Matchup: Memphis

This week, Tennessee takes on Memphis in Memphis. This is our take on this Vols vs Tigers matchup. There is not a team on the schedule Memphis would rather beat than Tennessee. The Vols are big brother.

Memphis is a step child. The Vols are glitz. Memphis is bland. The Vols have star recruits. Memphis has players the Vols didn't want. No wonder this in-state matchup is like a Super Bowl for the Tigers.

Memphis coach Tommy West said his players probably get a bit more fired up to play Tennessee than most other opponents.

``They probably feel a little bit inferior, mad, because Tennessee didn't recruit them,'' said West, a former Tennessee player and assistant coach. ``We've got one guy on our team Tennessee really wanted, Willie Henderson, a lineman. Willie committed to them, but Willie's not playing for us.

``Some of them will act like (UT wanted them) but we don't have anybody on our team that they offered.''

Tennessee recruited defensive end Corey Mills and true freshman receiver Duke Calhoun but apparently never extended a scholarship offer.

Maybe that inferior complex is why Memphis has covered the spread against Tennessee in six consecutive games. Maybe that's why UT has won three of the last four by four points or less and lost the fifth, a monumental upset in 1996 when Tennessee was ranked No. 6 and favored by about 25 points.

Tennessee leads the series 19-1. But that one game is still talked about in the Bluff City. Several stories have been written commemorating the Tigers' achievement. Just think what a second win would mean to West's program?

``It's a chance to compete against a top 20 team or what may be a top 10 team by the end of the year,'' West said. ``It should be fun. That's how we're going to treat it. We're going to try to have a good time, throw it out there and see how we can compete.''

Tennessee is a 13.5 point favorite. Will UT cover? Let's take a closer look.

Here is my position-by-position breakdown.
Game #: 1121
Site: Memphis
Date: Sep. 30
Conference: USA
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Tigers - West



Memphis allowed 14 combined sacks the last two years and ranked third nationally in fewest sacks allowed last year (nine). Two starters are gone, and Memphis has given up five sacks this year while averaging just 114.3 rushing yards per game. UT's line is a work in progress. The Vols are averaging just 115 yards per game and have fared better in pass protection than run blocking.


Memphis' Marty Hankins passed for 7,777 yards and 65 touchdowns in two seasons at Southeastern Louisiana under Hal Mumme, the former Kentucky coach. This season, Hankins has completed 64 of 102 passes (62.7 percent) for 770 yards and six touchdowns. He's thrown six interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns by East Carolina. West said Hankins has a good arm and good accuracy, but didn't play well against the Pirates. UT's Erik Ainge might be the nation's most improved quarterback. He's hit 66 percent of his 106 passes for 266.3 yards per game and ranks among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency.


Memphis' Joseph Doss led the Tigers in rushing against UT a year ago (17 for 77) when DeAngelo Williams couldn't play because of an ankle injury. Doss is averaging 75.7 yards per game (4.4 per carry) in the spread offense. UT's LaMarcus Coker is averaging 10.5 yards on 19 carries and leads the team with 199 yards after a 146-yard outburst against Marshall. Montario Hardesty (3.3 per carry) and Arian Foster (3.6) have been less effective, although Hardesty has scored a touchdown in four straight games and Foster has been slowed by an ankle sprain.


Memphis' Ryan Scott, who had four catches for 59 yards v. the Vols last year, is one of three Tigers with nine receptions and he's averaging 16.6 yards per catch. Calhoun has eight catches for 178 yards (22.2 yards per catch). UT's Robert Meachem (23 for 420) and Jayson Swain (19 for 314) have emerged as the best tandem in the SEC with a nation's best 734 yards. They have combined to catch seven of Ainge's eight touchdown passes. West said it might be the best duo he's coached against.



Memphis will go with a 4-3 front after ditching the previous 3-3-5 used by former defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn. The Tigers have a Conference USA low two sacks and are allowing 185 yards per game. UT misses All-SEC tackle Justin Harrell. The 148 rushing yards per game is uncharacteristic for a John Chavis unit, but the Vols have more athletes and depth up front than the Tigers.


Memphis lost two starting linebackers who led the team in tackles last year, but returns two starters, including Quinton McCrary, who missed most of last year because of injuries. Michael Spurlock had 10 tackles against the Vols last year. UT's Marvin Mitchell leads the Vols with 46 tackles and Jerod Mayo has four sacks and seven stops behind the line.


Safety Willie Smith is an all-conference player who leads the team in tackles. Opponents have thrown just 70 passes in three games for 440 yards. UT's Jonathan Hefney is second on the team in tackles and Jonathan Wade is making a push for All-SEC.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

Michael Gibson is averaging 42.4 yards per punt and Trey Adams has made three of five field-goal attempts. T.J. Pitts is averaging 23.8 yards per kickoff return and Brandon McDonald is averaging 9.6 on punt returns. Knoxville's Matt Reagan is the place kicker. UT's Britton Colquitt (47.3 yards per punt) ranks sixth in the nation and James Wilhoit has made 15 of his last 17 field-goal attempts. UT has trouble with punt coverage and returning kicks.



Memphis wants to win this more because many of its players were snubbed by UT. UT wants to win to avoid the embarrassment of losing to Memphis.


Tennessee 27, Memphis 13.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories