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."
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • 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.

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