Newly ranked Memphis hopes to avoid distractions at Tulsa
Justin Fuente has a pretty good handle on how to approach most situations with his players amid the dramatic turnaround he is engineering as the coach at Memphis.
This week, even Fuente has sought out advice from fellow coaches such as Mack Brown and Gary Patterson on how to deal with distractions. It’s a welcome problem to have after the No. 18 Tigers (6-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) jumped into the rankings on the strength of their win over No. 24 Mississippi a week ago.
While Memphis has enjoyed its time in the national spotlight, Fuente has made a point this week to remind his team that it’s only halfway through the season.
And the second half begins on Friday night when Memphis begins a stretch of six straight AAC games to close out the regular season at Tulsa (3-3, 0-2).
”After several wins, I walked in the locker room and the kids (were) singing, dancing and having a good time,” Fuente said. ”Never have I walked into the locker room during halftime and seen them singing and dancing. So, that’s where we are right now – we are at halftime of this season and have a lot of work to do.”
Memphis’ win against Ole Miss was its school-record 13th straight, with its last loss coming against Houston more than a year ago.
This week, the Tigers face a Golden Hurricane team that’s sixth in the country in total offense with an average of 550.5 yards per game. Tulsa’s offensive-minded roots are easy to see, with first-year coach Philip Montgomery having previously served as the offensive coordinator at Baylor.
The Golden Hurricane played well in its only other game against a ranked opponent this season, gaining 603 yards of offense in a 52-38 loss at No. 17 Oklahoma on Sept. 19. However, it has lost two of three games since – including last week’s 30-17 setback at East Carolina – and the schedule doesn’t get any easier this week.
”We’ve got our hands full,” Montgomery said.
Some things to watch as Memphis deals with distractions following its biggest win of the season:
NEAR-PERFECT PAXTON: Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Ole Miss, and he’s sixth nationally in passing efficiency this season – having thrown 13 touchdowns and only one interception. The junior has helped the Tigers score an average of 46 points per game, and he’s caught the eye of Montgomery, who called Lynch ”one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football right now.”
TIGERS’ TAKEAWAYS: The Tigers have struggled defensively at times this season, particularly in a 53-46 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 24. However, led by interceptions by Don Witty and Arthur Maulet, the Tigers were able to limit Ole Miss’ scoring chances a week ago – a theme they’ll need to continue this week.
EXPERIENCED EVANS: Tulsa is second in the AAC with an average of 354.4 yards passing per game, with junior quarterback Dane Evans leading the way. Evans is fourth in school history with 6,127 passing yards and has thrown for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He hopes to exploit a Memphis defense that allows 329 yards passing per game.
TOP TARGET: Evans’ most experienced and best big-play target is 6-foot-4, 221-pound senior wide receiver Keyarris Garrett. The senior is ninth in the country with an average of 116.3 yards receiving per game, including a 14-catch, 189-yard effort in the loss to the Sooners.
RUNNING WILD: Memphis was led by 199 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Brandon Hayes in a 40-20 win over the Golden Hurricane last season. The Tigers use several running backs this year, with Jarvis Cooper leading the way with an average of 53.3 yards per game on the ground, and they’re likely to try and control Tulsa’s offense by utilizing the run game once again.
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this report.