Memphis Takes on Tulane Saturday
Nov. 8, 2012
Kickoff for Saturday's game is slated for 6 p.m. at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The game will be broadcast on the Memphis Radio Network and flagship station WREC 600 while video will be streamed on Rice Athletics' web site, GoTigersGo.com, and the site's All-Access link. All-Access is a pay site which streams live events and other content about Memphis Athletics. The site costs $9.95 per month.
The Last Meeting
October 22, 2011
New Orleans, La.
Tulane heads into Saturday's game ranked 32nd nationally in passing offense, averaging 278.78 yards through the air per game. The Green Wave is 2-7 overall but has won two of its last four games which have all been played in conference, starting with a 27-26 win over SMU last month.
The Wave's recent success has paralleled the return of senior quarterback Ryan Griffin from a shoulder injury. In the last four games the Green Wave has completed 64 percent of its passes (107-167) for 1,607 yards. In the three games without Griffin, the Wave threw for just 478 yards on 57-of-125 passing (45.6 percent).
Last week Tulane came back from a 28-10 halftime deficit against Rice, scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter to take a 38-35 lead but a pair of 75-yard drives by the Owls proved to be the difference in a 49-47 Rice victory. Still, in that game Griffin completed 28-of-49 passes for 476 yards and four touchdowns. He has thrown a combined 14 touchdown passes in the last four games.
"(The offense) is playing at a high, high level now," said first-year head coach Curtis Johnson. "I thought the offensive line would gel and come together. I didn't know how soon, but I just knew that they were good enough and they've showed it. The backs are good players, and one thing they do is catch the ball out of the backfield. One of the big things that everybody talked about was the receivers weren't very good here, but I thought they were a good talent. They were kind of like we had at the Saints - job-description guys.
"So when you put it all together and you have a trigger man like Griff who understands it, I thought we had the potential to be very good," said Johnson, a former New Orleans Saints assistant coach. "It was a rocky start. Somebody told me that at one time we were like last in offense and now we're ranked somewhere nationally. That's a credit to those guys."
Junior receiver Ryan Grant is Tulane's leading receiver, catching 42 passes for 834 yards and four touchdowns. Out of the backfield, sophomore running back Rob Kelley has caught 40 passes for 308 yards. He is also the team's leading rusher with 244 yards on 65 carries.
Memphis, which is 1-8 and 1-4 in Conference USA play, is also coming off a game in which it had a comeback fall short.
Last week at Marshall, the Tigers trailed 31-7 before scoring three unanswered touchdowns to get to within one score. However, the Thundering Herd would convert a fourth-down play with a 28-yard touchdown pass en route to a 38-28 win.
Memphis ran a season-high 84 offensive plays in last week's game against Marshall and tallied 372 yards of total offense, the second-most yardage of the season. Both running back Brandon Hayes (22 carries) and Jacob Karam (15 carries) registered career-high rushing attempts as the team accounted for 141 yards on the ground. Karam completed 21-of-31 passes for 170 yards.
The Tigers will look for its running game to continue to make strides this week again a Tulane defense which ranks 118th against the run. The Green Wave is giving up 241.33 yards rushing per game and 491.89 total yards.
"I think Brandon Hayes has been a large part of that," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said of the Tigers' running-game improvement. "He has continued dedication to the craft and continues to work hard. I think Jai (Steib) has finally gotten over the knee injury, gotten in football shape and is finding himself.
"I think we did some things schematically and I think our offensive line has improved," Fuente added. "From where we came from in the spring, they are continuing to get better."
Hayes, a walkon who did not see playing time until the Tigers' fourth game, is now the team's rushing leader with 283 yards on 64 carries. Steib has a team-high 82 rushing attempts for 281 yards.
Both Fuente and Johnson spoke earlier this week about the improvement their teams have made during their first seasons as head coaches.
"We have program goals for the football team. One is for us to achieve team unity and we have done that at times," Fuente said. "I felt like that was going to be a key for us, taking a fairly segmented group of people and bringing them together. The other thing is to make sure we're a better team at the end of the year. I knew we were going to play young people, and I felt like these young people would hopefully play better as the season went on. We continue to get better and we continue to come together as a program and as a team. We take it one week at a time."
Johnson said, "The most satisfying thing by far is just seeing the camaraderie and how these guys are starting to come together and how they're starting to be a football team. I almost want another season, right back-to-back. Let's start this thing over. Let's go right into next year right now. I really think we're moving in the right direction. We're moving forward. I see the energy and the enthusiasm around."
On Saturday, both teams will be looking for a victory that could potentially start a momentum swing heading into the final weeks of the 2012 season as well as next year.
Following Saturday's game, the Tigers travel to UAB next week before closing out the season Nov. 24 at home against Southern Miss. Tulane plays host to East Carolina next week before finishing out the season at Houston.
Million Meals Challenge/Let's SAAC Hunger Campaign
Collection bins for nonperishable food items will be located at Gates 1-5 before bag check and ticket taking. Ahead of the holiday season, fans can also donate online at themillionmealschallenge.com. Fans donating online will be entered for a chance to win great prizes including sideline passes, autographed items, Kroger gift cards and a VIP College Basketball Championship Experience. Donations can also be made by texting "Hunger" to 66856.
Last year, the University of Memphis SAAC chapter donated 4,941 pounds of food to the Mid-South Food Bank which again this year will be the benefactor of the Million Meals Challenge/Let's SAAC Hunger Campaign.
Mid-South Food Bank collects and distributes food to a network of more than 300 charitable feeding programs in west Tennessee, north Mississippi and east Arkansas. In 2011, Mid-South Food Bank distributed 10.3 million pounds of wholesome food and other grocery items to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, youth programs, senior programs, rehabilitation and residential centers, daycares and schools. For more information, visit midsouthfoodbank.org.
Tiger Fire Truck Rides for Peanut Butter Donation
As part of the "Let's SAAC Hunger Campaign," children can bring jars of peanut butter for donation to the Highland Hundred Tent at Tiger Alley and in return receive a ride on the blue, Tiger Fire Truck. Rides will be offered from 1 - 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Tulane's Devon Walker
On Sept. 8 in a Conference USA game at Tulsa, Tulane senior safety Devon Walker suffered a cervical spine fracture after colliding with a teammate while attempting to make a tackle on the final play of the first half. Walker was transported to a Tulsa hospital where he remained for 10days before being moved to a comprehensive in-patient rehabilitation center to continue his recovery.
A New Orleans native, Walker is a cell and molecular biology major who earned a football scholarship after walking on to the team in 2009. He was Tulane's starting safety against Tulsa and had the best game of his career in the 2012 season opener against Rutgers with a team-high nine tackles.
In an effort to support and raise awareness about Walker, the Memphis Tigers will wear a helmet sticker with Devon Walker's initials.
Tulane has established the "Support for Devon Walker" website where fans can make a gift, check for updates and leave messages for Devon. For more information, visit tulane.edu/devonwalker.