Memphis preview

If Memphis' football team is to be competitive in 2010 it must field a better defense than it did in 2009. Fortunately for the Tigers, this shouldn't be hard to accomplish.

Memphis went 2-10 last season, costing head coach and former Vol Tommy West his job, largely because of a defense that gave new meaning to the word porous. The '09 Tigers ranked 117th among the 120 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams against the pass (283.4 yards per game) and 96th against the run (174.1). They ranked 116th in total defense (457.5 yards per game) and 110th in scoring defense (34.8 points per game).

Only three teams in major-college football allowed more passing touchdowns than the '09 Tigers' total of 29, with Tennessee putting up six in a 56-28 romp that saw the Vols amass 566 yards of total offense.

Memphis' field-goal defense needs some work, too. Foes connected on 17 of 18 attempts last season.

The task of fixing this leaky defense falls to new head man Larry Porter, a Memphis alumnus who spent the past eight years as Les Miles' running backs coach at Oklahoma State and LSU. Porter's aides include former Alabama head man Mike DuBose, who will oversee the defensive line.

Memphis should improve on last year's 21.8 points-per-game average, even though the Tigers lost some quality weapons on offense. Missing from '09 are their top passer (Will Hudgens with 1,544 yards), their top rusher (Curtis Steele with 1,239 yards) and their top two receivers (Duke Calhoun with 923 yards, Carlos Singleton with 507).

All five starters from the 2009 offensive line return, led by center Brad Paul, who played an impressive 756 snaps last season. Tackles Ronald Leary and Tommy Walker, guards Dominik Riley and Joel McLeod also will be back for another go-around.

The loss of Hudgens should be no big deal. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Bass played exceptionally well in four 2009 starts, completing 53 of 81 passes for 673 yards before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He is being challenged, however, by true freshman Ryan Williams, who connected on 15 of 17 passes for 186 yards in the spring game.

The leading candidate to replace Steele is sophomore Marcus Hightower. He gained 34 yards on five carries as a freshman last fall and rushed 18 times for 49 yards in the spring game.

Filling the voids left by Calhoun and Singleton, who rank 1-2 on the Tigers' all-time career receptions list, may be difficult. The best bets are Marcus Rucker (18 catches for 241 yards) and Cam Baker (20 for 149). The return of senior tight end Deven Onarheim (9 catches, 82 yards last fall) could help ease the loss of Calhoun and Singleton a bit.

The defense returns seven starters from 2009, which may or may not be a good thing, considering how inept the '09 stop unit was. Best of the returnees are linemen Frank Trotter (36 tackles) and Dontari Poe (27 stops, 7 tackles for loss), linebackers Jamon Hughes (87 stops) and Winston Browens (58), defensive backs Dariuis Davis (54 stops, 5 pass breakups) and D.A. Griffin (42 stops, 6 PBU).

Special-teams standout Matt Reagan will be missed after averaging 45.5 yards per punt and making 11 of 16 field-goal tries last fall. On a positive note, Marcus Hightower is back after averaging 22.3 yards on kickoff returns last season.

If Porter can plug a few of the holes in the defense, Memphis should be better than last fall. Even so, the Tigers probably are looking at a record in the 4-8/5-7 range.

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