Memphis head coach Tommy West said upsetting 8th-ranked Ole Miss (AP) would be quite a coup for his Tigers.
"It could kick this season off in a big-time way," said the Dean of Conference USA football leaders, entering his ninth season in Memphis. "I think the key for us will be getting started and playing good early. We've got a bunch of new guys, so not getting stage fright, just go play, do your job, be in a good place at the half, and then play well the second half."
The Tigers lost at Ole Miss 41-24 last year in the season opener. West said Memphis did just the opposite that day – started slowly, didn't play well and found itself behind all day.
"We played really bad in the first half down there a year ago. Made a lot of mistakes," said West, with a 47-51 record at Memphis. "They played good and we played bad, and all of a sudden we gave up 27 points in a half. We played pretty good in the second half, but we dug ourselves into a big hole."
Actually the whole season started that way for Memphis. In a big hole at 0-3, the Tigers won six Conference USA games and the St. Petersburg Bowl (a 41-14 loss to South Florida). A 6-7 final slate was a noteworthy accomplishment given the start of the campaign.
But that was then and this is now. However West is hoping for a little magic from the past, as in the 2003 win his team had over Ole Miss 44-34 in Memphis.
"We've kind of been here before," said West, whose first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ole Miss under Steve Sloan in 1979. "We were here when Eli (Manning) was a senior, a great quarterback, and we found a way to make some plays that day, found a way to win the game in the end. We've been in these situations before. I bet we were probably a big-time underdog in that game. You never know. But we have to do our stuff really well."
West said the Tigers have done really well this August.
"I thought we had a good camp," he said. "Our question mark coming into camp was our offensive line. I feel really good about where we are, about the progress we made there.
"Ron Leary at left tackle has played extremely well. The two guys that played really well through the camp, and they were questions, are (Joel) McCleod at left guard and (Tommy) Walker at right tackle. I'm really pleased with what they've done. I was really pleased with the progress that we made on the offensive line."
West said his signal-caller has been productive this summer.
"I feel good about our quarterback. Arkelon (Hall) has made really good decisions through this camp. That was what I expected. That's what I wanted to see out of him. I think he's in the best shape he's ever been in. Mentally he impressed me in camp. I thought he got the ball to people that could win games for us and he understands his role, which generally is the case the second year."
On defense, West said the Tigers still have a ways to go but are getting there.
"Defensively we're still at work. I think we're making progress at a fast rate. We're teaching like crazy every day. We have so many guys that haven't played, trying to get them where they can be game ready. That will go on into this game and the next game and the third game, getting guys ready so they can contribute and play for us defensively.
"I really like our front four. I'm very pleased. We're going to roll people defensively up front. We'll go at least two deep and try to go past that to keep people fresh up front."
West said Ole Miss' defense will prove to be a mighty challenge for his troops.
"I think that's the most underrated part of their team. I think they finished second in the league in run defense. They were fourth or fifth in the country last year in run defense. They were really hard to run the ball on.
"And then with their defensive ends, they've got a couple of defensive ends that are big-time pass rushers. They're really good. Where they're really outstanding is run defense. That will be one of our keys. We've got to be able to run the ball. I believe we ran the ball probably more than anybody on them last year. If we can't run the ball with any success, it will be really hard on us. So we've got to be able to run the ball some."
West said offensively the Rebels pose an equally difficult challenge for his defenders.
"Their quarterback, everybody knows, is a great player. He's an NFL quarterback. This guy is going to be a great quarterback in the NFL. He's really good. I left our game last year and thought he was a really talented guy. But now that I've gone back and watched every game they played, they got better as the season went along and he played extremely well in the bowl game. So that's our number one concern.
"Houston (Nutt) will always have a physical team. Now he has a quarterback that can throw the ball. They're going to be a balanced football team. Normally they've been a running team. But he's got the guys to throw it, too. It makes them hard to defend. I don't know who will play on their offensive line. They've replaced some guys there, but I'm sure they'll be good players."
West said his team has depth, but one position especially bothers him in that regard.
"I feel good on offense with the exception of wide out. We can't afford injuries at wide out now. Defensively we have people, we've just got to get people that are game-ready.
"I'm okay with our depth. I think we have more than we've had. Nobody can stand a rash of injuries at a certain position. We've all got 85, but nobody's got 85 great ones. Your ones are better than your twos. Depth to me now is kind of the same everywhere. Everybody has a couple positions where they can't afford a lot of injuries.
"We're going to play a lot of people in the game. We can't go into this game and expect to play one group the whole time. We're going to roll a lot of people and try to stay fresh and try to get it into the fourth quarter and have a chance to win it in the fourth quarter."
West - 'Try to get it into the 4th quarter'
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