Opponent Breakdown: Memphis State Tigers

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Fuente brings his top-15 defense to Louisville for Senior Day hoping his offense can somehow get a few scores against Louisville's top ranked defense.

Memphis football is a far cry from what it was when DeAngelo Williams was running wild years ago. The program has struggled over the last handful of years after deciding to change head coaches. Justin Fuente was brought in last year and he has already shown the ability to make some positive changes on the field. The Tigers have a top ranked defense and Fuente has been able to land a handful of hidden gems on the recruiting trail.

OFFENSE:

Fuente and his staff brought a really exciting offensive system to Memphis when he was hired two years ago. The problem is that the offense didn't come with built in talent. The Tigers have struggled mightily with being able to move the ball consistently. Third downs and passing in general have been lacking all season and Fuente hasn't been able to find a fix.

Paxton Lynch will be the third straight freshman quarterback that Louisville will face. Lynch is a huge kid at 6-6 and he actually has some running ability. Memphis runs a true spread offense with read option as well as quick throws. They don't run no-huddle like Houston but they will empty the backfield and spread sideline to sideline.

Lynch makes all of the mistakes you expect a freshman to make. He tends to be inaccurate over the middle of the field. He doesn't do a great job going through his progressions. He also tends to make a big play here and there that make you understand why he's in the game in the first place. Lynch will have to play his best game this weekend as I fully expect Louisville to bring tons of blitzes all game long.

The Tigers have been forced to run the ball a lot this year with the struggles of the passing game. Brandon Hayes has done really well running against stacked fronts this year. Memphis has a somewhat similar approach to offense as Louisville. They know their defense is good enough to hold people for the most part, so they focus on running the ball and trying to control the clock as best they can. Louisville hasn't allowed much running room this year so it will be interesting to see if the Memphis spread runs will cause issues for them. It's a different look than any team has really given this year and it could prove to be effective against the pressure defense.

Memphis doesn't have much going for them outside. I compare this offense in general to USF's because they have a good amount of talent, but they struggle to get the ball out to their talent. Lynch has a ton of guys that he has spread the ball around to this year. The issue is that none of those guys have become "x-factors". When you have a young quarterback it is necessary to have at least one guy that can consistently get open and make plays. We all saw just how flustered John O'Korn looked without Deontay Greenberry last week. Lynch relies on Joe Craig to be his go to guy. Craig isn't even averaging 10 yards per catch for the season.

The offensive line is enormous. And slow. Not a good combination. Memphis has given up far too many sacks for a team that doesn't throw the ball down the field very much. Louisville's speed should cause big issues for a line that just doesn't move very well.

KEY PLAYERS: QB Paxton Lynch, RB Brandon Hayes

DEFENSE:

I know it will be hard for some of our fans to believe, but Memphis has the best defense on UofL's schedule so far this year. They excel at just about everything they're asked to do and they have the depth to stay pretty fresh throughout the game. Louisville likes to grind people as much as possible but they will have trouble against a defense that only allows 3 yards per carry in the run game.

Lets get it out of the way. Martin Ifedi. You will hear his name a lot Saturday. He is having the best season of any AAC defensive lineman not named Marcus Smith. The Tigers run a true 3-4 and, uncharacteristically, Ifedi has gotten a lot of sacks from his defensive end spot. Typically the line for a 3-4 defense is just tasked with holding up blockers so that the linebackers are able to make as many plays as possible. Ifedi is super active, however, and makes plays in the backfield routinely. Ricky Hunter and Terry Redden join Ifedi and all three do a good job of getting past blocks to make plays.

Memphis linebackers all have one thing in common. None of them do much to help defend the pass. 3-4 defenses are known for creative blitzes and confusing short zone pass coverages. Memphis' second level doesn't really do either very well. The one weakness of the defense is it's pass coverage, but a lot of that stems from the middle of the field being open. Louisville has been less than stellar over the last few weeks when trying to get the ball over the middle with the pass. This could be the week that we see that change. Facing a stout run defense will more than likely force Louisville to try to exploit this group.

The Tigers have two of the better defensive backs in the league in Lonnie Ballentine and Bobby McCain. Ballentine is a jumbo safety that can run pretty well. He likes to fly up in run support and he brings all 220+ pounds with him. McCain is a cover corner and he is an absolute ball hawk. Pulling down 6 interceptions is a good season for anyone. Pulling that off while missing two games is pretty extraordinary. Throw in the fact that he's returned two for touchdowns and you're looking at a guy that should get plenty of consideration for defensive player of the year. I honestly think we will see Teddy and the offense open up the passing game this week. Mostly out of necessity, but also because Memphis isn't great at causing turnovers. McCain is far more the exception as opposed to the rule for the Tigers.

KEY PLAYERS: DE Martin Ifedi, DE Ricky Hunter, WLB Tank Jakes (Listed as 2nd team for some reason), CB Bobby McCain, FS Lonnie Ballentine

Notes

  • Justin Fuente is the 6th youngest coach in the country.
  • Justin Fuente is the 2nd youngest coach UofL has faced this year.
  • Memphis has lost its six games by an average of 8.5 points per game.
  • There's no way to really prove this, but Memphis has the best Kicker/Punter combo in the country.
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