July 20, 2012
The following is the ninth installment of a 12-part series, previewing Marshall's opponents for the upcoming football season.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -
Marshall will try for its fifth consecutive win over Memphis when the two teams meet for the final time as Conference USA foes on Nov. 3 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The Tigers, who trail the series 5-2, begin their final season in C-USA with new Coach Justin Fuente. The first-year coach spent the last five seasons at TCU, including the last three as co-offensive coordinator. He helped guide the Horned Frogs to consecutive BCS bowl games and starting in 2013, will guide the Tigers into a BCS conference as they will join the Big East.
Fuente has some work to do as he inherits a team that went 2-10 last season, 1-7 in C-USA, including a 23-22 loss to Marshall. One decision he'll have to make is at quarterback. Sophomore Taylor Reed returns after some growing pains as a true freshman in 2011. Challenging Reed for the starting spot is Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam. The junior played in six games for the Red Raiders the past two seasons and is eligible for game action in 2012.
The Tiger offense can only improve this season. It ranked last in C-USA in several offensive categories, including points per game (16.3), one of the worst marks in the country. Memphis does not return much at offensive skill positions. Reed and running back Jerrell Rhodes are the only returnees that rushed for multiple touchdowns in 2011, and no wide receivers returning posted more than one score last season.
Memphis also ranked last in the conference in total defense despite first-round NFL Draft pick Dontari Poe anchoring the line. All of the defensive units lose key players, but the secondary appears to have the most depth. While the Tigers ranked at the bottom of C-USA in pass defense, they ranked fifth in the nation in fumbles recovered, seventh in turnover margin and 16th in turnovers gained.
Offensive Player to Watch
Offensive lineman Jordan Devey started all 12 games last season, making starts at right tackle early in the year and shifting to left tackle in the latter part of the season because of injuries up front. All of the line starters return with the exception of right guard Ron Leary.
Defensive Player to Watch
Nickelback Akeem Davis is the team's top returning tackler from 2011 (78 tackles, including 57 solos). The senior led the team in interceptions with three and tied for the lead in fumble recoveries with four.
With many of the players going through their second and third coach in their careers at Memphis, how quickly can the players adjust to Fuente's schemes?
Who will be the leaders on defense after Poe (NFL Draft) and Frank Trotter (graduation) departed?
Can a special teams unit that finished last in C-USA in kickoff return average (18.0 ypg) improve?
Quote to Note
"I think by and large, as a team, we have come a long way throughout the spring. We have a long way to go, obviously, but I think from a level of expectations, from a level of work ethic and an accountability standpoint, I think we have made strides."
--Memphis coach Justin Fuente
Sept. 1 UT-Martin
Sept. 8 at Arkansas State
Sept. 15 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 22 at Duke
Oct. 6 Rice*
Oct. 13 at East Carolina*
Oct. 20 UCF*
Oct. 27 at SMU*
Nov. 3 at Marshall*
Nov. 10 Tulane*
Nov. 17 at UAB*
Nov. 24 Southern Miss*
* Conference USA games