Memphis' rush defense is hurting

West will 'just have to make it work'

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MEMPHIS - When Tommy West spent one season as Memphis defensive coordinator in 2000, his defense set a tone . . . and delivered its share of hits.

Nine years ago that unit ranked fifth nationally overall and first in rushing defense.

As Memphis (2-6) prepares for Saturday's cross-state matchup against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, West is attempting to find ways to improve a struggling rush defense. In the past five games, the Tigers have allowed 200 or more rushing yards to four opponents. In last week's 38-19 Conference USA loss to East Carolina, the Tigers yielded a season-high 275 yards.

A rush defense that held nine of its 11 opponents to fewer than 100 yards under West in 2000 is giving up 198 yards per game. It's a total that ranks 105th nationally of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

"I'm disappointed in our rush defense,'' said West, in his ninth season as head coach of Memphis. "It was bad in the East Carolina game. We have to get that corrected.''

What creates a sense of urgency this week for West is Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty.

Hardesty, a punishing, physical back, is averaging 105 yards per game to rank 19th nationally and fourth in the SEC. Behind Hardesty, the Vols are averaging 172 yards rushing per game and have scored 12 rushing touchdowns.

"(Hardesty) is as good a player as we've played against,'' West said. "(And) I think we've played against some really good backs.''

The Tigers have played against four of the top 31 rushers in the nation. Darius Marshall, of Marshall, ranks second nationally with a 136-yard average. He gained 203 against the Tigers. Of the other three - 12th-ranked Donald Buckram of UTEP, 30th-ranked Dominique Lindsay of East Carolina and 31st-ranked Damion Fletcher of Southern Miss - only Lindsay has rushed for 100 or more yards against Memphis. He had 139.

But opponents, as a team, are getting their yards on the ground, enough to keep the Tigers from breaking out of their tailspin.

Injuries haven't helped. The Tigers have lost four secondary players for the season and cornerback D.A. Griffin will miss Saturday's game with an ankle injury. Up front, Memphis lost Justin Thompson (knee) two weeks ago just as he was emerging, while veteran defensive end Jada Brown suffered a neck injury last week against East Carolina and will not play Saturday.

"We'll just have to make it work,'' West said.

Because of the rash of injuries, West said he'll look at offensive lineman Kellen Heard - a former Texas A&M defensive lineman - at nose tackle this week.

In addition to Hardesty, the Tigers expect freshman Bryce Brown to be a running threat, too. Brown has rushed for 345 yards and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

"Both of those guys are excellent running backs,'' Tigers linebacker Winston Bowens said. "They are kind of the heart of their offense. Everything revolves around them. (Hardesty) has to be one of the top backs in the SEC from what I've seen. He runs the ball hard, but he's very elusive for a big guy.''

West's initial defense at Memphis held eight of its 11 opponents to fewer than 20 points. Every FBS opponent this season has scored at least 20.

"That (first) defense was really good against the pass first of all,'' West said. "We had great corners and we were able to play a lot of man coverage and put an extra guy in the box all the time. We knew you couldn't beat our corners. (Marcus Smith) and (Michael) Stone were great cover guys. (Idrees Bashir) was a really good free and (Glenn) Sumter was a great hitter at strong safety.

"I don't know how good we were in the front seven. We were OK. Our linebackers were young guys except for Kamal (Shakir), but we were really good in the secondary.''

West said the current defense isn't strong enough to play a similar style. Instead, he'll attempt to tweak some things in advance of Saturday's matchup.

"We are going to do some things, scheme-wise, to try and help them,'' West said of his injury-ravaged defense. "And to be honest, we'll have to play at a quicker tempo than we've been playing. And we've got to play with more intensity.

"That's what disappointed me. We didn't act like we wanted to get out there and play defense. But we'll get that (corrected). We won't ever go on that field again and not be excited to play defense.''

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Comments » 17

memphis_vol_fan writes:

Hardesty and Brown are lickin' their chops!!!!

tnqball writes:

in response to memphis_vol_fan:

Hardesty and Brown are lickin' their chops!!!!

Not just Hardesty and Brown. So are Oku and Poole. Hardesty and Brown will not play in the 4th quarter. It will be blow out city by that time.

rich182x writes:

uhh, funny story.... we win out, and we place second in the SEC East. Didn't they rank us behind UF, SC and Georgia? Yeah... funny story.

HallowedHill writes:

After watching Memphis get rolled by East Carolina, and give up season-high totals in rushing (275) and yards (497), I'm sure Kiffin's offense is licking their chops.
I don't see the team under CLK 'playing down' to lesser opponents (as was previously the custom). I'm expecting a Western Kentucky-ish score.

GO VOLS!

63 - 6

beaus27 writes:

Saturday night, Poole gets two TD in the 2nd half!

Vol_in_Texas writes:

Fresh legs late in the game can do wonders vs a gassed defense. Put the hammer down and don't let up. Get Poole and Oku some playing time in this one. GO Vols!

BTW: I was at the game in '96 sitting in the endzone with the kick coming at us when the Memphis returner ran it back after the initial hit. I was on my feet screaming for someone to tackle him but eveyone just kinda stopped. I will never forget that feeling of shock!

tngivem6 writes:

in response to tnqball:

Not just Hardesty and Brown. So are Oku and Poole. Hardesty and Brown will not play in the 4th quarter. It will be blow out city by that time.

it would be nice to see Oku and the forgotten poole play some more..Like to see Hardesty bust open with 200+ yards..needs to get that yards per game average back up there..see a little more action from Brown too.
Hardesty is having a great year..
Love that spin move.."x-button:"

BigOrange_Vol_2 writes:

in response to rich182x:

uhh, funny story.... we win out, and we place second in the SEC East. Didn't they rank us behind UF, SC and Georgia? Yeah... funny story.

It will be a funny story if it happens, lets win one game at a time, this team is young and they have learned how to handle tough situations after bouncing back after the heart breaking Alabama loss, now lets see how they handle success after stomping South Carolina and Memphis. Ole Miss will still be tough and we should beat them but lets play the games before we crown ourselves second. Go Vols

topgun writes:

in response to tngivem6:

it would be nice to see Oku and the forgotten poole play some more..Like to see Hardesty bust open with 200+ yards..needs to get that yards per game average back up there..see a little more action from Brown too.
Hardesty is having a great year..
Love that spin move.."x-button:"

Kim, any idea why, overnight, your name was changed everywhere on this site from "kimtaylor.....," to "tngivem6"??

tngivem6 writes:

in response to topgun:

Kim, any idea why, overnight, your name was changed everywhere on this site from "kimtaylor.....," to "tngivem6"??

Actually topgun, that will be the last time I forget to logout of a company computer.
Had to change the name and password so I would not be confused with the other poster using my ID. After reading all the previous posts, felt I had to.

topgun writes:

in response to tngivem6:

Actually topgun, that will be the last time I forget to logout of a company computer.
Had to change the name and password so I would not be confused with the other poster using my ID. After reading all the previous posts, felt I had to.

Thanks--a bit mystified by all that. Goodbye kim--hello givem6. All is good in VOL country. Now on to UT sports. VOLS will win out and go to Outback or chick-fil-lay(?) bowl. We beat the tigers by at least 30 points and that is with a lots of reserves in the game by the 4th qtr. Have a great day.

Your "OLD" pal, topgun.

Down_The_Field writes:

in response to LazhilUT:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Laz....i was thinking the very same thing. where are all the mempuss trolls who flooded this site in b-ball season???? where's the support for your team and the outlandish mempuss pick to win by 50???

classic example of trolls who only roam when their team is winning. i don't recall the toothless, mullet headed flar-duh fans talking trash much after casey clausen beat them in gaynsvul the second time in a row.

ThurmondEppy writes:

in response to Vol_in_Texas:

Fresh legs late in the game can do wonders vs a gassed defense. Put the hammer down and don't let up. Get Poole and Oku some playing time in this one. GO Vols!

BTW: I was at the game in '96 sitting in the endzone with the kick coming at us when the Memphis returner ran it back after the initial hit. I was on my feet screaming for someone to tackle him but eveyone just kinda stopped. I will never forget that feeling of shock!

I was there too and it was not a good night.

rich182x writes:

in response to BigOrange_Vol_2:

It will be a funny story if it happens, lets win one game at a time, this team is young and they have learned how to handle tough situations after bouncing back after the heart breaking Alabama loss, now lets see how they handle success after stomping South Carolina and Memphis. Ole Miss will still be tough and we should beat them but lets play the games before we crown ourselves second. Go Vols

Where did I crown ourselves second? Please work on your reading comprehension skills. But yes, let's take it game by game.

tenuscvol writes:

in response to Vol_in_Texas:

Fresh legs late in the game can do wonders vs a gassed defense. Put the hammer down and don't let up. Get Poole and Oku some playing time in this one. GO Vols!

BTW: I was at the game in '96 sitting in the endzone with the kick coming at us when the Memphis returner ran it back after the initial hit. I was on my feet screaming for someone to tackle him but eveyone just kinda stopped. I will never forget that feeling of shock!

Sat about the same area...and do recall the shock and the long drive home...it ended up costing the conference millions in '96...

Remember going to a home game a few years ago against Memphis and we pulled it out late and it was one of those games that I recall not enjoying very much at all. Going to Saturdays game and it will be my first of the CLK era and I am expecting a very good time (re: Legion Field, 1994)and we will score on our first possession and the final will be:

55-10

GoVols!

SavTnVol writes:

in response to Vol_in_Texas:

Fresh legs late in the game can do wonders vs a gassed defense. Put the hammer down and don't let up. Get Poole and Oku some playing time in this one. GO Vols!

BTW: I was at the game in '96 sitting in the endzone with the kick coming at us when the Memphis returner ran it back after the initial hit. I was on my feet screaming for someone to tackle him but eveyone just kinda stopped. I will never forget that feeling of shock!

I was there too and almost sheet!..That was the game we tried to "establish the running game" for four quarters...For some reason, they wasn't wanting Peyton to throw the ball that day...The worst part was, I live in West Tennessee and Channel 3 out of Memphis had the game replay on every Saturday nite at midnite for 5 months....

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to beaus27:

Saturday night, Poole gets two TD in the 2nd half!

Yes; Time for Poole to get some much deserved playing time!!

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