Top 5 to watch: Memphis Offense
1. QB Jacob Karam (6-0, 205, Jr.): Earned the starting role during the Spring practice session and has been steady through three starts. After transferring from Texas Tech where he completed just five passes in two years, Karam is a player who is comfortable in a hurry-up attack, and who won't try to force the ball.
So far in 2012 he's completing just under 59 percent of his passes, and is throwing for 212 yards per game. He's tossed five touchdowns against just one interception. Last week, as he was desperately trying to rally his team against Middle Tennessee State, Karam put together the best game of his collegiate career. There, Karam completed 70 percent of his throws (26-of-37) for 325 yards and two scores against one interception.
That one pick went for a 68 yard touchdown a week ago, but was Karam's first interception in his 77 collegiate passing attempts. After the first pick of the season, the Tigers and Karam still rank among the nation's leaders in fewest interceptions thrown with one (tied for 17th).
Moving forward against the Blue Devils, Karam and Memphis would prefer a much more balanced attack, and will look to establish the running game unless they fall behind early as they did against MTSU according to head coach Justin Fuente:
"I think that you run the ball, and then throw it over their head. The big plays we had in the first half [against MTSU] were because of the threat of running the football. The two play action balls to [Marcus] Rucker were because they felt like we were going to run the ball. As you saw as the game went on and we fell behind, the big plays weren't as prevalent because we just weren't running the ball as much."
2. RB Jerrell Rhodes (5-10, 215, Jr.): Rhodes is easily Memphis' most talented back, but he's also got a nagging turnover problem. In three weeks he's already run for 224 yards on 52 carries, while adding a pair of touchdowns. The problem comes with holding on to the ball, and Rhodes has struggled there. Last week he went over 100 yards, but coughed it up twice in key situations.
Rhodes doesn't usually factor into the passing game, making only three catches for five yards on the year, but he's a load on the ground, averaging more than 4.3 yards per carry, and just under 75 yards per game.
3. Keiwone Malone (5-11, 160, R-So.): may be somewhat slight in stature, but has been the team's top playmaker in 2012. Malone has hauled in 19 catches for 225 yards, while also factoring in as a kick returner. He's taken 10 kick-offs back for a total of 180 yards to be the team's total yardage leader to this point.
It's a nice rebound story for a guy who was suspended indefinitely from Alabama for violating team rules before moving to Memphis. Initially he had similar issues with the Tiger coaches, but things appear to have worked out.
"Keiwone didn't make it all the way through our spring," said Fuente, "but has come on and done the things we have set forth for him to do. He's got to continue to do them."
A player who finished his high school career with more than 4000 receiving yards and 57 touchdowns, Malone has excellent hands and is a big threat if he can get into the open field. He will likely be priority number one for the Duke pass defense.
A week ago Malone hauled in 10 catches for 102 yards against MTSU.
4. WR Marcus Rucker (6-4, 190, R-Sr.): After struggling with injuries a season ago, Rucker has bounced back to become the second half of Memphis' primary receiving duo with Malone. A season ago he was limited to just eight appearances and caught only 20 passes thanks to a knee injury.
Now, a year later and healthy, Malone has already hauled in 15 catches for 230 yards and three scores in three weeks of action.
"I've been proud of not just the balls he's (Rucker) caught during the season so far but just the way he's gone about himself," said Coach Fuente. "I'm not too proud to tell you, Marcus and I didn't see eye to eye when we first got here. I feel like he's made a concerted effort to do things the way we would like them to be done. It's manifested itself into a great summer for him, and now he's playing really well."
Just ask MTSU how well Rucker has been playing. Last week he caught 10 balls for 177 yards and two scores. It was his second time eclipsing the 100 yard mark in a game, and he was just nine yards short of the program's single game record of 186 yards.
Among his receptions against Middle Tennessee was a 63-yard catch in the first quarter as well as a 49- yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter. Rucker also caught a 10-yard touchdown pass late in the first half, marking his third career, two- touchdown receiving game.
5. K Paulo Henriques (5-10, 200, Sr.): Duke fans know the value of a kicking game all too well. And when your roster is struggling to make stops and score points, having a reliable kicking game is an absolute must. So far through three games the Tigers have had some trouble with their senior specialist who is just 1-of-3 in field goal attempts.
Maybe that inconsistency hasn't been a total surprise to Memphis fans and coaches alike. After all, Henriques made just eight of 15 attempts a season ago. Four of those seven misses came on the final five attempts of the season. This year hasn't been much better as Henriques has missed his only attempt inside 29 yards and is just 1-of-2 from inside 39 yards.
If the Tigers aren't confident in Henriques, they can turn to sophomore Tyler Spurlock who has already converted his only chance from 33 yards this year.