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December 2, 2013

Focus shifts to UConn

The Memphis Tigers had been in every game it had played this season. Under head coach Justin Fuente, the Tigers have made major improvements and hadn't had a game where they were thoroughly outplayed until Saturday's shocking 41-21 loss to the Temple Owls at home.

From start to finish, the Owls took it to Memphis in a game where the Tigers saw themselves regress from what they had been doing.

As much as it hurt, Memphis is going to have to put the performance out of its mind quickly as the team travels to the Connecticut Huskies this weekend to close out the year.

"By and large, we've responded pretty well," Fuente said. "I just think that it's a combination of several factors. We're not mature enough to handle it obviously. We obviously didn't have the leadership to the point to overcome it. I think that's not disputable. And then ultimately, we didn't play well, so I think it's several things."

The Tigers are going to have to play much better this weekend against a Huskies team that started the year 0-9 (0-5 American Athletic Conference), but has won their last two games over Temple and Rutgers.

Even with its last two games, UConn is 116th nationally in total offense (298.6 YPG), including a miserable 119th in rushing at 85.3 YPG. But, the Tigers defense got gashed on the ground against the Owls, so it is going to need to have a good week in practice and return to what we have grown accustomed to.

Could Memphis have overlooked the Owls because of their record? It's possible. But, the Tigers aren't looking at the Huskies' record as an indicator of how good they are.

"They've won their last two ball games and got their quarterback (Casey Cochran) back," Fuente said. "We're playing up there with all sorts of elements that can occur up there in that part of the country this time of the year. We'll have to block all that out and be ready to play. That's a fact that it's going to be chilly, but we've got to go play."

The Tigers offense has been almost just as bad, ranking 113th nationally in total offense (316.5 YPG). UConn hasn't been too bad on the defensive side of the ball and has kept the Huskies in several games this year. Once again, it seems as though it is going to come down to which team's offense can execute better and make more plays.

There's no doubt that last week's loss to Temple was disappointing, but Fuente knows that it is important that his team finish strong and not let that loss make for a negative ending on the 2013 year.

"This game presents a unique set of challenges, coming off some disappointment, playing on the road and playing in a different climate than we're used to and it's a group of people we've never met and kids we have no familiarity with, so we're going to have to get ready for it. We're gonna take a group of guys that is ready for it."

This also the last game for 15 seniors, so Fuente wants to send them off right, but said he is going to challenge everyone on the team to do better in the 2013 finale.

"I'm going to challenge all of them. What I'm getting at is that I'm not going to focus on one group, I'm going to focus on the whole group."

Saturday's game is set for 12 p.m. CT and will be streamed on ESPN3.com.

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