Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Peay-sized measuring stick? — For a football team suffering an 11-game losing streak, any victory over a group of men in different uniforms is big. Contrary to what you read about the legends, athletes aren’t born winners. They learn how to win. The Tigers have only five players with as many as 10 career starts. This is an inexperienced team coach Larry Porter is fielding, one that desperately needed a booster between the ears. And the win over Austin Peay provided it.

But can we measure progress (beyond the mental variety) in the Tigers’ beating a Football Championship Subdivision squad? In its opening game of the season, Austin Peay surrendered 72 points and 387 rushing yards to Cincinnati. Memphis scored 26 points and ran for 113 (on 33 carries). The Governors gained 277 yards against Cincinnati, then 368 against the Tigers. This may simply serve as a barometer for how the Tigers would fare against the Bearcats. (Cincinnati beat up on Akron last weekend, 59-14, a week after losing by 22 to Tennessee.) This Saturday, Memphis will host an SMU team that ranks second in C-USA in passing offense (309.3 yards per game) and second in total defense (296.7). Not all that promising for a U of M team that ranks 11th in the league in passing defense (318.7) and 8th in total offense (317.3). All that said, we’re merely three games into the season. If you’re in the Tiger locker room Saturday morning (kickoff is at 11 a.m.), those numbers are worth the paper they’re printed on.

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The announced attendance at last Saturday’s game was 18,808. Whether or not that represented the number of people in the stands, the turnout was larger than I expected. I’ve certainly seen Tiger football games with smaller crowds. And I think this speaks well for a beleaguered program, one that has some climbing to do before it regains regional (to say nothing of national) respectability.

I’m guilty of joking in the press box about game-day elbow room at the Liberty Bowl. (The stadium’s too big; that’s no joke.) But the fans who turn out to see a team that has been outscored 106-17 over its first two games — a team hosting a school that played club football a decade ago — are a breed to be respected. Admired, even. And these fans have friends and colleagues. In other words, Memphis Tiger football does indeed have a fan base. When the wins return, so will the energy in the stands of that gargantuan stadium.

Why, oh why does the U of M not display the names and numbers of the four football players who have had their jerseys retired? This weekend is homecoming, an annual salute to alumni (and former players). On Friday, the M Club will induct its newest class to the school’s Hall of Fame. (One of the inductees will be Isaac Bruce, one of the four football players to have their jersey retired.) But to the best of my knowledge, the only way you can see (or read about) these gridiron greats is if you own a media guide. Retiring someone’s jersey is the ultimate salute from program to player. Hiding that honor diminishes the gesture. A few gallons of blue paint can solve this problem. For the record, the Memphis football players you’d see honored by that paint: Dave Casinelli (#30), Charles Greenhill (#8), Isaac Bruce (#80), and DeAngelo Williams (#20).

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