Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2018 at 10:10 AM

There was a time, not that long ago, when attendance at a Memphis Tiger football game could have been counted with a pair of binoculars and a tally sheet. Thankfully, tabulating a Liberty Bowl crowd is a bigger challenge today, third-year coach Mike Norvell's team having grown into one of the most prolific scoring clubs in the country.
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

But something was amiss at last Saturday's season opener. Announced attendance was 33,697 which would mean a stadium with a capacity of 58,318 was 57 percent full. The crowd was larger than that, and by more than a tally sheet or two. At least 40,000 human beings were in the stands when Tony Pollard set up to receive the season's opening kickoff. (Here's a tip: Look at the back corners of each end zone. Let your eyes draw a line from those points to the edge of the stadium. If fans fill those seats, the crowd is larger than 40,000.) The counting glitch is pleasantly ironic, as the University of Memphis has had its problems of late — particularly on basketball nights at FedExForum — with inflated attendance numbers. Last weekend, you had a sizable crowd on hand to see an FCS visitor get turned inside out by halftime. It felt like the welcome-back party a Top 25 team deserves. So don't believe that announced number. And expect attendance to grow as the temperature drops, conference foes come to town, and a star-studded Tiger team tries to, once again, attract Top 25 votes.

An FCS blowout is an analyst's worst nightmare. What are we to take from the Tigers' evisceration of Mercer? What a fearsome Tiger defense (174 yards allowed)!
What a diverse Tiger offense (eight offensive touchdowns scored by six different players)! Tom Brady plus Danny White equals Brady White (358 yards and five touchdowns in a single half)!

Throw all the highlights out as this Saturday's Navy game approaches. Mercer looked like a team that will be gazing up at the rest of the Southern Conference come November. The Tigers played three quarterbacks, and not one of them hit the turf via sack. Conversely, the Tiger defense manhandled the Mercer offensive line, sacking the two Bear quarterbacks a combined four times and allowing merely 2.5 yards per carry when Mercer ran the ball. College football isn't this easy, not at the American Athletic Conference level. I wonder how Norvell and his staff even utilize the game film to teach Tiger players for games to come. ("See how Calvin Austin ran around and past every last Bear defender on that 83-yard run? Do that, fellas. As often as you can.") It's great that Memphis is no longer on the wrong end of 66-14 blowouts. But if game film is nourishment for a football team, last Saturday's opener is the equivalent of cotton candy. The pink kind.

• Navy's triple-option attack is vexing. (Stick to your man, boys. Stray toward the ball and you're doomed.) But the Midshipmen are giving as much as they're taking if you count the 59 points Hawaii put up in their season-opening loss on the islands last weekend. Navy gained 326 yards on the ground . . . but allowed 436 through the air. (Cole McDonald completed 30 of 41 passes and tossed six touchdowns for the Rainbow Warriors.) The Tigers squeaked by Navy last season (30-27), a critical win on their way to the AAC West Division title. Can Memphis capture a win on just its second visit to Annapolis?

It may have been just one half, and he may have been carving up FCS fodder, but I'm a believer in Brady White. By some measures, he's a rookie quarterback. By others, he's starting his fourth season in and around FBS football. He looked poised both in the pocket and at the podium after Saturday's win. California cool, you might say. (White hails from Newhall in the Golden State.) I don't see him getting rattled at Navy, particularly if he watches and absorbs McDonald's performance against the Midshipmen. Twice during last weekend's press conference, White emphasized his duty to get the ball in the hands of the "studs" who make plays in blue and gray. With proper decision-making from White, the Tigers should still be undefeated this time next week.

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