Thursday, October 27, 2016

AAC Picks: Week 9

Posted By on Thu, Oct 27, 2016 at 8:00 PM

SEASON: 54-11

Navy at USF

Tulsa at Memphis
UCF at Houston
Cincinnati at Temple
UConn at East Carolina
SMU at Tulane

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 8:00 AM

• On October 6th at the Liberty Bowl, the Tigers' opponent ran 88 plays (to the Tigers' 58) and held the ball for 38:15 (essentially two-thirds of the game). The Memphis defense allowed 531 yards (208 more than the Tiger offense gained) . . . and Memphis won the football game. Last Saturday in Annapolis, the Tigers' opponent ran 78 plays and held the ball for 39:48. The Memphis defense allowed 532 yards . . . and Memphis lost the football game.

What gives? I'm vexed by time of possession, at least when it comes to this Memphis team. The difference between the 7-point win over Temple and the 14-point loss to Navy (which seemed worse): three turnovers forced by the Tiger defense against the Owls, including a pick-six by linebacker Genard Avery. The Tigers only forced one turnover against the Midshipmen, that bizarre play on which Navy quarterback Will Worth fumbled as he attempted to reach the ball into the end zone (he dropped the pigskin when it hit the front pylon). Memphis somehow snapped the ball 71 times in its 20 minutes of possession time, a reflection of the speed coach Mike Norvell insists upon. But you have to wonder: Is the speed — frequency of plays — truly tiring defenses? Or might the Tiger defense be suffering from spending two-thirds of a game in the trenches (or chasing down triple-option quarterbacks)?

"I have been really pleased with the way our defense has played," said Norvell at Monday's press luncheon. "I think stats don't always tell the full story. When you look at the Temple game I thought our defense was dominant, while being put in tough situations. Temple threw the ball around and had some yards passing but for the majority of the game, even though they weren't put in the best situation, I thought our defense did a really nice job." As for the Navy game? "Last week was a setback," he said. "We stubbed our toe a little bit and didn't play up to the standards of what I think our guys are capable of and I know they are going to respond."
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Tulsa is going to score a lot of points. Head coach Philip Montgomery has some of the American Athletic Conference's most dangerous offensive weapons at his disposal, including the AAC's leading rusher: D'Angelo Brewer (114.7 yards per game). Toss out a blowout loss to Ohio State and the Golden Hurricane (5-2) has hit the following point totals: 45, 58, 48, 43, 31, 50. Tulsa's only other loss came at Houston (that 31-point game). With only one AAC loss and Navy still on its schedule, Tulsa retains hope for reaching the league championship game. So how might Memphis slow this storm system? Let's go back to that first thought: Seems the Tigers would do well to keep the ball away from the Tulsa offense, meaning control the ball for lengthier (in terms of time) possessions. You gotta believe Tulsa remembers the 66-42 embarrassment the U of M administered last season in Oklahoma. Could get nasty — one direction or another — Saturday night.

• By one statistical measure — sacks — the Tigers are losing battles at the line of scrimmage. The Memphis defense has sacked the opposing quarterback only seven times (11th among 12 AAC teams). This is particularly troubling when you consider the defense spent almost 40 minutes on the field against both Temple and Navy. And on the other side of the ball, U of M quarterback Riley Ferguson has been sacked 22 times, the most in the AAC. And Ferguson is not exactly stationary in the pocket. The Tigers' remaining schedule does not include a weak sister. The trenches figure to be brutal against the likes of Tulsa, USF, and Houston. Memphis needs to flex muscle between the tackles for the Tigers to win as many as eight games.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

#24 Navy 42, Memphis 28

Posted By on Sat, Oct 22, 2016 at 6:30 PM

For a series that goes back all of two games, Navy-Memphis sure feels lopsided. A year after the Midshipmen gashed an undefeated (8-0) Memphis team for 459 yards in a 25-point beatdown at the Liberty Bowl, quarterback Will Worth led the nation's 24th-ranked team in a 14-point victory that was that close only because the Navy quarterback fumbled a ball as he entered the end zone in the second quarter.

Ignore that miscue and Worth was flawless in steering Navy's triple-option offense down the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. He rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries and tossed two touchdown passes despite going to the air only four times the entire game. Overall, Navy gained 532 yards, 447 on the ground. The victory gives Navy sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference's West division with a 4-0 record (5-1 overall), while Memphis falls to 2-1 in the AAC (5-2 overall). 

The Tigers missed a pair of chances to swing the score. They drove to the Navy 1-yard line following Worth's second quarter fumble, the game tied at 14. But on fourth down, Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson took the snap in shotgun formation and attempted to run the ball into the end zone, coming up two yards short. A three-yard run by Worth late in the quarter gave Navy a 21-14 lead at halftime.

With Navy leading 35-28 and just under six minutes to play in the game, Navy kicker Bennett Moehring missed a 32-yard field goal attempt, drilling the left upright. But after converting on fourth down in Navy territory, the Tigers gave up the ball when receiver Roderick Proctor fumbled after taking in a Ferguson pass near midfield. (Proctor limped off the field with a lower-body injury.) Worth tumbled into the end zone for the third time with 1:38 left to play to clinch the victory.

Ferguson completed 25 of 40 passes for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He gave the Tigers an early lead with a 33-yard connection to Anthony Miller just 2:34 into the game. But Navy answered on its first possession, culminating in a four-yard run by Shawn White. The Memphis defense was only able to force two punts, one in each half. The Tigers punted but twice themselves, but held the ball for only 20:12, the result of Navy's ground game chewing up (and rather digesting) the game flow.

Miller caught nine passes for 134 yards while senior Daniel Hurd pulled down five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.

Two weeks after returning a kickoff for a touchdown to end a Memphis drought of almost 20 years , freshman Tony Pollard returned a Navy kick 100 yards to pay dirt in the first quarter. Like the Tigers' initial lead, it was short-lived, Navy scoring on its next possession with a Worth-to-Jamir Tillman touchdown pass. 

The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl next Saturday to face Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane beat Tulane, 50-27, today to improve to 5-2 on the season.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

AAC Picks: Week 8

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 8:00 AM

SEASON: 50-9

USF at Temple

Memphis at Navy
UCF at UConn
East Carolina at Cincinnati
Houston at SMU
Tulane at Tulsa

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.
  • 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.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Tigers 24, Tulane 14

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 10:33 PM

Freshman tailback Darrell Henderson scored a pair of touchdowns — each covering more than 40 yards — and the Tigers earned their tenth straight win over the Green Wave in a series that dates back to the teams' longtime memberships in Conference USA. The victory improves Memphis to 5-1 on the season and 2-0 in American Athletic Conference play, setting up a showdown at Navy (3-0 in the AAC) next Saturday for first place in the league's West division. The win is the Tigers' first of the season away from the Liberty Bowl.

Tulane drops to 3-3 with the loss (0-2 in the AAC).

The U of M trailed 7-6 with just over a minute to play before halftime when Henderson took a short pass from Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson then cut across the field and down the right sideline for a 46-yard touchdown. On the Tigers' third possession of the second half, senior kicker Jake Elliott connected on a 50-yard field goal, extending the Memphis lead to 16-7 and tying Stephen Gostkowski atop the U of M career field goals chart with 70.

Just over three minutes into the fourth quarter, Henderson took a handoff and pranced down the right sideline once again, this time from 45 yards. Sam Craft took a shotgun snap and ran into the end zone for a two-point conversion to give the Tigers an insurmountable 24-7 lead.

Henderson finished the game with 142 total yards (75 on the ground, 67 on four receptions). Doroland Dorceus ran for 81 yards on just seven carries, 61 coming on a jaunt from the Tiger one-yard line in the fourth quarter. Ferguson completed 21 of 34 passes for 236 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. 

The U of M outgained Tulane, 413 yards to 318. Each team turned the ball over three times.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

AAC Picks: Week 7

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 9:04 AM

SEASON: 46-9

Memphis at Tulane

Temple at UCF
UConn at USF
Tulsa at Houston

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Tony Pollard's epic kickoff return against Temple would not have happened with Justin Fuente on the sideline. Fumbling the football was a hate crime under Fuente, and Pollard coughed up his first return last Thursday night, inside the Tigers' 10-yard line. The Memphis defense rose to the occasion and minimized the damage, holding Temple to a field goal (and a 6-0 lead at the time). One reporter Tweeted, "Freshmen who fumble on kickoff returns don't become sophomore kickoff returners." (That wise guy was me.) Ask Brandon Hayes or Doroland Dorceus — starting tailbacks both — about the Fuente's wrath when the pigskin gets slippery. And for a redshirt-freshman to commit the crime?

Pollard, of course, returned to the field for Temple's very next kickoff. And he now lives in Tiger history for ending a kickoff-return-touchdown drought that stretched 19 years and 11 months, since Kevin Cobb's ESPY-winning return in the upset of Tennessee on November 9, 1996. In addition to his 95-yard jaunt, Pollard had 46 yards on three other returns. He was an integral part of the Tigers' 7-point win. Better yet, Pollard's heroics prove there is, in fact, a place for forgiveness in college football.

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Anthony Miller
• Remember when the Tigers could win a football game if they played a perfect game? Mistake-free in all three phases, with a big play here or a key turnover there. As recently as 2013, Memphis needed what amounts to an A+ performance to earn a W.

Last week at the Liberty Bowl, the Tigers beat a solid Temple team . . . and didn't play anywhere near a perfect game. The first half featured four punts, a missed field goal (by Jake Elliott!), Pollard's fumble, and three consecutive series that ended after three plays. For the game, Temple ran 88 plays to the Tigers' 58. The Owls accumulated 531 yards of offense to the Tigers' 323. Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson had a pedestrian outing (17 completions, 174 yards, no touchdowns, sacked four times) and the U of M's top playmaker, Anthony Miller, caught exactly one pass . . . for a single yard. Stack up all those numbers . . . and we have a Memphis victory? This is big-picture progress. Coaches like to teach — and players like to learn — after wins.

• With his 71-yard touchdown gallop against Temple, Doroland Dorceus moved into a tie for sixth place in Memphis history with 21 career touchdowns. With three more, he'll pass Carlos Singleton and Curtis Steele and move into fourth on the chart. (He's reached the end zone in each of the Tigers' five games this season.) His 1,414 career yards now rank 18th in Tiger history and he can crack the top 10 with 400 more this season. Look for a big game from Dorceus Friday night at Tulane. He was born in New Orleans.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Tigers 34, Temple 27

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 12:14 AM

Had you sent your first email on November 9, 1996? Placed your first call with a cell phone? Let it be said technology has evolved a few generations since Kevin Cobb's epic kickoff return for a touchdown to help the Memphis Tigers upset mighty Tennessee during Peyton Manning's junior season. Thursday night at the Liberty Bowl — almost precisely 19 years and 11 months later — a Tiger finally returned another kickoff to pay dirt. After fumbling his first return of the night, redshirt-freshman Tony Pollard galloped 95 yards to answer a Temple touchdown that had closed a Tiger lead to 27-20 with 6:47 left to play. The drought-ending jaunt provided the winning margin as the Tigers won their American Athletic Conference opener and improved to 4-1 on the season.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Riley Ferguson
"Hats off to Temple," said Memphis coach Mike Norvell following the game. "They played extremely tough. We had some setbacks in the first half; wasn't the way we wanted to start the game. But our defense battled. We talk all the time: it matters how we start, but it's all about how we finish. We came out in the second half and played at an exceptionally high level."

Norvell acknowledged Pollard's touchdown was the biggest play of the game as it answered the previous scoring punch by Temple. But it was a game — particularly a second half — of big plays for Memphis. With just over two minutes to play in the third quarter and the Tigers trailing 13-6, junior tailback Doroland Dorceus took a hand-off around the left tackle and broke through for a 71-yard game-tying touchdown, the 21st score of Dorceus's college career.

"We ran a play to the [left] edge," said Dorceus, "and we saw the look they gave us. Coach called the same play, they showed the same look, I saw the hole, made a man miss, and got up the field. We needed a big play. It's no-panic mode at all times. Something's gonna pop. Nobody's gonna stop us. Only we stop us."

On Temple's next possession, Memphis defensive tackle Jonathan Wilson flattened Temple quarterback Phillip Walker inside the Owls' 10-yard line, a play that may or may not have contributed to Walker's next pass being intercepted by linebacker Genard Avery, who returned the pick 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers their first lead of the game (20-13).

"They did what they had to do in the first half," said Avery. "We answered in the second half and came up with the win." Avery led Memphis with eight solo tackles and added a sack to the interception on his stat line. Haason Reddick led Temple with 11 tackles (8 solo) including five tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

A 28-yard touchdown run by Darrell Henderson extended the lead to 14 (27-13) midway through the fourth quarter, but Pollard's kickoff return would still be needed to seal the Tigers' fourth home victory of the season. Punter Nick Jacobs drew a running-into-the-kicker penalty late in the fourth quarter to extend a Memphis drive and senior cornerback Chauncey Lanier picked off Walker's final pass of the night to clinch the win.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Genard Avery

"Our defense was put in some tough situations early," said Norvell, "and to hold them to a couple of field goals allowed us to stay in the game. We used a lot of different faces. Our defense played 38 minutes, and that's difficult. And Chauncey Lanier, what a big play by an incredible young man. So proud of him."

In the first half, the Tiger offense looked like a unit playing its second game in six days. The Tigers managed only five first downs, 111 yards, and three points over the game's first 30 minutes and trailed by 10 (13-3) at the break. Jacobs and Spencer Smith combined for seven punts in the game and Memphis ran a total of 58 plays, compared with 88 (for 531 yards) by Temple. Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson (17 of 26 for 174 yards) was outplayed by Walker (36 of 59 for 445) and the Owls' Jahad Thomas caught six passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, one of them a 61-yarder. Dorceus finished with 93 yards on seven carries.

"We've got to clean up our mistakes," emphasized Norvell. "We've got to do better with our execution. This was a championship-level game. Their quarterback has been struggling early, but he made some plays, played like a four-year starter. I'm so proud of our guys, the way they finished."

In scoring 10 points, senior kicker Jake Elliott broke Stephen Gostkowski's career scoring record at Memphis. Now with 371 for his career, Elliott — twice the AAC's Special Teams Player of the Year — will likely become the first Tiger to reach the 400-point mark.

The Tigers will have seven full days to prepare for their next game, at Tulane on Friday, October 14th.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

AAC Picks: Week 6

Posted By on Thu, Oct 6, 2016 at 8:00 AM

SEASON: 43-7

Temple at Memphis

SMU at Tulsa

Cincinnati at UConn
East Carolina at USF
Houston at Navy

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Thursday night feels big. The Tigers' American Athletic Conference opener. A second nationally televised game in six days. The defending AAC East Division champs in town with the conference's reigning Defensive Player of the Week. (Temple defensive end Haason Reddick caused a pair of fumbles and had two sacks in the Owls' win over SMU last weekend.) The short week will have its effects (particularly on the traveling team), but it will be good for the Tigers to leap right back into action after being slapped around late in the Ole Miss loss. Temple enters the game with a record of 3-2 (losses to Army and Penn State), its offense ranked 11th out of 12 AAC teams (350.2 yards per game). Quarterback Phillip Walker has completed only 55 percent of his passes and thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6). Meanwhile, Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson is second only to Houston's Heisman candidate, Greg Ward Jr., in AAC pass efficiency (rating of 158.3 to Ward's 166.2). The Tigers are 1-2 against the Owls since the AAC began play in 2013 and took it on the chin last year in Philadelphia (31-12). Motivation should be at a premium for the home team.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

There's a reasonable chance Memphis kicker Jake Elliott will break Stephen Gostkowski's career scoring record Thursday night. The senior from Illinois enters the game with 361 career points, one behind DeAngelo Williams and eight shy of Gostkowski's mark (set from 2002 to 2005). Perspective? Elliott's next point will give him 100 more than Joe Allison accumulated, and Allison merely won the Lou Groza Award in 1992. As for Gostkowski, the longtime New England Patriots kicker is one of two men (along with Hall of Famer Don Hutson) to win five NFL scoring titles. Barring injury, Elliott will soon become the first Memphis player to accumulate 400 points.

• It didn't look all that strong last Saturday night, but the Tiger defense is improved from a year ago and one of the primary differences is safety Jonathan Cook. The junior transfer — Cook played at Alabama in 2013 and ’14 — leads Memphis with 27 tackles (22 solo), good for 11th in the AAC. Along with the impact cornerback Arthur Maulet has made (five pass break-ups and two interceptions), Cook has transformed the Tiger secondary into a playmaking group, a point of emphasis upon coach Mike Norvell's arrival. Even with the lopsided score in Oxford, the Memphis defense is second in the AAC in points allowed (18.8 per game) and fifth in total defense (371.2 yards per game). 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Ole Miss 48, Tigers 28

Posted By on Sat, Oct 1, 2016 at 9:38 PM

A new month finally brought a competitive opponent for the Tigers, and then some. The Ole Miss Rebels showed the kind of talent that has a team ranked 17th in the country despite two losses in September. After falling behind 24-7 in the first half, the Tigers scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to close within six points (27-21), but the Rebels answered with three second-half touchdowns to avenge last season's loss at the Liberty Bowl and improve to 3-2 for the season. 

Playing their first road game of the season, the Tigers fell behind 14-0 late in the first quarter when Zedrick Woods returned an interception of a Riley Ferguson toss 31 yards for a touchdown. (Memphis tight end Daniel Montiel didn't turn around on the timing play.) A 64-yard Tiger drive ensued, capped by a 6-yard run by wideout Anthony Miller.

Reserve cornerback Jahmahl Pardner dropped an interception opportunity in the second quarter, allowing Ole Miss to convert a field goal. On the next Memphis possession, Ferguson fumbled as he was hit from behind with the Tigers in field goal range. Reserve quarterback Jason Pellerin ran for his second touchdown of the game on the ensuing possession to secure that 24-7 halftime lead.

A brilliantly executed fake punt — a throw from punter Spencer Smith to Arthur Maulet as he crossed laterally — spurred the Tigers in the third quarter. A 42-yard Ferguson-to-Miller pass led to an 11-yard touchdown run by Doroland Dorceus, the 20th score of the junior's college career. On their next possession, the Tigers took advantage of an Ole Miss pass-interference penalty to march 99 yards, Ferguson scoring himself from the one to make the score 27-21. 

Ole Miss scored on its next two possessions, though, helped by a shanked punt off the foot of Smith. A Maulet interception of a Chad Kelly pass and a second Ferguson touchdown kept the Tigers' hopes alive, but only until Rebel tailback Eugene Brazley scampered 32 yards (on third-and-15) for a touchdown with five minutes to play for a 48-28 Rebel lead.

Memphis entered the game allowing an average of 287 yards but gave up 620 to the balanced Rebel attack.
Kelly completed 30 of 44 passes for 361 yards for the Rebels, while Ferguson completed 30 of 46 for 343 with three interceptions (he had two in his first three games). Miller caught 10 passes for 132 yards and Dorceus led the Tiger ground game with 72 yards on 14 carries. Brazley (124) and Akeem Judd (108) each topped 100 yards rushing for Ole Miss.

The loss drops the Tigers to 3-1 on the season. They'll open American Athletic Conference play Thursday night, when Temple (3-2) visits the Liberty Bowl. Ole Miss enjoys a bye week then resumes SEC play on October 15th when the Rebels travel to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

AAC Picks: Week 5

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 8:00 AM

SEASON: 37-6

UConn at Houston

Memphis at Ole Miss
UCF at East Carolina
USF at Cincinnati
SMU at Temple
Navy at Air Force
Tulane at UMass

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Three Thoughts on Memphis Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 8:00 AM

• Since upsetting 6th-ranked Tennessee on November 9th, 1996 — 20th anniversary in a few short weeks — the Memphis Tigers are 3-26 against the SEC. By SEC, I mean Tennessee (0-7), Mississippi State (0-9), Arkansas (0-1), and Ole Miss (3-9). I've long contended that the U of M harms its football program (twice) by scheduling SEC foes. In addition to a mark in the loss column, the Tiger program is outed as inferior by measure of the region's recruits. Is such damage worth a packed Liberty Bowl now and then? A fat check for traveling to Oxford or Knoxville?
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

The Tigers are, of course, 1-0 against the SEC since 2015. And Memphis played a 10th-ranked Rebel team much tighter than expected two years ago in Oxford, an early indication of the turn-around we've seen over the course of 26 games since. This Saturday's contest will be the most talked-about Memphis game of the season, and by some distance. We will — finally — see Mike Norvell tested as a head coach, his roster measured against players who have already gone rounds with Florida State, Alabama, and Georgia. Will this be good for the Memphis program? The Tigers really have nothing to lose. If they're beaten, it will be in the stadium of a Top-20 team and they'll open conference play next week with a 3-1 record, a mark rarely seen in these parts. Should the Tiger offense continue to sling points like Jackson Pollock in a paint shop, Memphis may come home with its first win at Oxford in 12 years. Either way, it'll be worth watching, and fuel more debate on the value of SEC villains on the Tiger schedule. [Memphis will play Missouri in 2018 and 2023, Mississippi State in 2021 and 2022, and Ole Miss again in 2019.]

• You approach a fellow Tiger fan in your favorite watering hole this week. You ask him, "Did you see the touchdown number 6 scored Saturday night?" That friend — if he's the Tiger fan you think he is — would then ask, "Which number 6?" And you would slap the table in front of you, smile from ear to ear, and answer, "Both!"

Yes, Memphis suits up two players in number-6 uniforms: linebacker Genard Avery and running back Patrick Taylor. And they both scored against the Bowling Green. The scoring became so crazed last Saturday night that the Tigers seemed to run out of distinct digits for those who reached the end zone. Go to enough football games and you'll see 77 points scored again. But don't count on seeing 11 different players scoring touchdowns in the same game. (The total matched the number of Memphis players to score in the entire 2013 season.) Three seniors, six juniors, and a pair of freshmen reached pay dirt in the "901" helmets. And if you wore number 6 in black-and-blue you finished the game tied . . . with six points each.

An early-season stat I like: +8 turnover margin. An early season stat I don't like: three sacks for the Memphis defense. It's an elementary football fact, but worth remembering: A turnover is a double bonus, as it provides one team an extra possession while denying the team's opponent a chance to score (offensively). The U of M leads the AAC in turnover margin, having picked off seven passes and recovered four fumbles while only conceding three turnovers (two of them interceptions). The Tigers' chances this Saturday would improve mightily with a margin of plus-two at Ole Miss. Memphis would also help its cause with pressure on Rebel quarterback Chad Kelly. The Tigers are 11th in the 12-team AAC in sacks. Jackson Dillon won't be walking through the door anytime soon. Time for other Memphis pass-rushers to seize a moment or two.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tigers 77, Bowling Green 3

Posted By on Sat, Sep 24, 2016 at 11:50 PM

Ole Miss, here come the Tigers.

Memphis coach Mike Norvell and his team can hardly be accused of looking a week ahead. Coming off a pair of lopsided wins (over SEMO of the FCS and Big 12 bottom-feeder Kansas), the Tigers tied a program record with 56 first-half points on their way to a school-record 77 and will enter next Saturday's showdown in Oxford with a spotless 3-0 record. This week's sacrificial lamb happened to have played for the MAC championship each of the past three seasons.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

"I'm proud of how we prepared, how we performed," said first-year Memphis coach Mike Norvell. "We talked about starting fast, going up against a high-tempo offense. I liked our first drive. Then our defense came out, gave up a play, but got acclimated and held them to a field goal. It was a dominant performance all the way around. It was the best week of practice we had. I was hoping we'd see a complete game. We were plus-four in takeaways. My biggest disappointment were the nine penalties. That's not who we are."

Junior quarterback Riley Ferguson accounted for seven touchdowns (one of them rushing) in the first half, completing 20 of 27 passes for 359 yards before being replaced by Jason Stewart after halftime. His touchdown passes went to six different teammates: Daniel Montiel, Phil Mayhue (40 yards), Sam Craft (43 yards), Tony Pollard, Anthony Miller (60 yards), and Roderick Proctor. The Tigers needed no more than 2:14 on any of their seven scoring drives in the first half and capitalized on three interceptions of Falcon quarterback James Knapke. Junior linebacker Genard Avery returned a pick 28 yards for a touchdown midway through the first quarter.

And the onslaught continued after halftime, Doroland Dorceus adding a touchdown (the 19th of his career) and the Tigers reaching 70 points for the first time since a win over Tampa on September 23, 1949. Eleven different Tigers scored the 11 touchdowns (a total not reached over the first six games of the 2011 season).

For the contest, Memphis totaled 635 yards of offense (8.2 yards per play) and held Bowling Green to 294 (3.9). Dorceus ran for 117 yards as the Memphis ground game gained some traction (240 yards). In addition to Avery's pick-six, Chris Morley and Dontrel Nelson had interceptions for the U of M. A crowd of 38,713 witnessed the scoring display.
Doroland Dorceus - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Doroland Dorceus

Norvell acknowledged growth in his quarterback, Ferguson adjusting nicely in his first year at the FBS level. "He was calm, patient, and went through his full progressions," said Norvell. "His confidence . . . he's improving, and we need to continue to have that to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Every week, they're going to get bigger and get better."

With 11 extra points, Memphis kicker Jake Elliott now has 357 for his career, 12 shy of Stephen Gostkowski's Tiger record. The Memphis offense was so surgical, so precise that Elliott did not attempt a field goal the entire game.

As for next week, Norvell noted that even in two losses (to Florida State and Alabama), Ole Miss had big leads. "They are arguably the most talented team in the country," he said. "It's going to be a great challenge. We'll come to work in the morning and focus on us." Memphis will be aiming to beat the Rebels in consecutive years for the first time since 2003 and 2004. Ole Miss beat Georgia handily earlier Saturday.

NOTE: Linebacker DeMarco Montgomery was ejected for targeting early in the second half. He will not be eligible to play in the first half at Ole Miss.

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