Memphis Tigers finally open season hosting Duke
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Tigers are hoping they can pick up where they left off last season and make a nice splash in their first game in the American Athletic Conference.
Coach Justin Fuente just doesn’t know what to expect Saturday afternoon against Duke.
“There’s just things that happen when the lights go on that have never happened before,” Fuente said. “You have prepared and prepared and prepared and all of a sudden, the lights come on and he zigged when he was supposed to zag.”
Memphis went 4-8 in Fuente’s first season and finished in style winning the final three games. To prepare for the season opener, Fuente put his Tigers through a mock game last weekend when so many other programs were playing actual games.
The Duke Blue Devils got their season started with a 45-0 win over North Carolina Central, bolstered by an oft-maligned defense that earned a shutout in the opener. They come to Memphis for only the second game between these programs looking for their best start in 15 years, and they want a similar result to last season when they defeated the Tigers 38-14 in Durham, N.C.
“It’s going to be a different level of game and a different challenge,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of playing Memphis. “What we need to do is start fast, and . try to execute at a high level for 60 minutes.”
That win in the opener was the Blue Devils’ first shutout since 1989, a nice accomplishment for defense that doesn’t get the attention of the high-powered offense run by Cutcliffe. It also helped quiet questions for a Duke defense that gave up at least 41 points in five of its final six games last season before losing to Cincinnati 48-34 in the Belk Bowl.
At least the Tigers know more of what to expect from Fuente, and the coach sees a different attitude from a year ago with his style much different than former coach Larry Porter.
“We’re still trying to preach consistency and playing smart and limiting mistakes,” Fuente said.
Here are five things to watch Saturday when Duke visits Memphis:
CUTCLIFFE: This is only the second time these programs better known for their basketball programs will meet on a football field. But the Duke coach has plenty of experience with Memphis from his time as an assistant coach at Tennessee and as head coach at Mississippi. Cutcliffe went 9-1 against Memphis with the Tennessee Volunteers and now is 3-2 as a head coach with his two losses while at Ole Miss.
NEW QUARTERBACK: Memphis is going with 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch instead of Jacob Karam, who started all 12 games last season. Lynch has a reputation of having a strong arm but is a bit of unknown for both teams. Cutcliffe said he had to go back and find Lynch’s high school films to get an idea of what to expect. Fuente is not sure how Lynch will react to the first game. “We won’t change because it is his first start,” Fuente said. “We just want the kid to go out and relax and play ball and run the things he has run 8,000 times since he has been here.”
BIG PLAY THREAT: Jamison Crowder does double duty both as punt returner for Duke and on offense at receiver. In the opener, he had 113 yards in punt returns, including a 76-yarder for a touchdown. He also had six receptions for 62 yards.
YOU AGAIN: Brandon Hayes debuted against Duke last season, and the running back wound up leading the Tigers in rushing averaging 64 yards a game in nine games. “I was just so excited to show what I had,” he said. “I just wanted to show them I could play and play to a (Division) I level.”
HISTORY: The Blue Devils hadn’t opened the season with a shutout since 1960 until last week.
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