Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 8:00 AM

• What an opportunity the Tigers have Saturday afternoon at Annapolis. There's no better way to build credibility in college football than to beat a Top-25 team on the road.  (It's been 23 years since the Tigers pulled this trick, an upset of 24th-ranked Mississippi State in the 1993 season opener.) Navy vaulted into the rankings (now 24th in the AP poll) by virtue of its upset of Houston on October 8th. The Midshipmen are 4-1, their only loss at Air Force. They have a pair of close wins over AAC rivals — UConn and Tulane — to their credit, but the Tigers will be a bigger test, one for which they've had two weeks to prepare.
click to enlarge Mike Norvell - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

Navy is ranked behind Memphis in both total offense (392 yards per game to the Tigers' 438.5) and total defense (398.6 yards allowed per game to the Tigers' 388.2). But toss the stats. We saw what the wishbone can do to a very good Memphis team just a year ago when touchdown-machine Keenan Reynolds came to town and helped carve the U of M defense for 374 rushing yards. (Navy has thrown a total of 60 passes this season.) Reynolds, of course, is now a receiver with the Baltimore Ravens. Will Worth now steers the Navy ship. He ran for 115 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Cougars and tossed a pair of touchdown passes in only five attempts. If the Tiger defense can't better control this head-spinning scheme, last year's 25-point beatdown could be repeated.

Welcome to the spotlight, Austin Hall. The Tigers' redshirt freshman — a Collierville High alum — earned Defensive Player of the Week honors from the American Athletic Conference after making 12 tackles (three behind the line of scrimmage) and recovering a fumble in the win at Tulane. Hall plays the critical STAR position (half-linebacker, half-safety) in defensive coordinator Chris Ball's scheme, meaning he'll be in the opponent's backfield as much as the Tiger secondary depending on down and yardage variables. It should be noted that Hall was not on the field last season when Navy's offense partied at the Liberty Bowl. Perhaps his presence this weekend will be a swing factor in the Tigers' favor. Tiger coach Mike Norvell sung Hall's praises at Monday's press luncheon: "He added some communication responsibilities this week. For a redshirt freshman against a very challenging offense, who presented so many formations and motions, he played at an extremely high level. He capitalized on his opportunities."

• There was a time when 5-1 starts (or better) were fairly regular in the Tiger program. It happened to be a half-century ago. Memphis had no more than a single loss through six games in 1961, ’62, ’63, ’66, and ’67. Over the 49 seasons since 1968, though, Memphis has been 5-1 (or better) exactly three times: 2004, 2015, and now. With Navy, USF, Cincinnati, and Houston left to play, the second half of the 2016 season will be a steeper challenge for the U of M than the first. But let's not take 5-1 starts for granted. There are 13-year-old Tiger fans who have seen as many of these as those with gray in their beards.

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