M has been “competitive” all season long . . . with a single win to show for it. With an FCS program across the field this weekend, there’s no room for the “competitive” angle. The Skyhawks (6-3 on the season) are literally undermanned as FCS programs are limited to 63 scholarship players (compared with 85 for FBS teams). Having won last season in the Liberty Bowl — 20-17 in Justin Fuente’s debut as head coach — UT-Martin will take the field believing it can win its biggest game of the season. This is a team that blew out its last two opponents (38-14 over Austin Peay and 45-17 over Murray State), averages 423.7 yards of offense per game and 26.6 points. Beat the Skyhawks and Memphis has something to build upon entering the final third of the season. Lose a second straight game to an FCS program and the balance of the season will feel like recovery mode at best. It’s a must-win for the home team.