Memphis, TN-The anticipation of the University of Memphis’ season opener and the excitement of a new era as the Tigers begin play in the American Athletic Conference will shortly become game-day buzz at Tiger Lane ahead of Saturday’s game against Duke.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The game will be broadcast locally on Memphis’ flagship WREC 600.
Memphis will be in search of its first victory against an opponent from a BCS automatic qualifying conference since 2004 as the Tigers play host to the Blue Devils. Duke is a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and last week opened its season by shutting out cross-town opponent North Carolina Central 45-0.
In his 2013 debut as the Blue Devils’ starting quarterback, junior Anthony Boone completed 16-of-20 passes for 176 yards and also ran for 24 yards. The performance helped stake Duke to a 35-0 lead before being relieved in the third quarter.
Junior wide receiver Jamison Crowder was named the National Punt Returner of the Week by College Football Performance Awards following a five-return, 113-yard game which including a 76-yard touchdown return. He also caught six passes for 62 yards. Over his last 15 games, Crowder has caught 86 passes for 1209 yards.
“I expect them to get the ball to No. 3 (Crowder),” second-year Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “He is a special playmaker for them. I feel like watching them, that Crowder is their electric play-making kid.
“Their quarterback (Boone) is a dynamic playmaker. He will carry the ball a little bit, and make some plays with his feet and his arm. A lot of that for them starts up front. They are experienced up front, and they are pretty darn good.”
Duke played 69 players in its opener including a full group of defenders who accounted for the program’s first shutout since 1989 and the team’s first shutout at home in 35 years.
The Blue Devils have four, five or sixth-year players starting at eight of 11 defensive spots.
Redshirt senior Ross Cockrell is one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks and is the team’s leader in active career tackles with 191 stops. He has nine career interceptions and 30 pass breakups.
“Cockrell is a marquee player for them,” Fuente said.
While Cockrell stands out defensively, the defensive front seven stands out for Fuente.
“Their front seven are older, mature and good football players,” Fuente said. “I think they’ve taken a long look at what they’ve done defensively and maybe tweaked a few things to give them a better chance of success.
One of the leaders on the defensive front for Duke is Mike linebacker Kelby Brown who returns in 2013 after a knee injury sidelined him for the 2012 season. Brown led Duke with seven tackles, had a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry in the Blue Devils’ 2013 debut, his first game since 2011.
The Tigers’ front seven experience may also be Memphis’ strength.
With the addition of Nebraska junior transfer Chase Rome, the Tigers have moved Terry Redden from nose tackle to defensive end. With quarterback sack leader Martin Ifedi returning and Redden moving to the other end position, Corey Jones has moved to the Dawg position, a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position. Rome will see playing time along with senior return Johnnie Farms at the nose tackle position.
Behind the front four, Memphis returns its two leading tackles from 2012 in Charles Harris and Anthony Brown. Harris led the Tigers with 79 total tackles last year. Brown was second on the team with 71 total stops.
“I think certainly the strength of their team will be their defensive front,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “A year ago, at times, they were difficult to deal with. They’re certainly a year older and better. You can tell reading between the lines that they’ve done a good job there and they expect to be better.”
Offensively, Memphis returns senior running back Brandon Hayes, a former walkon who made his collegiate debut against the Blue Devils last year and went on to lead the Tigers in rushing yards. He was named Memphis’ Offensive MVP following the 2012 season.
The Tigers will start freshman Paxton Lynch at quarterback and of the six receivers listed on the two-deep, three are first-year players for the Tigers.