Saturday will be a good day for our offensive line to continue to improve. While our front five have come up short in the past, I’d say the defense has taken the heat off these guys the last two weeks (can we PLEASE get it all together in one game???). In their first and only game of the season, Memphis recorded only two sacks against a weaker University of Louisiana, Monroe, and six tackles for loss. They rank 89th in total defense after one game, but the Bruins come in at 118 (ugh.). Let’s break down Memphis’s defense and see what we’re up against.
As I already stated, the offensive line will look on point on Saturday. Sacking the quarterback is not the Tigers’ strong suit, this year or last. They got two on Monroe in game one, which surpasses last season’s average of under two sacks per game (they recorded 23 in 12 games). Genard Avery, their linebacker with the most sacks last year, left the game on August 31 with an injury, but is likely to play Saturday. One thing the Bruins need to worry about, however, is the fact that the Tigers forced three fumbles against ULM, two of which came from Avery. UCLA’s talent level far surpasses ULM, so I’d say the likelihood of Rosen getting sacked by one of the Memphis front guys is pretty slim.
While Rosen has been throwing a zillion passes to make up for the absent run game, he may feel a bit more pressure from Memphis linebackers this weekend. Pass coverage has been a bright spot on the Tigers’ defense, so our receivers may find catching a toss from Rosen a bit more difficult. This unit has some experience which will also help them stop the run. Redshirt junior Curtis Akins is definitely filling his role, with one interception and nine unassisted tackles recorded against ULM two weeks ago. Linebacker Jackson Dillon, a redshirt senior, was granted a fifth year of eligibility after missing most of the 2016 season with a knee injury. Just as he reappeared on the Memphis roster, he injured his shoulder in their season opener and will miss the remainder of this season as well. Head coach Mike Norvell says that Dillon will be seeking a sixth year of eligibility.
The Memphis secondary has seen a lot turnover, welcoming some new faces in their 2017 class to revitalize this unit. Arthur Maulet, Chris Morley and Chauncey Lanier are the biggest losses for this defense. Maulet broke up 13 passes in 2016 and also added two interceptions, and Morley was third on the team in tackles. Their two best returners are senior safety Jonathan Cook and sophomore defensive back Austin Hall, who combined for 127 tackles and 11 pass break ups last season. The rest of the returning secondary has not seen real game action, so the Bruins really need to prey on their lack of experience and depth to put points on the board. The Tigers added several members to their secondary in the 2017 class, but with only one game played thus far, they don’t have a lot of in game experience under their belts yet.
While we can’t take any team lying down, if the Bruins can put a solid game together on both sides of the ball, I see us 3-0 come Saturday afternoon. If the offensive line can protect Rosen and if the receivers stay on point, the Memphis defense will wear down and the better team will prevail.