Saturday, September 1, 2018

Tigers 66, Mercer 14

Posted By on Sat, Sep 1, 2018 at 10:41 PM

The Memphis Tigers won their 2018 season opener Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl, and there was a distinct "ho-hum" quality to the outcome. Scoring 56 points before halftime — and allowing the visitors a total of 37 yards over the game's first 30 minutes — will do that. For the first time since 1963, the Memphis program has started five consecutive seasons with a victory. Rookie quarterback? Grad-transfer Brady White passed for 358 yards and completed touchdown passes to five different teammates, emphatically shaking off any rust that may have developed in almost two years on the sidelines. Ho-hum.
click to enlarge Brady White delivers. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Brady White delivers.

"We've been working extremely hard, since January," emphasized Tiger coach Mike Norvell in his postgame remarks. "We're trying to be the best version of ourselves. We had a pretty solid week of preparation. To play as well as they did, especially in the first half, is a thank-you to Memphis. You walk into that [new] locker room, and it's special. Things are progressing here. This was one game. We have a lot of things to improve."

Don't tell the Mercer Bears about any improvements needed for the Memphis offense. The Tigers accumulated 752 yards of total offense, one shy of the program record (set in last year's American Athletic Conference championship game). Tailback Darrell Henderson averaged 8.4 yards on nine carries and would have led Memphis in rushing had freshman Calvin Austin not taken his one carry for an 83-yard trip to the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Junior Patrick Taylor scored a pair of touchdowns, the latter on a 75-yard catch-and-run that gave the Tigers a 35-0 lead barely two minutes into the second quarter.

The Memphis defense got in on the point-scoring fun, sophomore cornerback T.J. Carter returning a first quarter interception 35 yards for his first college touchdown. The Tigers allowed the Bears an average of just 3.4 yards on 51 plays, while Memphis gained 8.7 yards per snap on 86 plays. The drubbing was thorough, relatively clean (seven penalties for each team), and a statement that Norvell's offense will not sleep as Anthony Miller's NFL career begins in Chicago.

"The level of work [Brady White] has put in to learn this offense, the time he's spent building relationships with his teammates, he's a great young man," said Norvell of the quarterback he once recruited to play at Arizona State and later lured to Memphis. "I had a great deal of confidence that he'd play well."

When asked after the game how he would grade his play, White responded, "I'm not gonna do that." He didn't raise his eyebrows, didn't smile. Just turned toward a contingent of reporters, awaiting the next question. He looked as cool in his first press conference as he did behind a veteran Tiger offensive line for the half of football he was required to play. (Freshmen backups Brady McBride and Connor Adair took the snaps in the second half.)
click to enlarge Brady White - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Brady White

"I had some butterflies out of excitement," acknowledged White. "But I wasn't nervous. When you have weapons like we do, you just want to get them the rock. My job is to get them the ball and let them do the work. We've got studs all over the field, both sides of the ball. We have a high standard here at Memphis."

The Tigers must quickly turn toward one of the season's biggest challenges, a road game at Navy next Saturday. Norvell described the upcoming tilt as "a championship-like game." Both Carter and receiver Damonte Coxie described chips on the shoulders of their teammates, memories of coming up short last season [in the AAC title game] a primary motivator as summer leans toward fall.

"We're going to get to the film, get our minds right, and get down to business," said White when asked about how he'll celebrate his debut as Memphis quarterback. He sounded like someone less than interested in the impact he made in his debut, and more curious about the impact his team can make on a season very early in the making.

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