With losses to Ole Miss (41-24), Rice (42-35) and Marshall (17-16) to open the season, things weren't looking good for Tommy West and the Memphis Tigers. But after a 33-30 win over UAB last week, things are looking up for the Tigers – who enter Friday night's game against Louisville at the Liberty Bowl on a three-game winning streak.
"I think Marshall was just a good game on the road, two teams fighting hard, they come out a winner. We gave one away against Rice and I'd love to have that one back," West said. "I'm proud of our guys for fighting back at 0-3, fighting back and finding a way to get back even."
At 2-2, Louisville is coming off a disappointing 26-21 loss to UConn last week. Kragthorpe knows his team will face a hot opponent in Memphis later this week.
"I think Memphis is playing extremely well right now," Kragthorpe said. "They're 3-0 in their last three games and they're starting to find their groove on offense."
to go Friday night.
That's because quarterback Arselon Hall, a junior college transfer, is beginning to figure things out. Hall threw for 209 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Blazers. Hall has some weapons surrounding him, too, including several big and talented wide receivers like 6-8, 220-pound Carlos Singleton (123 yards and one TD vs. UAB) and running back Curtis Steele. Steele rushed for 101 yards against UAB.
"Arselon Hall is really playing good football for them right now," said Kragthorpe. "He's making some plays with his feet and throwing the ball down the field with great accuracy. They've got a great group of wide receivers and they're running the ball well on offense."
After allowing 83 points combined in their first two games, Memphis has shown steady improvement on defense. They're led by 6-3, 285-pound defensive lineman Clinton McDonald, who has been a quarterback's worst nightmare in recent weeks. The Tigers are allowing just 18 points in their last four games after getting torched in their first two contests.
"On the defensive side of the ball they're doing a nice job putting pressure on the passer," Kragthorpe said. "They've got 10 sacks in the last couple weeks and McDonald, they're really good defensive lineman, has 5 ½ sacks the last two games. So I think they're starting to hit their groove right now."
After a week off, Louisville should be ready to get back to action against their old rival – a rivalry that has been put on hold since 2004. The Cardinals used their bye-week to rest up and heal some injuries before heading down to Memphis this Friday.
"It was good for us to have the week off to heal a few guys up that had some natural bumps and bruises," Kragthorpe said. "We're excited to get back on the field Friday night on national television."
After sustaining an ankle injury against UConn, Hunter Cantwell should be ready to go against the Tigers strong pass rush.
"He's fine," Kragthorpe said. "In fact, if we'd have played last Friday night he'd have started. So he's doing fine and practicing full speed. I saw him at 6:15 (this morning) in the hall and he was doing drop backs to show me that he was ready."
Cantwell also will have Scott Long back as a target. Long, Louisville's top returning wide receiver, missed the Cardinals first four games with a broken bone in his foot.
"He's practicing full speed," Kragthorpe said. "So barring something unforeseen he'll be back."
Memphis has two players on the roster who signed with Louisville coming out of high school – senior wide receiver Steven Black and junior defensive end Demetrius Culpepper. Black has caught 17 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown this season. Culpepper is a reserve defensive lineman.
Louisville and Memphis haven't faced each other on the football field since 2004. The Cardinals won that shootout 56-49 at Memphis. Louisville went on to finish 12-1 that season and won the C-USA title and the FedEx Liberty Bowl.
The Cardinals have won eight of the last ten games in the series, including 5 of the last six. Memphis last win in the series was a 37-7 win over Louisville in 2003.