While the final record was only 4-8, it was clear Memphis was an improved team in coach Justin Fuente’s first season. The Tigers suffered a disappointing loss to UT-Martin in the season opener but rebounded to win their final three games for 2012. After a disastrous tenure under Larry Porter, Memphis has found the right coach to lead the program into the Big East.
Memphis Tigers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 4-8 (4-4)
Spring practice dates: Feb. 28-April 9
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 8
Passing: Jacob Karam, 176 of 274, 1,895 yds., 14 TDs, 3 INTs
Rushing: Brandon Hayes, 118 car., 576 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Keiwone Malone, 44 rec., 476 yds., 3 TDs
Tackles: Charles Harris, 79
Sacks: Martin Ifedi, 7.5
Interceptions: Lonnie Ballentine, 3
Redshirts to Watch: WR Daniel Hurd, OL Markeith Minnick
JUCO Transfers to Watch: OLB Kewan Alfred, LB Ryan Coleman, WR Joe Craig, WR Adrian Henderson, OL Kevin McIntyre, OL Nykiren Wellington
Sept. 7 Duke
Sept. 14 at MTSU
Sept. 21 Arkansas State
Nov. 9 Tennessee-Martin
Big East dates TBD
at South Florida
Offensive Strength: There’s not a glaring strength on offense for Memphis, especially after averaging just 318.3 yards per game last season. Quarterback Jacob Karam was steady in his first year as the starter, and Brandon Hayes finished the year with back-to-back 100-yard efforts. Receiver Keiwone Malone is a solid go-to threat for Karam.
Offensive Weakness: Considering the Tigers ranked near the bottom of Conference USA in points and yards last season, Fuente needs more from this group in 2013. As a whole, Memphis needs more playmakers to emerge this year.
Defensive Strength: Eight starters are back from a unit that showed big improvement last season. The Tigers ranked 117th in yards allowed in 2011 but jumped to 50th last season. The defensive line should be the top unit on defense, led by potential all-conference performers Martin Ifedi, Johnnie Farms and Terry Redden.
Defensive Weakness: There’s room for improvement everywhere, but Memphis has to be better against the pass and force more turnovers in 2013.
Spring Storylines Facing the Tigers
1. Quarterback play? While quarterback Jacob Karam was solid in his first season in Memphis, the Texas native needs to show more progress in 2013. Karam did finish with seven touchdown passes over his final three games but topped 200 yards only twice. Backup Eric Mathews played sparingly last year, throwing five passes in eight appearances. Karam should be better in his second season as the starter, but Mathews and incoming freshman Brayden Scott will have a chance to push for snaps this preseason.
2. Movement on the offensive line. Memphis brings back three starters on the offensive line, but left tackle Jordan Devey (second-team All-Conference USA selection) is a huge loss. How will Devey be replaced? Center Antonio Foster, right tackle Al Bond and guard Chris Schuetz each started at least 11 games last season and will be the foundation for the line in 2013. Bond has the size to flip from the right to the left side, but sophomore Taylor Fallin was listed as Devey’s backup last year. The Tigers are also bringing in two junior college recruits to help on the offensive line, so this unit could be in flux until late in the fall practice session.
3. Are there difference makers on the roster? For the Tigers to take the next step in the win column, the offense needs to find a few more playmakers. Running backs Brandon Hayes and Jai Steib combined for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, but Memphis could use more consistency and production from the ground game. In the receiving corps, Marcus Rucker departs after earning honorable mention All-Conference USA honors in 2012. However, the cupboard isn’t bare at receiver, as Keiwone Malone, Kevin Wright and tight end Alan Cross is a solid trio to build around.
4. Taking the next step on defense. With eight starters back on defense, Memphis should be able to build on its 2012 numbers. The Tigers ranked 32nd nationally against the run and averaged 2.3 sacks a game last season. There’s plenty of room for this unit to improve, especially when it comes to pass defense and holding opponents out of the endzone. The Tigers allowed 30.3 points a game last year, which needs to decrease if this team wants to make a run at six victories. Linebacker Akeem Davis and cornerback Robert Steeples are tough losses, but Memphis has enough returning talent on defense to expect more progress in its first year of Big East play.
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