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VOL. 129 | NO. 151 | Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tigers’ Progression Dependent on Solid Defense

By Don Wade

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When the Tigers’ 3-9 season was done, there were not a lot of statistics to point to with pride. But the University of Memphis did finish the 2013 college football season ranked 12th nationally against the run, and a respectable 39th nationally in total defense.

Senior defensive end Martin Ifedi, who led the Tigers last year with 11.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, is on several preseason award watch lists and anchors the 2014 Memphis defense.

(Joe Murphy)

This year eight seniors are expected to start on defense, including 6-3, 275-pound end Martin Ifedi, who is on several preseason national award watch lists, and cornerback Bobby McCain, who intercepted six passes last season and returned two for touchdowns.

“I believe we can be one of the top five defenses in the nation,” said Ifedi, who a year ago led the Tigers with 14.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks (second all-time in school history). “We have to live up to our potential as a defense, finish better than we did last year.”

Said McCain: “We want to be the best. We put a heavy burden on our shoulders, knowing we’re going to have to lead the team. We like that monkey on our back.”

Barry Odom is back for his third year as defensive coordinator under third-year head coach Justin Fuente. After the Tigers ranked 117th in total defense in 2011, allowing 491 yards per game, they improved to 50th nationally in 2012 (383.58 yards per game). Last year, they surrendered 370.7 yards per game.

McCain doesn’t talk about finishing top five in the country in total defense; he says they want to be No. 1.

“We feel like we’re capable of doing that,” he said. “The way things are set up with coach Odom, he’s very aggressive. He gives a lot of calls that are turnover savvy. If we execute the way we’re supposed to, everybody in the right spot, it works in our favor.

“You can call it gambling, you can call it taking risks,” McCain said. “We’ll send an all-out blitz when maybe some people wouldn’t. Being aggressive is key.”

Aggressive, yes. Reckless, no.

“At my position, I gotta stay in the gap,” nose tackle Terry Redden said. “It’s fundamentals for me.”

For all of them, says Fuente.

“Don’t be afraid to be aggressive, but doing your own thing is another thing,” Fuente said. “Making sure your assignment is sound is your first responsibility to everybody else. We’re not going to have 11 guys doing 11 different things.”

When Ifedi talks about doing a better job of finishing, he’s not just speaking of games and a season. Rather, he’s talking about holding strong during a drive and completing every play, every assignment.

“The little things will get you beat,” he said. “It’s a very thin line between winning and losing. If you let those little things slide during practice, it’ll show up during the games.”

The Tigers open at home on Aug. 30 with Austin Peay, but get a significant test the next weekend when they play at UCLA. And also on Sept. 27 when they will play at Ole Miss.

“College football is wide open anyway,” Redden said. “You hope to surprise everybody. Whether it’s Austin Peay or UCLA, we’re gonna play our best.”

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