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Duke (1-0) at Memphis (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 7, 4:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (59,308) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Duke 1-0, Memphis 0-0. Away Record: Duke 0-0, Memphis 0-0. Neutral Record: Duke 0-0, Memphis 0-0. Conference Record: Duke 0-0, Memphis 0-0. Series Record: Duke leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Duke Blue Devils take aim at their second win of the season while the Memphis Tigers open up the 2013 campaign, as the two teams collide at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Coming off a season in which they made it to a bowl game, the first time since 1994, the Blue Devils opened the 2013 campaign with a 45-0 blowout of FCS foe North Carolina Central. The win was the first shutout for the Blue Devils since 1989 and the first at home since 1978. A year ago Duke finished the regular season at 6-6 and went to the Belk Bowl. However, a 48-34 loss in the game to Cincinnati, left Duke with its 18th straight losing season.
For Memphis the goal is to yet again improve on the win total from the previous season. Last year, the first under Justin Fuente, the Tigers went 4-8 after going 2-10 in the previous season and 1-11 the year before that. The task will be made tougher this season as Memphis is moving to the American Athletic Conference after spending the previous 17 seasons in Conference USA.
Last September, Memphis made the trip to Durham but was sent away with a 38-14 loss. The meeting was the first ever between the two programs.
As with many teams that take on schools below the FBS level, Duke's offensive numbers were a bit different than usual as they rushed for 257 yards against NC Central, while picking up 488 yards total. The Blue Devils are still very much a pass-first team, with talented receiver Jamison Crowder on the edge, but by getting out to such a large lead, throwing the ball was not a necessity.
A year ago the Blue Devils rushed for just 125.3 yards per contest, while throwing for 283.9. Expect those types of numbers to begin now that Duke will be facing FBS competition once again.
One thing is for sure, Memphis and any other foe facing the Blue Devils have to keep a close eye on Crowder. The junior wideout is as dangerous an offensive threat as Duke has with his ability to make plays both in the passing game and on special teams. He showed both skills against NC Central with six receptions for 62 yards, as well as a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The responsibility of throwing those passes was split between starter Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette. Boone completed 16-of-20 pass attempts for 176 yards before giving way to Connette, who performed well (5-of-8, 55 yards, two TDs, INT) in a mop up role.
Carrying the majority of the offensive load was a number of running backs. Starter Jela Duncan had 76 yards and a score on 11 carries but six other players had at least five carries. Connette was one of those rushers as he had five carries and scored a rushing touchdown.
A quick glance at the numbers from last season would show that Duke's downfall was its lack of defensive success. The Blue Devils were among the 20 worst teams in the country in scoring defense (36 ppg), passing (283.9ypg) and total defense (409.2 ypg). Duke was drastically improved in the season opener.
Along with the shutout the Blue Devils allowed just 184 yards of total offense, including just 103 through the air. Duke also never allowed NC Central into the red zone and kept the Eagles to a 6-of-19 success rate on third down. The closest the Eagles came to a score was a missed 41-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Kelby Brown and David Helton each tied for a team-high with seven tackles in the contest. Jeremy Cash was more effective though as he had six tackles, five solo and one for loss. Breon Borders didn't record a stop but did collect an interception, while Kyler Brown forced a fumble and recorded a sack.
Memphis didn't rank particularly high as an offensive team in its final season as a member of Conference USA. The Tigers managed just 318.3 yards per game and scored only 24.4 points per game. The passing game was particularly weak with the Tigers totaling just 166.6 yards per game through the air. Both the Tigers' total yardage and passing average were among the 15 worst in the country.
Though he didn't rack up huge totals in terms of passing, Jacob Karam provided stability at the quarterback position, something he will continue this season. The former Texas Tech signal caller was especially effective during the final three games when he completed 40-of-52 pass attempts, tossing seven touchdowns and just a single interception. Karam made good choices for the most part, completing 64.2 percent of his attempts for 1,895 yards with 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
Running the ball was a strength for Memphis and with the top two backs returning, more of the same is expected. Jai Steib (427 yards, 6 TDs) was solid, while Brandon Hayes (576 yards, 6 TDs) showed flashes of brilliance, including 100-yard efforts in the final two games.
The receiving corps isn't lined with a ton of talent. Former Clemson receiver Joe Craig will be making his debut with these Tigers. Keiwone Malone (44 receptions, 476 yards) is the only other wide receiver on the team to return with at least 10 receptions and 200 yards. Tight end Alan Cross (23 receptions, 301 yards, 5 TDs) has sure hands and will be utilized in the passing game, especially in the red zone.
Under new defensive coordinator Barry Odom, the Tigers were much better on defense than on offense. Memphis ranked third in Conference USA and was among the 50 best schools in the country in terms of total defense (383.6 ypg). Memphis was particularly strong in creating negative plays for opposing offenses, ranking third in C-USA in sacks (29.0) and tying for fourth in tackles for loss (78.0).
That type of production should continue this season as the front seven was largely kept intact. Martin Ifedi is the most intriguing returning player as the defensive end had 11.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last season. Fellow starters Corey Jones (6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks) and Terry Redden (6.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) return up front.
Leading tackler Charles Harris (79) and Anthony Brown (71) anchor the linebackers, while the secondary has a pair of returning starters in Bobby McCain and Lonnie Ballentine.
These two teams play at much different paces. Duke prefers a more wide open offensive tempo, while Memphis likes to grind games out with defense and the run. Duke proved last weekend that it can run the ball well enough and with that added wrinkle, the Blue Devils should be able to put enough together offensively to get by the Tigers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Duke 28, Memphis 14
09/04 10:53:50 ET