Jela Duncan and the rest of the Blue Devils had their way with Memphis last year. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
As mentioned last week, there's a new blog feature this football season! Each week, I'll (hopefully) talk to beat writer who covers Duke's opponent. Today we have Phil Stukenborg, who covers Tigers football for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Links to his work can be found here, and Phil is on Twitter at @Phil_Stukenborg.
1. Last time we saw Memphis, the Tigers were struggling to do much of anything right in a 38-14 loss in Durham. Do you think the Tigers will be better this time around, as Justin Fuente begins his second year as head coach?
They should. Fuente has had a full season and two springs to implement his style and discipline. The talent is markedly better, but so is the competition. Memphis moves from Conference USA into what was the Big East. The Tigers will be better, but their record may not reflect it.
2. It's not often that you see a redshirt freshman beat out a returning starter at quarterback, but that's what Paxton Lynch has done. What went into that decision, and we you surprised by the announcement?
I wasn't surprised by the decision, only because if a program like Memphis is to become a factor in the American Athletic Conference it must have a stable quarterback situation. Paxton Lynch gives the team a tall (6-6), strong-armed QB who can stretch the field. And if he goes through the normal freshman bumps and bruises it will only prepare him for battles over the following three years.
3. With any rebuilding job (a familiar concept at Duke), a lot of times young players will play quickly, because the incoming recruits are better than the players currently on the roster. Any true freshman figure to make an impact this year for Memphis?
Coach Justin Fuente said at his Monday presser that as many as six true freshmen could play. The most intriguing, and potentially most exciting, will be RB Marquis Warford, who was the San Antonio area's offensive player of the year in 2012. He is a small, elusive, big-play athlete.
4. What's the strongest aspect of this team right now? The biggest area for concern?
The defense is easily the strongest aspect. It returns most of its key performers and the front seven will be particularly strong. Former Nebraska noseguard Chase Rome joined the program in preseason camp and quickly moved to No. 2 on the depth chart. His addition allowed the defensive staff to move a quality lineman (Terry Redden) to defensive end.
As for the biggest area of concern, the offensive line remains a work in progress even though four starters returned. There is not the needed depth.
5. What would have to happen for Memphis to win this game?
I think special teams would have to play a part. With an offense that will be trying to find its way behind a redshirt freshman quarterback, special teams -- and the defense -- will have to step up in a big way. Special teams, which were much improved for Memphis a year ago, kept the Tigers in the Duke game a year ago, if only for a half.
Thanks again to Phil for his time. Stay tuned for plenty of more Duke-Memphis coverage this week.