Memphis, TN-Could Memphis’ nationally-televised game against Cincinnati turn into a defensive showdown? The Bearcats and Tigers feature two of the Top 15 defenses in the nation.
Wednesday’s kickoff for the ESPN2-televised contest is slated for 7 p.m. The game is also slated for broadcast locally on Memphis’ flagship WREC 600. In addition to an online stream of the radio broadcast through GoTigersGo.com’s All-Access link, the game can also be heard on WJAK-AM 1460 in Jackson and WAMB-AM 1160 in Nashville. WREC’s pregame show begins at 5 p.m. and originates from Tiger Lane.
Memphis is 1-5 on the year and 0-3 in its first season of play in the American Athletic Conference. After playing UCF, Houston and SMU in its first three conference games, Wednesday’s game against Cincinnati will mark the first time the Tigers have played a league opponent which is not a former Conference USA rival.
“They have only won one game but they are probably the most improved team in the league that I have seen on film,” said Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville. “I’ve been around Memphis all my life, growing up in that area. They have had a lot of up and down years. They have a good, young coach there now and it looks like he knows what he wants to do, put a program in and do it the right way.”
Tuberville grew up in Camden, Ark. He will be coaching in the Liberty Bowl and against Memphis for the first time since he was the head coach at Ole Miss (1995-98).
This season, Cincinnati is 5-2 and 2-1. The Bearcats are coming off back-to-back home wins against Temple (38-20) and Connecticut (41-16) after opening league play with a 26-20 loss at previously winless USF.
Memphis heads into its first nationally-televised ESPN or ESPN2 game in four seasons ranked 13th nationally in total defense, allowing just 331 yards per game. The Tigers’ defensive unit is one of only eight in the country which is giving up less than 100 yards per game.
“They are very unorthodox defensively,” Tuberville said of the Tigers’ defense. “At one time they will be a four-man front, another they will be a three-man front and the next time they will all be standing up and not have any down linemen. They put a lot of speed on the field and try to create problems with their alignments. They just try to get you out of a rhythm.”
Through the first half of the season, junior linebacker Tank Jakes leads the Tigers with 38 total tackles including 29 solo stops. Jakes, the 2012 John Bramlett Defensive Player of the Year award winner at Memphis, has had his top two tackle performances in the past two games. He had a season-high nine tackles against Houston two weeks ago and eight tackles in the Tigers’ last game against SMU.
Heading into the Cincinnati game, junior defensive end Martin Ifedi is tied for the national lead in quarterback sacks, averaging 1.3 per game (7.5 sacks through six games). He also ranks third nationally in tackles for loss with a 1.9 TFL per game average (11.5 through six games).
Memphis’ defense will look to stop a Bearcat offensive unit which is averaging 467 yards of offense including 191 rushing.
Senior Brandon Kay became Cincinnati’s starting quarterback the third week of the year after season starter Munchie Legaux suffered a knee injury against Illinois which will sideline him for the remainder of the year. Kay has completed 118-of-165 passes for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Running back Hosey Williams has rushed for 362 yards and four touchdowns while Ralph David Abernathy IV has rushed for 341 yards and two scores.
Cincinnati’s defense has held four opponents under 250 yards of total offense this season. The Bearcats held Miami (Ohio) to just 87 total yards last month, which ranks tied for the fourth-lowest yards allowed in 2013. For the year, Cincinnati is allowing 286.9 yards of offense which ranks seventh nationally.
Middle linebacker Greg Bliar leads Cincinnati with 46 total tackles while strong side linebacker Nick Flair has been on 40 tackles including eight for loss and four quarterback sacks. Defensive end Silverberry Mouhon has registered a team-leading 5.5 sacks and six quarterback sacks.
“They’re very physical up front,” Memphis head coach Justin Fuente of the Bearcats’ Top 10-ranked defensive unit. They do some things schematically that can cause you problems. I think the strength of their defense is the front seven. They are as big and physical a team that we’ve played.”