Memphis Closes Out Nonconference Play at Duke
Sept. 21, 2012
For the first time in the schools' history, Memphis and Duke will meet on the gridiron as the programs begin a home-and-home series Saturday evening in Durham, N.C. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. Eastern Time/5 p.m. Central and will be broadcast on the Memphis Radio Network and flagship station WREC 600 as well as streamed online by ESPN3.
Heading into the final nonconference game of the season, the Tigers are in search of their first win after starting the year 0-3. Last week the Tigers turned the ball over four times which led to 24 Middle Tennessee points as MTSU posted a 48-30 win.
Duke has averaged 50 points per contest in its two games played at home at Wallace Wade Stadium. Last week's 54-17 win over North Carolina Central allowed the Blue Devils to improve their record to 2-1. The team's only setback was a 50-13 loss at nationally-ranked Stanford two weeks ago.
Memphis head coach Justin Fuente the Blue Devils will pose challenges for the Tigers.
"They are going to be the biggest team we've played so far," he said. "The facts of the matter are they are going to be a big, physical unit. We'll try to capitalize on some advantages we have or may not have. We'll definitely have to do everything we can to match the physicality of the game."
In last week's win over N.C. Central, Duke quarterback Sean Renfree became the fastest Blue Devil to reach 7,000 passing yards. This year the senior signal qualifier has completed 73-of-104 passes for 764 yards and five touchdowns.
Duke has played three quarterbacks in every game this season. Sophomore Anthony Boone has completed 15-of-24 passes for 156 yards and a score. Sophomore Brandon Connette has also taken a more active role in the Blue Devils' offense.
Sophomore receiver Jamison Crowder leads Duke with 23 receptions for 298 yards while senior Conner Vernon enters game four of his senior season with 21 receptions for 280 yards. Vernon leads all FBS receivers in both career receptions and career receiving yards. He has 219 career receptions for 2,955 yards.
With Desmond Scott's 18 receptions for 138 yards, Duke has three of the ACC's top six receivers.
While the Blue Devils are averaging 313 yards passing this season, the team does not have a player who has rushed the ball 20 times or more and is averaging just 91 yards on the ground.
Earlier this week Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell earned the ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors following a six-tackle, two-interception performance against North Carolina Central. Cockrell has registered 16 tackles and is the nation's co-leader in pass defended with nine (3 interceptions and 6 pass breakups). As well as ranks tied for third in interceptions with three.
Senior safety Walt Canty leads the Blue Devils with 27 tackles.
Saturday's game will be the Tigers' first true road trip after the squad traveled game day to Arkansas State earlier this month and playing on the road is something Fuente wants his team to embrace.
"Sometimes it's a little easier to focus on the road," he said. "There's less distractions. You're there for strictly business. I like playing at the Liberty Bowl and having our fans, but I want our guys to get to the point where we relish in the fact that we're the only ones there."
The Tigers are coming off a home loss in which the team had two, 100-yard receivers for the first time since 2007. Senior Marcus Rucker caught 10 passes for 177 yards against Middle Tennessee, marking one of the Top 10 receiving performances in FBS football this season. Additionally, sophomore Keiwone Malone caught 10 passes for 102 yards.
Following a 325-yard passing game against Middle Tennessee, the Tigers are averaging 212 yards per game through the air along with 138 yards rushing.
Junior quarterback Jacob Karam has completed 52-of-89 passes for 636 yards and five touchdowns. He is also the team's second-leading rusher with 89 net rushing yards.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Charles Harris is averaging 11 tackles per game to rank tied for 11th nationally. Harris has 33 tackles on the season. Junior safety Lonnie Ballentine has registered 31 tackles and has two interceptions on the year.
The Tigers' special teams includes a punting unit which is averaging 45.64 net yards (fourth in the nation) and leads FBS football in punt return yardage defense (-2.25).
Following Saturday's game, Memphis will have an open week before returning to action Oct. 6 to play host to Rice in the Tigers' Conference USA opener. Duke opens ACC play next week at Wake Forest.