VOL. 129 | NO. 173 | Friday, September 5, 2014
The Press Box
Tigers Look for Hollywood Script
By Don Wade
The Memphis Tigers and their long-suffering fans were excited. Who could blame them?
For the list of things we should never take for granted in Memphis includes low humidity, years without city elections, and wins by the local college football enterprise.
So a 63-0 victory over helpless Austin Peay to start the football season, breaking a nine-year streak of losing the season’s first game, is a big deal around here.
“It looks good on the scoreboard and for the program,” cornerback Bobby McCain said.
Sure it does. But the accomplishment doesn’t necessarily travel well. Saturday night, Sept. 6, the Tigers will be in Los Angeles to play No. 11 UCLA. It’s not exactly the talk of the town.
“UCLA plays Memphis this week,” a Los Angeles Times blogger wrote. “So it’s never too soon to look ahead to Texas (Sept. 13).”
That was just a warm-up. The blogger later said, “You go to Memphis for ribs, not big-time football.”
Can’t believe he didn’t work in a shot at Elvis.
Still, reality requires a certain amount of fact-facing. Austin Peay last won a football game in November of 2012. The Tigers were 3-9 last season.
You don’t take last week’s win off the scoreboard, but you don’t read anything into it unless you tilt toward science fiction.
“I hadn’t won a game by this (much) since high school,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch said.
The hope here: After Saturday’s game, he’s not saying the last time he lost a game by this much was in Pop Warner League.
The Bruins were No. 7 in the preseason polls, but slid to No. 11 after their 28-20 victory over Virginia in which the defense scored three touchdowns and quarterback and Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley had more fumbles (two) than TD passes (0).
UCLA had a makeshift offensive line against Virginia and it showed: five sacks, four false starts and just 116 yards rushing. The line will be less than full strength against the Tigers, but no doubt second-stringers at UCLA would have no trouble starting at Memphis.
Although Lynch threw just one pick last Saturday, the Tigers continued their tradition of fumbling; they were just fortunate to recover three of their four fumbles.
“If we fumble against (them), they’re going to pick it up and take it back for a touchdown,” said Memphis coach Justin Fuente, who understands the impending challenge better than anyone.
Fuente wants to push the pace on offense this season and against Austin Peay the Tigers ran 82 plays and were sometimes snapping the ball before the Governors could get lined up. Their play count figures to be far lower this week, but Lynch insists, “The pace is gonna stay the same no matter who we play.”
The Tigers may have discovered an additional offensive asset in 250-pound freshman running back Jarvis Cooper, who entered in the fourth quarter and finished with 101 yards and a touchdown on just eight get-the-hell-out-of-my-way carries.
But Lynch’s 242 passing yards was the second-highest total of his career. So let’s not kid ourselves. If Memphis is to be competitive in this game, then a defense that last season ranked 12th nationally against the run, allowing 116.3 yards per game, is going to have to be stout and force some turnovers.
There probably isn’t any path to a Tigers’ victory, but if there is a path to staying in the game for a least a half it goes through the defense; this must be a low-scoring game.
Senior running back Brandon Hayes has watched the ESPN special on Appalachian State’s miraculous 34-32 upset of No. 5 Michigan in 2007. He shoves away the score of their rematch last week – Michigan 52-14 – and in his own mind has changed the names of the winner and the loser from 2007 and pushed the year forward to 2014.
“It’s an attainable goal,” Hayes said. “Anybody’s beatable on any given day.”
Certainly the venue can’t hurt. Hollywood knows how to make a movie based on a true story.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.