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Know Your Enemy: The Memphis Tigers Football Team

It's time to bring back Miner Rush's pre-game one stop shop for all things Enemy.  Let's kick it off with the basics.

The Basics: The Memphis Tigers (1-2, 0-1 C-USA) at UTEP Miners (2-1, 0-1 C-USA)

All Time Record:  Memphis Leads 3-0

Last Meeting:  UTEP 20, Memphis 35 (Oct. 10, 2009)

Head Coach:  Larry Porter (1st year, 1-2 overall)

Porter is a Memphis alum, a 4 year letterman at running back, who began his coaching career at a high school in Memphis after his playing days ended.  Porter worked his way up the college ranks and was eventually hired by Les Miles at Oklahoma State. When Miles went to LSU, Porter followed him and served as the Tigers running backs coach for the previous five seasons.  So, Porter brings a vast knowledge of recruiting the south along with a personal passion to see Memphis succeed as a program.  From the Memphis perspective, he really is a perfect fit.

Last week, Porter had his first victory as head coach.  MTSU is a solid team, but its worth noting two things.  First of all, MTSU was playing without their star quarterback, Dwight Dasher, who has been suspended by the NCAA.  Second, Memphis scored their 28 points (4 td's) off of four MTSU turnovers.  The Tigers were actually outgained 315-287 by Middle Tennessee.  

2 Offensive Memphis Players to Watch

1.  Gregory Ray (Running Back):  

Not surprisingly, Porter's offense, called by former Miner assistant Eric Price, features the running backs in a prominent role.  Memphis uses two running backs often, Jerrell Rhodes and Ray.  Last week, in the Tigers victory over Middle Tennessee State, Ray emerged as the Tigers go to guy on the ground.  He pounded MTSU to the tune of 121 yards on 25 hard carries with 2 touchdowns.  

2.  Ryan Williams (QB):  

First of all, know that Williams is a true freshman.  He graduated early, last winter, so that he could participate in spring ball.  So, he does have more practice time under his belt than most true freshman.  He also looks the part at 6'5" and 220 pounds.  

 Williams has shown to be mature beyond his years though.  In last year's spring game, he completed 15 of 17 passes for 186 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Williams entered 2010 behind Cannon Smith at QB but took over the spot in the 2nd quarter of their loss to East Carolina.  

I'd say he took advantage of his opportunity against the Pirates.  Williams went 18/25 for 293 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Incredible numbers for a freshman playing his first meaningful minutes at this level (and that game was on the road).   Last week, in the Tigers win, he went 15/28 for 129 yards and a TD (no interceptions).   So, he didn't shread MTSU with his arm, but its clear that the Tigers leaned on the running game in that one.  For a true freshman, Williams has shown all the signs you want to see if you're a Tiger fan.

2 Defensive Memphis Players to Watch

1.  Jamon Hughes (LB):

The Tigers linebacker is tied for 9th in the nation with 11.7 tackles per game.  Hughes transferred to Memphis in 2008 from the SEC's Mississippi State.  Last season, his first in blue, he led the Tigers with 87 tackles.  He's picked up right where he left off in 2010.  

2.  Frank Trotter (DT)

The 6'2, 255 pound DT doesn't have NFL size, but he just makes plays.  Trotter is tied for 29th in the nation in tackles for a loss (and we know how hard it is to get one of those in EP).  Trotter has six TFL's (4 solo).  He's going to give Rod Huntley a fight.

The Numbers

Memphis Rank UTEP Rank
Total Offense 323.33 96 (11) 466 18(3)
Rush Offense 100 103 (11) 194.33 36 (2)
Pass Offense 212.33 64 (8) 271.67 24 (4)
Scoring Offense 19.33 99 (11) 32.33 41 (4)
Total Defense 436.33 99 (8) 410 90 (6)
Rush Defense 141.67 60 (5) 160 71 (8)
Pass Defense 294.67 112 (10) 250 93 (5)
Scoring Defense 38.33 111 (10) 24.67 76 (5)


UTEP clearly has the edge on most of the statistical comparisons and rankings.  Gregory Ray's performance last week could signal an upswing in ground production but there's no denying that the Tigers simply can't move the ball consistently right now.  They do afterall, have the nations 96th ranked total offense and 99th ranked scoring offense. 

Key Matchup:  Memphis Pass Defense vs. UTEP Pass Offense

Defensively, the Tigers weaknesses play to the Miners strengths.  Memphis is ranked 112th out of 120 FBS schools against the pass and nearly gives up 300 passing yards a game.  Trevor Vittatoe is averaging about 272 passing yards a game for the nations 18th most powerful offense.  

Stats aside, let me say this:  UTEP should be able to pass the ball all over the Memphis defense.  If Trevor Vittatoe continues to play at the level he's been at this year, and if the offensive line stays consistent, UTEP will score points early and often.  The real question is, can Memphis keep pace?  The TIgers are averaging under 20 points a game (99th in the nation).  UTEP's defense is still adjusting to the new 4-3.  Germard Reed and Marcus Bagley are only going to get better, but let's not forget how Houston pounded our defensive front 7 two weeks ago. UTEP needs Royzell Smith and Isaiah Carter to continue to play well.  The Miners will need the linebackers to help cover the DT's who will be up and down this season.  

If the defense plays with anywhere near the intensity they showed last week, and makes some key stops early in the night, the UTEP offense should be able to take this one over.