Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 10:42 AM

• The Tigers are 2-0, having run roughshod over an FCS team and the hapless Kansas Jayhawks. When have we seen this before? Why, just last year, so you're forgiven the sense of deja vu. Are there any distinctions we can make, though, about this year's start, relative to the 2015 version (beyond a bye week splitting the two wins this month)? The Tigers won its first two games last year by a total of 88 points and averaged 585 yards in total offense. This year, the blowouts added up to "only" 54 points and Memphis averaged "merely" 400 yards of total offense. On the defensive side, the Tigers allowed an average of 242 yards last season and 283.5 this year.

click to enlarge Tigers QB Riley Ferguson - GOTIGERSGO.COM
  • gotigersgo.com
  • Tigers QB Riley Ferguson
The Tiger ground game hasn't gained traction yet this season, most of its 205 yards against Kansas coming after halftime with the outcome already decided. Even with Paxton Lynch calling the signals last year, the Tigers ran for 317 yards against Missouri State and 281 at Kansas. Let's keep an eye on the Memphis offensive line and see what kind of push it can create in the next two games. If Sam Craft (hamstring) can return to action and supplement the efforts of Doroland Dorceus, Patrick Taylor, and a presumably healthy Darrell Henderson, the Tigers may ease the pressure on quarterback Riley Ferguson and the air attack.

• The most memorable game of the Tigers' 2015 season was the win over Ole Miss, but the victory at Bowling Green was the first indication that Memphis had a special team developing. The Tigers fell behind the Falcons on the scoreboard five different times (7-0, 14-7, 21-17, 34-27, and 41-34), before taking the lead on a Jake Elliott field goal with 7:35 to play and somehow holding BG quarterback Matt Johnson and friends scoreless the rest of the way. The Tigers 541 yards of offense were impressive until you considered the Falcons' 579. Johnson and Lynch combined to throw 84 passes without a single interception. Neither team lost a fumble. It was that great a football game.

Johnson will not be in uniform Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. Bowling Green's new quarterback, senior James Knapke, has completed barely 50 percent of his passes and thrown twice as many interceptions (6) as touchdowns (3) over the Falcons' first three games (two of them losses). The Falcons have allowed an average of 48 points and 533 yards to Ohio State, North Dakota, and Middle Tennessee. (A 77-10 loss to the Buckeyes skewed these numbers to "extra ugly.") Don't look for the kind of game we saw last season between Memphis and Bowling Green. But the Falcons will be superior to the Tigers' first two foes and, for good or ill, the team's best tune-up for Ole Miss on October 1st. 

• Quarterback Riley Ferguson appears to be where a talented-but-raw signal-caller should be in his first season at the FBS level. He's completed 64 percent of his passes for 484 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also landed on his back more than he'd like in last Saturday's win over Kansas. "I don't like seeing our quarterback on the ground five times in a game," noted Tiger coach Mike Norvell at Monday's press luncheon.

After the game, Ferguson told me he's still working on achieving the high-speed tempo Norvell is preaching, starting with the relay of signals from the sideline after a play is blown dead. (Easier to do when not on your back.) Don't underestimate the offensive line's role in achieving this tempo. From tackle to tackle, five players must receive, understand, and execute their assignments — in sync — for the offense to gain full (and steady) speed. This brings us back to the need for progress with the running game. Ferguson will be tested in the weeks ahead and he'll determine how dangerous the Memphis offense can be. But that O-line, people. It will determine how dangerous Mr. Ferguson can be.

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