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?
click to enlarge Mike Norvell - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • 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.

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