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December 5, 2013
How important is a win at UConn?
The Memphis Tigers travel to the Northeast to play the Huskies of Connecticut. This game isn't only the last game of the season but quite probably the most important.
The Tigers are 3-8 (1-6), so how could the last game be the most important?
Mainly because of the way the team performed in last Saturday's loss against Temple. Memphis was manhandled in every facet of the game, including special teams. They didn't play well. They didn't play hard to the level that this coaching staff expects and to the level that the Memphis fans have grown accustomed.
They haven't won all their games but one trademark of a Justin Fuente-coached team this year is that they played hard, every single play of every single game, until last week.
It seemed as if the players thought they could just go through the motions and that would be good enough to beat a one-win Temple team.
The problem was that it wasn't good enough to even be competitive.
Before the embarrassing loss to Temple the Tigers' average margin of defeat was just eight points in seven losses. That includes playing teams that have top-ranked offenses.
Now the players have an option. They can mail the season in and have the "wait till next year" attitude, or they can use this game as a personal statement. A statement that says last week was a fluke and go out winning the last game of the year, and in the cases of the seniors, of their collegiate careers.
Memphis was punched in the mouth and got knocked down. What are the players going to do about that? Stand up or roll over?
Coach Fuente spoke of the challenges presented by this final game of 2013.
"(We are) coming off of some disappointment," he admitted in his weekly press conference, "playing on the road, playing in a different climate that we're probably used to and playing a group of people we've never met. . . I think it's important that we play better.
"I want to finish strong."
Coach Fuente also stated that he's only going to dress the players that want to play hard.
There's an opportunity for this team to show the fans what they are made of. An opportunity to win the same amount of games they did last year (4 wins) but with a much more difficult schedule, which in itself is an accomplishment.
The Tigers are still young and are learning to be more mature. This game will provide a life lesson. How do you respond when adversity slaps you in the face and knocks you down?
Are you willing to throw away all the hard work and progress that was made this year?
How do you want to remember your last game of the season?
How do you want to be remembered?
Some of the players know what's at stake. Junior linebacker Charles Harris called the Temple performance "completely unacceptable." Freshman wide receiver Sam Craft said he wasn't satisfied. Both are ready to put that in the past and are focused on UConn.
The weather won't be much help. The forecast shows very cold and rainy.
Harris said it best: "We can't control the weather but we can control our attitude and be mentally and physically ready for the game."
How many other Memphis Tiger football players feel the exact same way?
This game is important to prove that last week was a fluke.
This game is important to show that despite having a more difficult schedule the Tigers won the same amount of games and didn't regress.
This game is important to finishing strong and catapulting this program not only into the right direction but also into next year.
The staff has done a remarkable job of building the foundation for a successful program. You've already seen some of the fruitages of their work. The team practices harder, studies harder, and plays harder.
With that foundation already built the next step is playing smarter. They have shown small glimpses of that this year.
If they can put it all together and beat UConn they will go into the offseason with momentum. That momentum will make next year not a rebuilding year but a rebranding year.
Yes. Rebranding this Memphis program as a winning team, a bowl team. In all honesty, quite possibly a conference championship contending team. The Tigers showed in all those close early losses that they could compete with anybody in the AAC.
Which was the mirage: the tough, close losses against superior competition or the blow-out loss to a (now) two-win Temple team?
Saturday in Connecticut, we will get the answer.
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