Photo courtesy of Memphis Athletics
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: It was another year of disappointment for the Tigers in 2011, as Memphis struggled throughout the entire season to post a 2-10 overall record.
Larry Porter's second season as head coach of Memphis began with back-to-back blowout losses to Mississippi State (59-14) and Arkansas State (47-3). The Tigers handled Austin Peay (27-6) of the FCS for their first win before being dismantled by SMU (42-0) in their Conference USA opener. Memphis fell in its final non-conference game, versus Middle Tennessee State (38-31) and saw the losing streak grow to four with losses to Rice (28-6) and East Carolina (35-17). The team ended the streak by defeating Tulane (33-17) for its only road win of the season. Another four-game losing slide ended the Tigers' season as they failed to get a win against UCF (41-0), UAB (41-35), Marshall (23-22), and Southern Miss (44-7).
Two seasons of lopsided losing was enough for Memphis to pull the plug on the Larry Porter era. Justin Fuente was hired and will have the task of turning around the program as a first-time head coach. Fuente will have just one season to prepare his team before it moves from the Conference USA to the Big East.
OFFENSE: Fuente will try to bring some of the firepower he instilled at TCU as the offensive coordinator which helped the Horned Frogs reach BCS bowl games in consecutive seasons. The offense could definitely use a shot of life after finishing last in the C-USA in rushing offense (84.0 ypg), passing offense (190.3 ypg) and scoring offense (16.3 ppg). Last season's opening day starter Andy Summerlin and Taylor Reed, who started nine games as a freshman in 2011, both transfered and leaves Memphis with very little depth at the quarterback position. Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam earned the starting spot in the spring and will have a chance to show off his talents after rarely seeing action as a Red Raider.
Wideout Kevin Wright will be one of Karam's best options. Wright showed potential in 2011 with 398 yards and a touchdown on 36 grabs as a freshman. Reggie Travis, Jamere Valentine, and Marcus Rucker will all be used in the aerial attack as well. Rucker (6-4, 185) saw his production limited in 2011 due to a nagging knee injury after contributing 704 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010.
Junior Jerrell Rhodes (5-10, 215) is a very talented tailback, but his inability to stay healthy limited him to just three games last season. Local product Artaves Gibson (6-1, 220) has made some strides and will be a steady backup option.
The offensive line has some size with tackles Jordan Devey (6-7, 315) and Al Bond (6-5, 295) and guard Nick Chartain (6-5, 320) returning.
DEFENSE: The play of the Memphis defensive unit was no better than the offense. The Tigers finished last in the nation in pass defense (299.4 ypg) and near or at the bottom of the C-USA in every other major defensive category in 2011.
Memphis will have to replace first-round NFL Draft pick Dontari Poe on the defensive line as it attempts to make drastic improvement to the defensive unit. Sophomore DT Terry Redden (6-2, 285) earned a starting spot after playing in only two games as a freshman. Cory Jones (6-3, 260) and Zach Gholson (6-4, 250) will line up alongside Redden on the defensive front.
The linebacking unit will revolve around the trio of Kenyata Johnson (6-1, 230), Charles Harris (6-2, 215), and Khiry Battle (6-0, 225). Johnson recorded 72 tackles last season in 12 games.
Cornerback Bobby McClain could be the most talented player on the entire roster. He started nine games as a true freshman in 2011. Safety Cannon Smith and cornerback Bakari Hollier both need to have strong showings to help the pass defense improve on last year's dreadful campaign.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The senior tandem of PK Paulo Henriques and P Tom Hornsey stays intact. Henriques has room to improve on his consistency after making just 8-of-15 field goals, including a 2-of-8 mark on kicks from 40 yards and beyond in 2011. Hornsey set school records for punts (94) and punting yardage (3,993) last season, which echoes the offensive turmoil.
OUTLOOK: Memphis is not a program that can be instantly fixed. The Tigers have won just five games in the past three years. Fuente steps up to the plate after Porter, a former Memphis running back and LSU assistant, failed to get the job done. The offense should develop this season with just one projected senior starter, while the defense has already shown improvement.
"We have a lot of young guys and we don't have a lot of seniors but that doesn't mean we have to be an immature team," Karam said. "We want to do the little things right. Focus on the details. Just focus on being consistent. Come out here having great effort, great attitude every day at practice. That is all we can do."
The Tigers will seek revenge as they replay Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee this season. Tennessee-Martin and Duke fill out the rest of the team's non- conference schedule.
Memphis has to play three out of four games on the road during the heart of its league schedule. Memphis then plays Tulane at home on November 10, UAB on the road on November 17, and plays its final game as a member of the Conference USA on November 24 against Southern Miss.
Improving on last year's 2-10 finish is possible depending on how effective Karam is as a quarterback. Memphis should be able to win more than one game in league play this season as well. A trip to the conference championship game or even a bowl is highly unlikely, but improvement, no matter how slight, is a step in the right direction.