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October 31, 2012INSIDE SLANT
Their only win of the season was followed with three consecutive losses in which the Memphis Tigers were outscored 120-37. There was a 41-7 loss at East Carolina, a 35-17 loss to Central Florida and then a 44-13 shelling at Southern Methodist.
Memphis has been searching for its second victory since beating Rice 14-10 in the Conference USA opener Oct. 6. The last three weeks have pitted the struggling Tigers against three of the four best teams in the conference, but the schedule will be a bit more favorable over the last month of the season.
Memphis will visit Marshall before playing three of its last four games at home. At 1-7 overall and 1-3 in C-USA, the Tigers certainly won't be favored against a Marshall team that leads the conference in scoring and total offense, but they might be able to keep the game close if they force turnovers and take advantage of their opportunities.
The Thundering Herd has lost three of its last four games to fall to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in C-USA. That stretch includes a 54-17 loss to Central Florida on Oct. 27, one week after the Tigers played the Knights quite a bit closer before falling 35-17. Despite its recent struggles, the Thundering Herd comes in averaging 542.9 yards and 39.9 points per game.
"Their offense has put up some astronomical numbers, and we'll have to be ready for that challenge," Memphis coach Justin Fuente said.
The Tigers will play host to Tulane on Nov. 10. The Green Wave has won two of three since losing five in a row to start the season, including a stunning 27-26 victory over Southern Methodist. Tulane may even beat Rice at home Nov. 3 for its third win in four weeks, but the Green Wave will still be winless on the road when it arrives in Memphis.
The Tigers will conclude conference play with two games against what might be the two worst teams in C-USA, starting with a trip to Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 17. The Blazers have lost seven of eight this season and each of their first four conference games.
Memphis will end the season at home against Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles have yet to win a game this season after going 12-2 with a victory over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl in 2011.
• Memphis coach Justin Fuente implored his players to take better care of the ball after committing three turnovers against Central Florida on Oct. 20. The Tigers were a little better against SMU. They fumbled twice but did not throw an interception against an SMU defense that was leading the nation in takeaways (25) and interceptions (16) going into the game. The Mustangs have returned six interceptions for touchdowns this season, tying them for third in Football Bowl Subdivision history.
• Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen told The Commercial Appeal he will announce a number of future non-conference games in early December, when the Tigers welcome in prospects for recruiting visits. Bowen said he was able to generate excitement and energy with the same strategy when he worked at San Jose State.
"We are going to start using our recruiting weekends to announce our future schedules to our future Tigers," Bowen told the newspaper. "I've got some great non-conference opponents that we are (close to) finalizing through contracts. Justin and I want to use (the information) so that when kids come to that weekend (visit) we can say, 'Hey, when you come here, this is going to be your non-conference schedule.'"
• Former President George W. Bush spoke to Memphis associate athletic director Bob Winn for several minutes in a hallway before addressing the Tigers prior to their game against SMU. Winn told The Commercial Appeal that Bush was "very at ease and down to earth" while speaking to the team, adding that Bush went around the room shaking hands with players.
Series History: Marshall leads Memphis 5-2 (last meeting, 2011, 23-22 Marshall).
Scouting The Offense: The Tigers have shown new life in the running game over the past month, rushing for 240 yards against UCF and 164 yards against Rice. But they took a step back against SMU, gaining just 117 rushing yards while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. The passing game has been mostly ineffective all season. Junior QB Jacob Karam threw for a career-high 325 yards against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 15, but he has averaged 102 passing yards in the past five games and is coming off a shaky performance in which he completed just 8-of-17 passes for 85 yards.
Scouting The Defense: The Tigers are better on defense than they were a year ago, but still not nearly good enough. They have made significant improvements in a number of statistical categories after allowing 499.1 yards per game in 2011. However, they still are yielding 422.3 yards and 33.6 points per game. The Tigers have some emerging talent up front with sophomore LBs Martin Ifedi and Charles Harris, but they remain vulnerable whether the opposition attacks through the air or on the ground. Opponents have passed for at least 260 yards four times and rushed for more than 175 yards five times. Arkansas State did both, amassing 317 rushing yards and 302 passing yards.
Quote To Note: "I think you have to meet it head on as a team. Offensively, you have to meet that challenge as well. We have to do a great job running the football and giving our guys on the other side of the ball an opportunity to rest. If you're not careful, those are things that can mount up on you in a game like that. If you continue to give them opportunities, give them the ball right back and give them short fields, they're just going to keep plugging away. It's going to be a team challenge."-Memphis coach Justin Fuente, on facing an up-tempo Marshall offense that leads Conference USA in scoring and total offense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
This Week's Game: Memphis at Marshall, Nov. 3-The Tigers' trip to Marshall will complete their only back-to-back road set of the season. Both teams have lost three of their last four games. Marshall has dominated the series between these teams, but last year's game was a memorable one. The Thundering Herd overcame five turnovers and rallied from a 22-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Tigers 23-22 last season in Memphis.
Keys To The Game: The Tigers must force sophomore QB Rakeem Cato to make mistakes and take advantage when he does. Cato was a pedestrian 13-of-23 passing for 150 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Tigers last season, but he's been a different player in 2012. In eight games, Cato has passed for 2,949 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He passed for 439 yards and five touchdowns against Purdue on Sept. 29, but he also threw three interceptions. He has thrown at least one interception in five games, including three of the past four. Offensively, the Tigers have to establish the run and sustain drives in order to keep the Thundering Herd offense off the field.
Players To Watch:
DL Martin Ifedi-The 6-3, 260-pound sophomore tackle is making a big impact in his second season with the Tigers. Ifedi forced a fumble when he brought down SMU QB Garrett Gilbert late in the first half for one of his 2.5 sacks on the day. Ifedi has made 7.5 tackles for a loss, all in the past four games. He has 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
RB Brandon Hayes-The junior running back scored his first career touchdown on a 36-yard run early in the second quarter against SMU. He matched his 36-yard run against UCF a week earlier, giving him the two longest running plays of the season for the Tigers. Hayes has taken on a bigger role since Jerrell Rhodes was dismissed from the team for personal reasons. In the past two games, Hayes has 138 yards on 26 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
TE Alan Cross-Just a freshman, Cross made two catches for a team-high 35 receiving yards against SMU. It was the second time this season Cross has led the team in receiving yards. He enjoyed the same distinction in the season opener against Tennessee-Martin, when he made one catch for 36 yards.
• Junior P Tom Hornsey moved past Hugh Owens for second place on Memphis' career list with 9,534 punting yards. Jeff Fite (1987-90) holds the school record with 9,939. Hornsey had 334 punting yards against SMU. He is 405 yards short of Fite's record.
• Sophomore Bobby McCain has been relatively quiet in the kick-return game in recent weeks after a dazzling debut. In his first two games as the primary return man, McCain accumulated 138 yards in kickoff returns against Middle Tennessee and 131 yards against Duke. He has averaged 73.5 kickoff-return yards in the past four games.
• Senior DB Mitch Huelsing is second in Conference USA in forced fumbles. He forced a fumble against UCF that led to a 27-yard touchdown return by senior CB Robert Steeples.