Football op-ed story

The Tigers were able to overcome a sluggish Navy offense, but their defensive woes were fully exploited in their trip to Orlando against UCF. If the lackluster defense persists, Memphis is likely to find itself in another lackluster bowl game.

The Memphis Tigers football team features one of the most potent offensive units in college football, averaging 32.2 points per contest. The mark is good for 39th out of 130 teams that suit up and play FBS football. Led by quarterback Seth Henigan, speedster receiver Calvin Austin III, and a litany of running backs, the offensive side of the ball seems to be taking care of business. Although that side could use some polishing up as well, mistakes are expected when a true freshman is at the helm.

However, the defense had left a lot to be desired. Through 8 contests thus far, the unit has yielded 29.6 ppg, good for 95th in the nation. 

Well, there’s nothing good about that number. Nothing at all. However, Tigers defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre still manages to find positivity through it all and thinks his unit will eventually put it all together. 

“We are going to keep pushing them and motivating them to be the best they can be on that side of the ball, and I think that things will eventually go our way as the season goes on.” 

Despite featuring a number of upperclassmen in key roles, the defense continues to be the weakest link of a Tigers squad (4-4 overall, 1-3 American) that possessed championship aspirations headed into the season. Despite starting the season on a three-game winning streak, the Tigers defense surrendered 96 points in those games, including a 55-50 victory against Arkansas State in their second contest of the regular season. This sort of production, or lack thereof, forces the offense to play catchup and puts pressure on them to keep playing at a certain level every week. 

That pressure started to show itself in losses to UTSA and Temple. In both games, Memphis gave up over 30 points to each opponent, but each game featured its own sordid ending for Tiger fans. The Memphis offense spotted the team a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, just for the Roadrunners to catch up and win 31-28. 

Against Temple in Philadelphia, the Tigers went up 17-0 early, but succumbed 34-31 to the Owls. In both games, the secondary yielded deep completions to opposing quarterbacks, something that was a concerning trend for secondary coach Charles Clark. With the defense having played the 2nd most snaps in the nation, he knows that getting stops are important, and that the consequences can be critical if they are not made. 

“We made some good plays and some bad ones, and there have been times that we just could not get off the field.” 

Despite defeating a sluggish Navy squad 35-17, Memphis then suffered a humiliating loss to UCF last Friday without Henigan. Backup quarterback Peter Parrish threw three interceptions and faced consistent pressure all night. The Tigers lacked an efficient run game, which did not help matters as Memphis fell 24-7 in Orlando. 

Those types of losses must be turned into wins for the Tigers to have any real bowl aspirations. That’s just what it comes down to. With them already possessing three losses in conference play, the season has started to take a downhill turn. That’s not to mention that Memphis has to go against two of the conference’s best quarterbacks in SMU’s Tanner Mordecai and Houston’s Clayton Tune down the stretch of the regular season. 

For the Tigers to rise above playing in yet another average bowl game, they’re going to have to do better defensively. If not, they will likely find themselves in yet another postseason contest no one cares about. Plain and simple.

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