Game Week: Memphis' O v. UCLA's D

SEP 3. -- You can't take much from Memphis running up 63 points against FCS Austin Peay last week...


You really can't take anything away from Memphis scoring 63 points against FCS Austin Peay last Saturday in their season opener.

Not only is Austin Peay an FCS program, they are a bad FCS program. They were winless in 2013, and have only won two games in the previous two seasons.

In 2013, Memphis was 110th in the nation in scoring, averaging 19.5 points per game, and 116th in total yards, averaging 311. Last week they gained 545 yards and 6.6 yards per play, which would be good against a decent FBS defense, but when you’re practically playing against an opponent without a defense those numbers should be more in the astronomical range.

The yardage was a bit modest, but it really has no bearing on whether Memphis’ offense is better this season, since Memphis primarily ran the ball in the blowout, gaining 303 yards on the ground, and the game was played in pouring rain. It wasn’t a case, though, that Memphis didn’t show their playbook to UCLA, because the game plan Offensive Coordinator Darrell Dickey utilized against APU early on was pretty diverse.

RB Brandon Hayes.
Memphis’ running game is mostly about sixth-year senior running back Brandon Hayes (5-9, 198), who is a solid ball-carrier. He doesn’t necessarily have blazing speed, but is a tough, durable, hard-nosed runner that is hard to get a bead on. He gained 860 yards last season, which was the most for a Memphis running back since 2008. Five Memphis running backs got 8 or more carries last week, so it looked like the Tiger coaching staff was trying to spread the wealth, keep bodies fresh and minimize the chance of injury. Sophomore Doroland Dorceus (5-10, 205) will get the bulk of the carries after Hayes, and he’s more of an inside-the-tackles guy that gets the call in short-yardage and on the goal line. He’s a bit slow-footed and not a threat to break a big one. Last week true freshman Jarvis Cooper (6-1, 250) made a big debut, running for 101 yards on 8 carries (averaging 12.6 yards per carry), being very tough for the APU defense to bring down. It has to be said, though, that he gained all of his yards late in the game when APU was beaten and tired. If there’s a guy who looks like he might have belonged in the SEC it could be Cooper, though. He’s such a big body, coming out of high school it was uncertain just what position he’d play in college – even considered a potential defensive lineman.

Sophomore Sam Craft (6-0, 210) is a guy they try to get many touches, lining up all over the field, at receiver, in the slot and at running back. He’s a glider, kind of similar in playing style to UCLA’s Jordan Fuller, but thicker.

The offensive line wasn’t a great one last season and they replaced three departing starters. The best of the bunch is probably senior right tackle Al Bond (6-4, 305), who has some decent quickness, and is tough and relentless. Perhaps the guy with the best upside is other returning starter, junior left tackle Taylor Fallin (6-6, 325), who is a decent athlete for his size but still mastering technique. The issue for Memphis’ OL will be its interior, with three new starters that have something to prove, JC transfer left guard Tyler Uselton (6-3, 310), redshirt freshman center Gabe Kuhn (6-4, 290) and a sophomore who redshirted last season, Michael Stannard (6-2, 280), at right guard. Pretty deep into fall camp, Memphis was shuffling some bodies around on its interior OL positions and it was relatively uncertain who would start at center (sound familiar?). The three looked good against Austin Peay but, again, it was Austin Peay.

Sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch (6-7, 230) looks like he’s improved some from his redshirt freshman season in 2013, which wasn’t a great one for him, when he completed 58% of his passes and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9). Last week he completed 20 of 27 for 242 yards, two touchdowns and one pick – but it was against Austin Peay. He was a little inaccurate in the game, especially since he had a great deal of time to throw. He reportedly wasn’t very mobile last year but he showed some ability to run last week, not only scrambling but in plays designed for a quarterback to run, like read options and even conventional options. The issue with him last year was mostly footwork but the word is that he’s improved considerably in the off-season.

Memphis has just a decent group of receivers. The go-to guy is really the junior tight end, Alan Cross (6-1, 245) who is a bulky guy that has good hands and is adept at getting first-down yardage. Then, like we said above, they’ll try to get Craft many touches, with him mostly coming out of the slot and motioning quite a bit. Junior Mose Frazier (5-11, 185) is a little dangerous, with some explosion. Junior Tevin Jones (6-2, 218) is a bigger possession type and senior Keiwone Malone (5-11, 155) is billed as the shifty one, but neither of them look even Pac-12 level. Senior Joe Craig (5-11, 175) is the returning receiver with the most catches from last season (37), and he’s supposed to be the designated speedster, but Memphis failed to get him involved last week, mostly because they didn’t throw vertically much.

UCLA’s defense clearly had a good opening game last week against Virginia, scoring three second-quarter touchdowns on turnovers that won the game for the Bruins. There were a few mistakes here and there, and a little vulnerability in defending the deep ball, but the front seven were about as solid as a UCLA front seven has been in recent memory. Nose tackle Kenneth Clark was truly a force, amassing 8 tackles, which is unusual for a nose tackle. There were times that he was running to the sideline where you might have thought he was an overgrown linebacker. Defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, while he didn’t get to the Virginia quarterbacks, provided a great deal of pressure and garnered some double teams. UCLA’s linebackers were excellent, with Eric Kendricks being named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after getting a very conspicuous 16 tackles and a brilliant interception. If he hadn’t gotten the honor for the week it might have gone to his colleague, Myles Jack, who got a career-high 13 tackles.

Randall Goforth.
The one element of the Virginia game in which UCLA definitely looked top-ten worthy was the speed and athleticism of its defense, especially in its ability to pursue and close. There were times when a Virginia receiver looked like he had some running room ahead of him, but Kendricks, Jack and safety Randall Goforth would fly in and surround him.

Perhaps the worry this week defensively will be whether cornerback Fabian Moreau has lost some confidence. He was truly elite in fall camp, being a monster in coverage in rep after rep, but he got beat last Saturday on a touchdown so it will be interesting to see how resilient he is.

Dickey is trying to do what every offense is doing in college football, play with pace and tempo. The offense is similar to UCLA’s, too, in scheme, even though it does go over center and revert to an I in short-yardage situations. It utilizes a short, quick passing game, with short drops and digs, slants and all kinds of screens. Also, Dickey likes to move the launch point, rolling out Lynch, who appears almost more accurate throwing on the run. Memphis’ offense, in fact, looked the most effective with sprint-outs and Lynch finding receivers dragging through coverage. The running game, too, uses many variations and is good at disguising itself. All in all, it’s a good spread scheme and showed some imaginative play-calling last week – at least in the first quarter of the blow-out against APU.

Advantage: UCLA

The match-up that wins this is the talent and athleticism of UCLA’s front seven against Memphis’ offensive line and running backs. UCLA has a linebacker (Jack) who is a better running back than anyone Memphis has, and he’s certainly quicker and more athletic. UCLA’s front seven swarmed against Virginia and you can probably expect them to be even more of a quicker, strong swarm against Memphis. More than likely that will limit Memphis’s running game, which is probably about as good as Virginia’s.

UCLA, inside, has Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes who, for the most part, ate up Virginia’s interior OL last week. They’ll more than likely be feasting this Saturday on Memphis’ young and inexperienced interior OL.

For Memphis to score enough points to win this game Lynch is going to have to make some plays, mostly with his arm. Last week, against what has to be one of the worst defenses you might ever see, he looked just okay. It was clear, even against APU, Memphis wasn’t too confident that the Memphis pass protection could give Lynch enough time to look down the field, and you’d think they’ll scheme even more to get him out from under and around UCLA’s pressure. You can probably then expect UCLA to use its athleticism to keep Lynch from getting comfortable in his sprint-outs. We might feel Lynch would have a little bit better of a chance of being effective if there was even just one receiver who had elite talent, but there isn’t one.

Expect this match-up to look quite a bit like the UCLA Defense/Virginia Offense match-up last week, with UCLA having the added advantage of playing at home and Memphis the disadvantage of being on the road, which tends to always affect offenses more than defenses.

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