NCAAF Team Report - Memphis - INSIDE SLANT
Memphis coach Justin Fuente has remained optimistic and upbeat while assessing his program's progress over the past two seasons, but he expressed some frustration following his team's latest loss.
Turnovers, penalties and other miscues cost the Tigers dearly in a 25-15 loss to Houston, which remained unbeaten despite another impressive performance by the Memphis defense. Memphis lost four fumbles and committed 12 penalties for 86 yards, points Fuente will undoubtedly emphasize in practice this week as the Tigers prepare to play host Southern Methodist.
"I'm mad for our kids more than anything, but the way it goes is that it's so close," Fuente told reporters after the game. "The difference is so razor thin every single week that, you know, they make a couple plays, you don't make a couple plays, and you lose."
The Tigers aren't making enough plays on offense. They failed to reach the end zone against Houston and went 0 for 3 on red-zone opportunities. Freshman kicker Jake Elliott made five field goals, accounting for all of his team's points.
Red-zone efficiency has been an ongoing issue for Memphis, which is ninth in the American Athletic Conference in red-zone offense. The Tigers have been inside their opponents' 20-yard lines 20 times this season. In those situations, they have scored eight touchdowns, made six field goals and committed four turnovers, three of them interceptions.
"Obviously, offensively, you can't kick field goals every time you get the ball down there close," Fuente said. "You can't turn the ball over."
The Memphis defense held Houston's high-powered offense to a season-low 247 yards, the fourth game in a row the Tigers have held their opponent to fewer than 300 yards. Going into the game, Houston was 10th in the nation in total offense, averaging 534 yards per game.
"You're playing a pretty good offensive team, and you're fighting and scratching and clawing for every single thing you can get, and (mistakes are) not what you need in order to beat those teams," Fuente said. "Our margin for error is very small, and if we do things right then we will have a chance to win the ballgame."
The Tigers certainly feel they have a chance to win their next game. Like Memphis, Southern Methodist has lost four of its first five games. The Mustangs' only win was a 31-30 victory over Montana State, a Football Championship Subdivision team from the Big Sky Conference. Despite their struggles, the Mustangs represent another challenge for the Memphis defense. Under coach June Jones, they are seventh in the nation in passing behind senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who is throwing for 355 yards per game. Fuente quipped that Jones "is well documented as a proponent of the forward pass."
NCAAF Team Report - Memphis - NOTES, QUOTES
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--Redshirt freshman QB Paxton Lynch has passed for 501 yards in the past two games after averaging just 165 passing yards in the first three contests. He threw for 279 yards against Central Florida and 222 yards against Houston. Lynch could have another big day against Southern Methodist, which is eighth in the American Athletic Conference in pass defense.
--Sophomore WR Mose Frazier has taken on a bigger role in the offense in recent weeks. He set career highs with five receptions for 81 yards and ran for 16 yards on the first carry of his career against Houston, establishing another career high with 97 all-purpose yards. Frazier had a 23-yard catch in the first half and a 32-yard reception in the second.
--Freshman kicker Jake Elliott has been stellar in his first season with the Tigers. He is a perfect 10 of 10 on field-goal attempts after tying a school record with five field goals in the loss to Houston, including a career-long 50-yarder. Elliott accounted for all of his team's points and was also credited with three solo tackles on kickoff returns. He was named the American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.
SERIES HISTORY: Memphis is 3-2 all-time against Southern Methodist. SMU QB Garrett Gilbert threw for 353 yards and rushed for two touchdowns to lead the Mustangs to a 44-13 victory over the Tigers last season in Dallas.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We knew that we had an opportunity to be pretty solid defensively before the season started. We've got a bunch of juniors and seniors that have been playing pretty well. That's kind of the burden we've put on them from the beginning. They've done a good job of answering the bell." -- Memphis coach Justin Fuente, on his team's defense.
NCAAF Team Report - Memphis - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Senior RB Brandon Hayes gained 72 yards on 12 carries against Houston, averaging 6 yards per carry, but Memphis is still looking for ways to get more out of its running game. The Tigers experimented with the wildcat offense against the Cougars with WR Sam Craft stepping in at quarterback and handed off to WR Mose Frazier, who gained 16 yards on his first career carry.
Scouting the passing game: Redshirt freshman QB Paxton Lynch seems to have made a breakthrough over the past two contests, throwing for 250.5 yards per game after averaging 165 in his first three games. Still, the Tigers are ninth in the American Athletic Conference in passing offense.
Scouting the run defense: Run defense has been the biggest strength of this year's team. Four of the Tigers' last five opponents have rushed for fewer than 100 yards, including Houston, which was held to a season-low 38 rushing yards after going into the game averaging 226.5.
Scouting the pass defense: Memphis' much-improved pass defense will be tested once again when the Tigers face Southern Methodist, which is seventh in the nation in passing under coach June Jones. The Tigers feature a fierce pass rush and could benefit from the possible return of junior CB Bobby McCain, who missed the Houston game with a knee injury.
Scouting the special teams: Kicking and punting have been two of the team's biggest strengths this season. Freshman Jake Elliot has been the best kicker in the conference with 10 field goals on 10 attempts, and senior Tom Hornsey leads the conference in punting with an average of 47 yards per punt.
--Junior CB Bobby McCain's streak of 25 consecutive starts ended against Houston. McCain missed the game after sustaining a knee injury against Central Florida. With McCain out, junior CB Bakari Hollier made his first start of the season.
--With TE Alan Cross out due to injury, Memphis started four receivers against Houston. Freshman WR Daniel Hurd made his first career start alongside Joe Craig, Mose Frazier and Sam Craft.
--DL Terry Redden, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound junior, started at nose tackle for the first time this season against Memphis. Sophomore Ricky Hunter took Redden's place on the edge, making his first start of the season at defensive end.