Record: 3-3 (1-2)
8/30 - Lost AT Ole Miss (41-24)
9/6 - Lost to Rice (42-35)
9/13 - Lost AT Marshall (17-16)
9/20 - Won vs. Nicholls State (31-10)
9/27 - Won vs. Arkansas State (29-17)
10/2 - Won AT UAB (33-30)
Total Offense: 462.67 ypg (16th in nation)
Total Defense: 373.67 ypg (79th in nation)
The Tigers have scored at least 24 points in all but one of their six games, and are coming off perhaps their best offensive output of the season in a 33-30 win at UAB.
The man who may deserve the most credit for that level of production is quarterback Arkelon Hall. Hall, a dual threat junior college transfer, is hitting on just under 60% of his pass attempts, and has gone over the 350-yard mark twice. He's a big kid with a big arm who still struggles with decision making from time-to-time, but he's a natural playmaker, which is part of the reason you'll see a great deal of shotgun from U of M tomorrow night. The Cards have to approach Hall with the same mindset they adopted for Josh Freeman: make him prove he can make the simple throw consistently, do not allow yourselves to get beat by a handful of big plays.
The other major reason Memphis can currently lay claim to the 19th best passing attack in the country is that it possesses the deepest core of receivers U of L will have seen to date.
Junior Carlos Singleton can call Josh Chichester in height (6-8) and raise him in polish and production. Hall's favorite target leads the team with 33 receptions for 522 yards, and is coming off a five catch, 123 yard, one touchdown performance in last weekend's big victory. He caught 11 balls for 158 yards in the week three loss at Marshall. Senior Maurice Jones (6-4, 215) has been quiet during the winning streak, but showed how explosive he can be earlier this season when he went off for 173 yards and two scores against Rice. It was the second best performance ever by a Tiger receiver. Duke Calhoun (6-4, 200) is a versatile playmaker who holds the Tiger record for most consecutive games with a reception, and despite his relative lack of size, senior Earnest Williams (6-0, 195) leads the team with five touchdown grabs.
The depth and talent of this receiving corps allows offensive coordinator Clay Helton to stick Hall in the gun, spread the field and have some fun. This is going to be yet another enormous test for the still inexperienced Cardinal linebackers. Whether it's shadowing Hall or trying to keep up with a talented wideout, each is going to be hit with tough assignment after tough assignment for four quarters.
Falling behind in games early in the season left Memphis with some pretty appalling rushing statistics after three weeks, but the offense has been considerably more balanced since the Marshall loss, and the ground game statistics have improved accordingly.
Leading the charge is junior tailback Curtis Steele, who has broken the 100-yard mark in every game during the winning streak, and who went for 203 yards and a score in the win over Arkansas State. Senior backup Charlie Jones missed the UAB game with a high ankle sprain, but Tiger head coach Tommy West says he could return to the field on Friday. Jones leads the team with six touchdowns. Last year's leading rusher, T.J. Pitt, has not played since breaking his ankle in last December's New Orleans Bowl, but did practice for the first time this week. He's not expected to play against U of L. The only other item of note here is that the UM running backs very rarely have any role in the passing game.
The Memphis offensive line has been hampered by injuries throughout the season, but still boasts four senior starters. Right tackle Brandon Pearce is the standout and a Draddy Trophy semifinalist.
The Memphis defense has been woefully inadequate when it comes to stopping the run (170.5 ypg), which is good news for a Cardinal ground assault currently ranking 18th in the nation.
The Tigers run a basic 4-3, and on film their linebackers appear to be slow and frequently out-of-position. The unit has been especially susceptible to the delayed draw, a play Victor Anderson has molded into big gains multiple times thus far this season. When you play a 4-3, it's generally not a good sign when three of your four leading tacklers are defensive backs.
Middle linebacker Winston Bowens missed nearly all of last season because of injuries, but has returned and become one of the leaders of the defense. His three tackles for loss are tied for team-best. Sophomore outside linebacker Jeremy Longstreet made his first career start against Nicholls State after Greg Jackson was handed a three-game suspension, and responded with a team-high 12 tackles. He currently ranks tied for third on the squad with 33 stops. Junior Josh Weaver (18 tackles, .5 sacks) completes the unit.
The Tiger defender the Cardinal offensive line has undoubtedly spent the most time preparing for is senior defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who has already notched seven sacks, putting him two ahead of the entire Louisville team and tied for the national lead. Fellow D-linemen Corey Mills, Freddie Barnett and Jada Brown have combined for an additional 6.5 sacks.
The Memphis secondary has played predominantly man to this point, a trend that's unlikely to be altered tomorrow. The unit is allowing just over 203 yards per game through the air (61st in the country), and has intercepted only three passes.
Junior strong safety Alton Starr leads the team in total tackles with 37, just four more than free safety Brandon Patterson and cornerback D.A. Griffin. Only 5.5 of those tackles were made behind the line of scrimmage, meaning the defensive backs' gaudy numbers are largely the product of the inability of the seven men in front of them to bring down opposing ball carriers. Cornerback Deante' Lamar has made just 16 tackles, but is tied for the team lead in pass breakups with three.
It's safe to say that Tommy West can't relate to Steve Karthorpe when it comes to woes in the kicking game. With starting placekicker Matt Reagan sitting out the past two games with a hip flexor, true freshman walk-on Vinny Zaccario has stepped in and connected on all five of his field goal attempts, including the last-second game-winner against UAB. Senior punter Brent Sutherland is among the best in Conference USA, averaging over 42 yards a boot.
Like Louisville, the Tigers have been woeful on kickoff returns, averaging just 16.79 yards per return, good for 114th best in the nation (still three spots ahead of the Cards). They haven't fared much better on punts, averaging just 7.25 yards per return (78th best).