The Wait is Over
Aug. 29, 2014
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After a three week preseason camp, along with a week of game preparation, the 2014 football season has finally arrived for the University of Memphis Tigers. The season kicks off Saturday night at 6 p.m. when the U of M plays host to Austin Peay in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Saturday's opener will be streamed online via ESPN3 and WatchESPN.com. Memphis' flagship WREC 600 will have the call of the game with its pregame show beginning at 4 p.m. live from Tiger Lane. In addition to an online stream of the radio broadcast through GoTigersGo.com's All-Access link, the game can also be heard in Jackson on WJAK-AM 1460 and in Nashville on WNQM-AM 1300.
Both Memphis coach Justin Fuente and Austin Peay coach Kirby Cannon, who enter their third and second years respectively rebuilding programs, said this week that Saturday's game will serve as a gauge of where their programs and personnel currently are after four weeks of practices.
"We have reached a point, like a lot of teams, right now we have to play a game to really know where our strengths and weaknesses are and where to take the team from there," Cannon said this week.
Fuente also spoke of the anticipation of watching the Tigers play.
"I'm going to judge our guys on the way we execute, how we handle adversity and how we play," he said. "There will be game situations for guys that have never been out there before. I want to see us execute and be a disciplined football team. We will let the rest take care of itself."
Austin Peay's last winning season was in 2007. In the six seasons prior to Cannon being named the program's head coach, the Governors were 13-42. Cannon's 2013 team played three FBS opponents including back-to-back games at Tennessee and Vanderbilt to open the season and struggled through an 0-12 year.
This year's Austin Peay team is young, with 41 newcomers on its 87-player roster.
The inexperience includes the quarterback position where the Governors have no player with collegiate experience from last year. Cannon singled out the position earlier in the week as one in which they will be looking at development.
Junior Trey Taylor, who played at Germantown's Houston High School, has been tabbed the Govs' starter after sitting out last season following a transfer from Central Arkansas. Taylor was the 2010 Liberty Bowl All-Star Game's most valuable player.
Also expected to see playing time is rookie Darrien Boone who transferred to APSU after redshirting last year as a true freshman at Central Michigan.
"We are anxious to see how (Taylor) handles the situation," Cannon said. "We also have plans to play Darrian Boone who is a transfer from Central Michigan that I had recruited out of high school. He is very athletic and gives us a certain athleticism at that position that many of our other quarterbacks do not."
Offensively, tailback Rashaan Coleman is one of the Governors' most experienced offensive skill players. He led the team in receptions with 30 for 214 yards and ranked fourth on the team with 17 rushing attempts for 109 yards.
Defensively, Austin Peay returns its leading tackler from last season, Jonathan Shuler, who had 76 tackles including five for loss in 2013. Sophomore linebacker Antonio Turner moved into the Governors' starting lineup midway through his freshman season last year and averaged 8.7 tackles per game over the Govs' last seven games.
Memphis is coming off a 3-9 season. The Tigers have a multitude of players with starting experience.
Sophomore Paxton Lynch is expected to become the first starter at quarterback for consecutive season openers since Arkelon Hall in 2008 and 2009. Lynch started all 12 games last year, completing 203-of-349 passes for 2,056 yards and nine touchdowns. The pass yard total marked just the 10th time in school history a quarterback had passed for 2,000+ yards.
Since 2005, Memphis has started 15 different players at quarterback.
For Lynch, the depth chart at the wide receiver position, consists of six targets who all have experience as starters. Joe Craig (37 receptions for 338 yards), Sam Craft (31-337) and Keiwone Malone (25-311) ranked one through three in receiving last year for the Tigers.
Memphis also returns its leading rusher from a year ago as Brandon Hayes received a waiver for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Hayes, who suffered through a pair of injuries early in his playing career, was the team's most valuable player last year. He rushed for 860 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.
The starting five on the offensive line includes returning starters Al Bond and Taylor Fallin at the tackle positions. The interior offensive line includes newcomers Tyler Uselton (left guard) and Gabe Kuhn (center) while sophomore Michael Stannard (right guard) is coming off a redshirt year. The depth on the line includes three additional players with starting experience - Tony Mays II, Micah Simmons and Nykiren Wellington.
Headed by two-time, season leading tackler Charles Harris, who is coming off a 74-tackle year in 2013, the Tigers return its top four tacklers from a year ago and 12 of its top 15 tacklers from a year ago.
Senior Martin Ifedi is on just about every watch list open to defensive ends and goes into Saturday's season opener needing just one quarterback sack to tie the school career record. Ifedi has 20 sacks for his career.
Senior Terry Redden anchors the defensive line at nose tackle while freshman Ernest Suttles has earned a starting spot. Jackson Dillon, who started the last eight games last year at the DAWG, or boundary linebacker position, returns. In addition to Harris, the Tigers return linebackers Tank Jakes, who finished with 71 tackles, and Ryan Coleman, who had 60 tackles.
McCain was the NCAA's co-leader in interceptions per game last year. He had six picks in nine games played last year. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
"Some of our kids have been in the program for three years now. They know what to expect and how things operate," Fuente said. "The key for us is an internal battle. Can we do the things that good programs do on a daily basis? That is very easy and very difficult to accomplish.
"Can we continue to be a selfless football team? Do we have a group of men that want to be great teammates? Can we adhere to a set of principles that we've used as the foundation of our program on a daily basis? We're getting more and more guys who understand that and understand how important that is."
"We want to get a chance to develop those young kids and new starters. We want to be competitive and do everything we can to win the ball game but we have some other goals within the game. While winning is at the top, program development and getting our players at the point where they can compete against an OVC-level school is also one of those goals." - Austin Peay head coach Kirby Cannon.