After struggling defensively for the first half of the season in 2012, a change of philosophy was needed to give the Tigers a chance to win games. In order to allow his defense to get a little more rest and to be a little more fresh late in games, Memphis started to let the clock run a little longer before getting the play in and snapping the ball. The decision helped lead to 3 wins to finish the season.
In 2013, the former TCU Co-Offensive coordinator has somewhat stayed with that philosophy. The Tigers have been more deliberate this season averaging on 66.5 plays per game, but Fuente wants to go fast and there are times where the pace will pick up as the need arises.
Memphis enters the Arkansas State contest with a 0-2 record with losses at home to Duke and on the road at Middle Tennessee. The Tigers played the Blue Devils and the Blue Raiders much closer than they did in 2012. The defense has improved and the offense does have some explosive players.
The Tiger defense is a dichotomy. In 2012 it was a top 50 defensive unit in the number of tackles for loss but was at the bottom of the rankings in the number of explosive plays (20 plus yards) given up. An interesting combination to be sure. Maybe they stop you behind the line but if not you may go for 20 yards! The Tigers do return a ton on the defensive side of the ball from 2012.
The front four is lead by Martin Ifedi. The defensive lineman lead the 2012 squad with 7.5 sacks and has already 3 this season and has 4.5 tackles for loss. The Tigers linebackers have been aggressive running to the ball this year and 3 of their top 4 tacklers play the position. Anthony Brown leads the team in tackles while Charles Harris (2012 leading tackler) and former A-State commit Tank Jakes are tied for 3rd behind Ifedi. The Memphis defensive backs are led by cornerback Bobby McCain, who had a 75 yard interception return for a TD vs Duke, and safety Lonnie Ballentine.
The Tigers are giving up 22.5 points per game but have held opponents to 116.5 yards rushing. The yards have been coming against Memphis through the air where they have given up 521 yards in their first two games.
Offensively, Fuente turned to redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch to lead them into the American Athletic Conference. The 6'6 Lynch is a pretty good athlete that not only has a good arm but will run the zone read for the Tigers and isn't afraid to keep the ball and take off around the edge. Lynch currently is 2nd on the team in rushing attempts with 21, just 9 behind leading rusher Brandon Hayes. Lynch is 33-51 on the season passing for 318 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs. The Tigers will swing the ball out to their wide receivers but will also play action and throw the ball downfield.
The aforementioned Hayes returns after rushing for 576 yards in 2012. The Chicago native has 120 yards rushing on the season for an average of 60 yards per game. The Tigers are averaging 134.5 yards per game and will use true freshman Marquis Warford and senior Jai Steib in the backfield as well. Warford is an small (5'8 175) athletic back that has explosive abilities. Steib hs the Tigers only rushing touchdown on the season.
The receiving corp for Memphis is young and inexperienced but not lacking in playmakers. Sophomore Tevin Jones is the co-leader of the group in catches with 7 after only picking up 10 catches as a freshmen in 2012. Jones has the longest pass catch on the season for the Tigers with a 45 yard reception. Former Clemson Tiger and JC transfer Joe Craig is the other co-leader with 7 catches. Running back Warford already has 6 catches on the season and will be a target for Lynch on swing passes and as a safety valve. The Tigers are averaging 159 yards passing on the season.
Often, programs will put one of their best players on the cover of their media guide. For Memphis, this was no different. The difference was that it is their punter. Tom Hornsey is one of the best punters in the country. The Australian has more punting yards than any other punter in the season. He has a career average of 42.6 yards and is currently averaging 47.2 yards per boot. Hornsey's kicks are what some call an ugly thing of beauty, as they spin and wobble making it hard for opponents to catch. He had a 79 yard bomb against the Duke Blue Devils.
When Arkansas State and Memphis line up it is always a battle. The Red Wolves head across the river to try to move to 3-1, while the Tigers are looking for their first win of the season. "The Paint Bucket Bowl" has been a wild series of events over the years. No reason to think this one will be anything different.