Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Only two college football programs in the entire country — Ohio State and TCU — have longer current winning streaks than the nine-gamer the Memphis Tigers are riding. Had I suggested in 2013 that such a sentence would be written in 2015, my keyboard would have been confiscated. ("No more 'Three Thoughts' for you!") The last time Memphis reeled off 10 straight wins predated construction of the Liberty Bowl, a streak that began with the last four games of the 1960 season and continued through week six of the 1961 campaign. (The Tigers beat Abilene-Christian twice during that streak.) And how rare is a 2-0 record in these parts? Going back a half-century (to when the Liberty Bowl opened in 1965), Memphis has opened a season with two wins just six times: 1967, 1973, 1976, 2003, 2004, and now 2015. Only two of those starts reached 3-0 (’73 and ’04). Embrace the novelty of it all, Tiger fans.

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• This Saturday's meeting with Bowling Green will be a fun football game. The Tigers have averaged a nifty 585 yards of offense in their opening two games, while the Falcons have put up a staggering 624.5 in a loss to Tennessee and a big win last week over Maryland. Falcon quarterback Matt Johnson, a senior, has already passed for 915 yards. (The math majors tell me this has Johnson on pace for a 5,490-yard season, which would be impressive.) Five Falcon receivers have already surpassed 100 yards. (On the Tiger side, only Mose Frazier can say as much.)

Of course, the teams also have to play defense this weekend. A Memphis defense breaking in eight new starters has yielded an average of 242 yards, but to notably weak competition. Bowling Green's defense has surrendered an average of 472.5 against a pair of Power Five teams. Memphis has an edge with its ground attack (as it will most of the season). If the Tiger offense can gain traction with its tailback-by-committee approach, Johnson and friends will have less time to sling the football downfield. It's a game where the time-of-possession figures may actually matter. The last time these programs met — in the 2004 GMAC Bowl — they combined to score 87 points.  

• It's never healthy to look beyond the next game, but the Tigers need to stay healthy (win or lose) this Saturday. Just five days later, Memphis will return to the Liberty Bowl to face Cincinnati, favorites to win the American Athletic Conference championship (but losers last weekend to Temple). No 2014 victory meant more to the Tigers than the upset they earned at Cincinnati, a win that made sharing the AAC trophy (with Cincinnati and UCF) possible. Mark this down: If the Tiger coaching staff (and players) were told they could do no better than split this two-games-in-a-week stretch, they'd take a win over the conference rival.

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