Grieving Tigers try to prepare for Marshall, game - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Grieving Tigers try to prepare for Marshall, game

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - The Memphis Tigers spent Monday grieving. On Tuesday night, they'll try to take their minds off the shooting death of teammate Taylor Bradford by playing Marshall as planned.

What the atmosphere is like in the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium remains to be seen, but Memphis coach Tommy West said each of the Tigers voted in favor of playing the game.

"There's going to be a 3½-hour block where we have to have our minds on business as hard as it is," West said at a news conference Monday. "But we made that decision. I think we've got to do a good job with them, and they know that they made that decision.

Can we do that? We'll see. I don't know."

Bradford was shot to death Sunday night, approximately three hours after the Tigers finished practice. West said he met with athletic director R.C. Johnson, and they let the Tigers vote Monday morning on whether or not to play in what was an unanimous decision.

The university is providing counselors for the Tigers, who were staying together Monday night.

West said the players asked to be left alone to grieve a teammate who was popular with his teammates and fellow students.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the young man's family and the Memphis community for this tragedy," Marshall officials said in a statement. "It's just a terrible circumstance. We hope the best for them through a tough time."

Bradford, 21, who had played nose guard, had recently lost 25 pounds hoping to earn playing time by switching to fullback after talking with West.

He will be remembered with a moment of silence before the game. "This to me is the most tragic way that you could ever lose a teammate," West said. "... There was no reason for this."

Bradford's death overshadows what already had been difficult seasons for both the Tigers (1-3, 0-1 Conference USA) and Marshall (0-4, 0-0). On the field, the Tigers are playing their third game in 11 days and coming off a 35-31 collapse against Arkansas State, a game postponed until last Thursday night because of bad weather.

Memphis led 31-6 at halftime and had the momentum with an 88-yard fumble return by defensive tackle Freddie Barnett.

But the Tigers' porous defense showed up in the second half, and the offense lost its creativity. West had said the first half execution was almost flawless, but things started to collapse in all phases after the break.

"This is a team, right now, if we get some momentum on you, we're pretty good," West said. "But, man, we don't play good when the other bunch gets the momentum."

Marshall is off to its worst start since 1969 with losses to West Virginia, Miami and Cincinnati. The other loss was to New Hampshire, 48-35, the closest Marshall has come to an opponent. A big problem has been 11 false start penalties offensively for Marshall in two road games.

"I think some of it is confidence, to be quite frank," Marshall coach Mark Snyder said. The Thundering Herd also has had its share of injuries, most notably defensive end Albert McClellan, last season's Conference USA defensive player of the year.

McClellan suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason. Memphis may have to face Marshall without starting quarterback Martin Hankins, who suffered a hip injury during the second-half battering against Arkansas State.

That would put junior Will Hudgens into the starting role, but West said redshirt freshman Matt Malouf should also see action.

Malouf has emerged as a running threat with 16 carries for 105 yards, third most on the team. The Memphis defense allowing 171 yards rushing and 32 points a game also has linebacker Jake Kasser, safety Tony Bell and defensive end Josh Weaver listed as day-to-day with injuries.

Marshall's defense is surrendering 447.5 yards a game, including opponents amassing 263 yards on the ground - 117th in the country.

That is why Snyder expects the Tigers to run. "And I'm sure they're going to try to establish the run ... like everybody is going to try to do against us," Snyder said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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