Tigers Tackle Pass-Oriented Mustangs Saturday

Oct. 18, 2013

A. Gaines

  Game 4: Memphis (1-2) vs UCF (3-1) Saturday, October 19 - 11:00 a.m. CT | Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

 Memphis Tigers (1-4, 0-2 The American)
 SMU Mustangs (1-4, 0-1 The American)
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Both SMU and Memphis will vie for their first American Athletic Conference victory when the two teams square off in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Kickoff is slated for 11 Saturday morning. The game is the ESPN Regional American Game of the Week and can be seen locally on Comcast channel 30 as well as nationally on SNY (DirecTV channel 639) and MASN (DirecTV channel 640) as well as local affiliates throughout the country (CLICK HERE for list). The game is also available online at ESPN3 as well as the WatchESPN.com app and Game Plan. 

Saturday's game is also slated for broadcast locally on Memphis' flagship WREC 600. In addition to an online stream of the radio broadcast through GoTigersGo.com's All-Access link, the game can also be heard on WJAK-AM 1460 in Jackson and WAMB-AM 1160 in Nashville. 

Memphis (1-4 overall) has opened conference play 0-2 while SMU (1-4) is coming off a 55-52, triple-overtime loss to Rutgers in its inaugural American game. SMU is the second straight opponent which plays the Tigers after a bye week. Houston defeated Memphis 25-15 last week after its October bye week. 

SMU has lost its last three games. The Mustangs' four losses include Big 12 schools Texas Tech (41-23), Texas A&M (42-13) and TCU (48-17). 

"They have played some different style teams," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said of the SMU squad. "Rutgers on offense is a lot different than A&M and Texas Tech on offense. They have done a good job of adapting to the different styles they've played against. 

"In my opinion, I feel like there's a whole bunch of teams that are about the same. Whether you're 1-4 or 4-1 in this league, there appears to me that there is a bunch of teams in it every week." 

SMU's staff includes two of the most well-known offensive coaches. Hal Mumme, who engineered the Air Raid offense, joined the Mustang staff last spring as the passing game coordinator for head coach June Jones, the curator of the Run `n' Shoot. 

Mumme's offense is known for stretching the field horizontally while Jones' offense focuses on vertically moving the ball. 

The marriage of styles has paid off as SMU leads the American Athletic Conference and ranks seventh in the nation in passing yards (361.2 yards per game).  All told, the Mustangs are averaging 447 yards per game. 

"We're going to go play a team that throws it all over the yard," Fuente said. "Coach Jones is well documented as a proponent of the forward pass. He brought in Hal Mumme who knows a thing or two about throwing it around as well. It will be a great challenge for us defensively." 

SMU senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert ranks second in the nation in completions per game (34.0), third in passing yards (355 ypg) and fifth in total offense (370.6). Mustang receivers Darius Joseph and Jeremy Johnson are first (10.4) and third (9.8) respectively in catches per game nationally while Keenan Holman rates fifth in The American with 5.2 catches per game. 

Fuente said of Gilbert, "He's a much better athlete I think than anybody else ever really talks about. I know he's thrown for a bunch of yards and I don't know what his actual rushing numbers are with a few sacks thrown in there. When he does run the ball, he's a good athlete. He's a big, strong kid that moves around pretty well." 

Memphis' defense, which enters the week ranked 11th nationally in yards allowed (305.2), will certainly be challenged this week by the Mustangs' offense. But over the last four games, Memphis' defense has held its opponents to just 54 percent of their total offense averages going into their game against the Tigers. 

"We knew that we had an opportunity to be pretty solid defensively before the season started," Fuente said. "We've got a bunch of juniors and seniors that have been playing pretty well. They've done a good job of answering the bell. The neat thing about this is you face all these different styles that produce different matchups and different problems for you - how can you adjust your personal and style to match those. 

"We certainly have a different challenge this week but it's been really good for us that the defense has played as good as they have." 

Linebackers Anthony Brown and Tank Jakes have each recorded 30 total tackles to lead the Tigers' defense. Defensive end Martin Ifedi has added 29 tackles including 10 for lost yardage. 

SMU's defense ranks 15th nationally, averaging 7.8 tackles for lost yardage but the Mustangs have allowed 40 points or more in each of its four losses. At 43.2 points per game, SMU ranks near the bottom of the NCAA statistics in scoring defense. 

The Tigers will certainly look to improve on their 18.4 points per game scoring average. 

Memphis is converting just 70 percent of the time in the red zone. The Tigers have just eight, red zone touchdowns through their first 20 opportunities inside the 20-yard line. Freshman place kicker Jake Elliott has added eight field goals on Tiger drives which have stalled inside the 20. 

"We've gone back and looked at everything we've done in the red zone and how people are playing," Fuente said. "It comes down to some pretty fundamental things - execution and ability to run the ball in the right gap when that opportunity presents itself. There's no doubt you have to get the ball in the end zone. I'm awfully happy that Jake is knocking them through but I would prefer that he kick PATs. 

Elliott on the year is 10-for-10 kicking field goals and has scored 38 total points to lead the Tigers. The rookie is coming off a 5-for-5 field goal game at Houston. He was named a "Star of the Week" by college football's top kicking award, the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award. 

Memphis' special teams also includes Ray Guy Award candidate Tom Hornsey who earlier this week was named a Midseason All-America First-Team selection by CBSSports.com and Phil Steele's national publication. 

Hornsey is currently averaging 47 yards per punt which ranks third nationally. Memphis' 45.13 net yards per punt leads the country. 

Following Saturday's game, Memphis will have 10 days to prepare for the second game in the team's current three-game home stand, a midweek nationally-televised contest against Cincinnati (Oct. 30th).



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