It might be obscured by the record – 1-4 overall, 0-2 in the American Athletic Conference – but the University of Memphis football team has a good defense.
Quarterback Paxton Lynch and the Tigers offense has had its struggles this season.
(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
Good enough that the Tigers are ranked 11th in the country in total defense, allowing an average of 305.2 yards per game in an era in which many teams seem to run – and pass – their way up and down the field at will.
But so far, the offense hasn’t matched the defensive’s results. Memphis beat Arkansas State 31-7, but otherwise has not scored more than 17 points in any other game and is averaging just 12.2 points per game in the four losses.
“It’s harder to hold people to three points and win a game” than it is by winning a shootout, Tigers coach Justin Fuente said.
Memphis’ defense has been especially stingy against the run, allowing an average of 91 yards per game, which ranks 12th nationally. But the Tigers have been plagued by turnovers in their last two losses to Central Florida and Houston.
Last week in the 25-15 loss at Houston, the Tigers held the Cougars to 247 yards total offense and just 38 yards rushing; Houston had been averaging 534 yards of offense per game. The Tigers also hurt their cause with 12 penalties for 86 yards.
Junior defensive end Martin Ifedi leads the Tigers with 10 tackles for loss. His 2.0 average through five games ranks fourth nationally. He also has 6.5 sacks. Ifedi says the Tigers are used to the weekly challenge of playing an offense with a lot of firepower. SMU comes to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium for an 11:08 a.m. kickoff Saturday and head coach June Jones is, always, a big fan of the forward pass.
Though the Mustangs are just 1-4, starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert’s 355 passing yards per game ranks third nationally.
“That’s just college football today,” Ifedi said of the potent passing attack. “It really doesn’t rattle us.”
The Tigers, of course, would like to achieve more balance between the offense and defense. But the offense starts a redshirt freshman at quarterback (Paxton Lynch) and four sophomores. The defense starts all juniors and seniors except for redshirt freshman nose tackle Donald Pennington.
Fuente says the defensive coaches have done a good job preparing the players for each week’s opponent and the ever-changing schemes they will face. But the majority of the credit, he says, has to go to the guys wearing the jerseys and numbers.
“Ultimately, you take your hat off to the way the kids have played,” he said. “Hard, smart, tough. And they’re continuing to get better.”
Ifedi says players are not giving up on the dream they had at the start of the season – getting to at least six wins.
“A bowl game’s still possible,” he said.