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October 19, 2013
Offense Struggles with Tigers' Season in the Balance
On a cool rainy day in Memphis, hardcore fans still came out to show support for the Memphis Tigers football team in their game against SMU. Coach Justin Fuente and his team were looking for their first win in conference play, but once again they fell short.
The surprise was not simply the fact they lost, it was how horribly the offense started the game.
Like Memphis, SMU was trying to nail down their first win of the season in conference play. Both teams came into the contest with a 1-4 overall record. Before the end of the second quarter, SMU jumped out to a 31-3 record with incredible ease.
Thanks to Garret Gilbert, who ended the day passing for 321 yards while also running for 49 along with tossing two touchdowns, the Mustangs had no problem moving the ball down the field.
The Memphis offense, in stark contrast, struggled once again and a slow start is never good for any football team.
Thanks to freshman kicker Jake Elliot, the Tigers were not shut out in the firsthalf. Their three points came on a 52-yard field goal in the first quarter, the second-longest in school history.
When the field goal kicker is the only highlight of the first half, your offense is in trouble.
The running game was not effective. Senior Brandon Hayes rushed for 65 yards on 16 attempts. Freshman Sam Craft rushed for 26 yards on four carries. No one else did anything on the ground worth mentioning, though Marquis Warford managed 22 yards on seven carries, just 3.1 yards per pop.
The offensive line just is not opening up enough holes for the backs to get through. The running game hasn't been good since the Arkansas State win. There is plenty of size and strength up front but the Tigers can never seem to get a cohesive effort and the o-line is plagued by blown assignments.
Also, Paxton Lynch has to run for his life on almost every snap. If Lynch didn't have his running ability, he would have been placed on the shelf earlier in the season.
Saturday against SMU, Lynch threw for 198 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His stats didn't come alive until the fourth quarter when the Mustangs felt the game was over with.
With the Tigers finishing with just 320 total yards on offense and just two offensive TDs, it is fair to say that the offense was the reason for the loss.
After this crushing defeat, the offense needs some sort of identity. The play-calling is still iffy and there's no telling when they will finally find some rhythm. Someone has to start pointing the blame at the offensive coordinator, Darrell Dickey, for the plays the offense is running.
How many times will Memphis run a screen play on third down to kill a rally? Anybody who scouts Memphis knows the Tigers are going to throw screens, so nobody is fooled when they inevitably run one.
Even though this team is young, the talent is there. Fuente knows what kind of receivers, running backs and quarterback he has out there. Yet it looks as if the offense is having a hard time due to them not being on the same page with the coordinator.
If the offense doesn't get itself together really quickly, Memphis will not win another game.
The receivers were clueless on the line of scrimmage. Tevin Jones, in particular, seems lost on every play. He didn't have a single catch in Saturday's game. The clock is ticking on when (and if) Jones will finally break out.
There was one play when he was supposed to block for his teammate, Joe Craig, on an option play and Jones was just standing there. With Jones' frame, he has the ability to do other things on the field besides catch the football. Now is the time to start doing them.
Fans have not seen what he's really capable of doing, but if he continues with the subpar performances, Mose Frazier, Keiwone Malone and even Daniel Hurd will continue to siphon away snaps from Jones.
With the ugliness that took place on the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers couldn't pull this one out, losing 34-29. Their late heroics came from the defense, special teams, one touchdown pass from Lynch and a running touchdown by Hayes, but it still wasn't enough to get a win.
When you score 19 points in the fourth quarter at home and still lose, it shows just how terribly you played in the first three quarters.
The Tigers are now 1-5 overall with a 0-3 conference record. So the million dollar question looms: Is it time to throw the "Piano Man," Jacob Karam, into the lineup to save the day for the Tigers?
I say: Absolutely not.
People talk about Jacob's mobility, but really, Karam is not as mobile as Lynch is. Karam's footwork is subpar and he couldn't outrun a defensive lineman for a first down if his life depended on it. Karam escapes sack, true, but he's slow. We shouldn't confuse escapability--being able to make people miss when in close quarters--for being fast.
Also, Karam is not as good of a passer as Lynch. Paxton has a big-time arm, NFL-caliber. Plus, Lynch can make passes in the pocket or break outside the pocket to pass on the run. He's had plenty of chances to prove that as his o-line has continually failed him.
In Saturday's game, both quarterbacks could have been used, but Lynch should remain the starter for next week's game.
Lynch is still learning the ropes at the collegiate level. Most of the skill players on offense are either freshmen or in their first year contributing on the D-I level and are trying to figure out what to do. Things can get better for them as the season rolls along.
They take one week off before continuing their homestand against Cincinnati. Their entire season hangs in the balance.