Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 10:02 AM

What kind of difference will four weeks make? It seems like a month since the Tigers have taken the field at the Liberty Bowl. (Because it's been a month since the Tigers took the field at the Liberty Bowl.) At kickoff on October 13th (against UCF), the Tigers were clinging to hope in their effort to repeat as American Athletic Conference West Division champs. But the 31-30 loss to the Knights gave Memphis three league losses and all but extinguished those hopes. The Tigers absorbed a drubbing at Missouri the following week, followed by a bye and finally a road win — their first — last Saturday at East Carolina.
click to enlarge Darrell Henderson - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Darrell Henderson

The Tigers will host Tulsa (2-7) four days after Penny Hardaway's Tigers tipped off their much-anticipated season and a day after the Memphis women's soccer team hosts Wisconsin in a first-round NCAA tournament game at Mike Rose Soccer Complex. Yes, the case could be made that Saturday's football game is the week's third-most significant event involving blue-clad Tigers. And, once more, a weak sister on the other sideline. Add the Golden Hurricane's record to those of the four FBS teams Memphis has beaten and you have a combined mark of 9-35. But it's a Catch 22 this season. The Tiger defense isn't fit to beat prime competition, so a happy exit from the Liberty Bowl for local fans seems to require bottom-feeding competition. It will be interesting to see not just the attendance figure Saturday morning (kickoff is 11 a.m.), but the mood of those in the stands.

The Darrell Henderson story continues to thrill. Henderson ran for 132 yards and scored three touchdowns last week at East Carolina, but it actually didn't feel like a Darrell Henderson game. Perhaps this is because only one of his scores covered more than 50 yards (the others were merely 20 yards and 39 yards). This is how skewed our perspective — or at least my perspective — has become in the season's ongoing highlight reel. Henderson's 1,280 yards are the most in Memphis history (single season) by a man not named DeAngelo Williams. His career total of 2,916 is second only to Williams' 6,026. (Read that latter figure again, in case you've forgotten just how great a college player Williams was.) Henderson has scored 18 touchdowns (tied for tops in the country) and two more trips to the end zone will tie him with Anthony Miller on the Tigers' career chart with 40 (second to Williams's 60). He actually has a chance to break one of Williams's records: 23 touchdowns in a single season (2004).

Henderson is third in the country with 44 plays of at least 10 yards (behind two wide receivers). He's had 15 plays go at least 30 yards and nine at least 50. The numbers are as silly as they seem. Enjoy every Henderson carry (or catch) the rest of the season. He may be playing on Sundays a year from now.

 How soft has the Tiger defense become? Well, the numbers (and rankings) are ugly. Out of 130 FBS programs, Memphis ranks 95th in scoring defense, allowing 31.6 points per game. The Tigers are 86th in total defense (417.2 yards per game) and 80th in opponents' third-down conversions (40.4 percent). Memphis has allowed 132 plays of at least 10 yards, also 80th in the country.

The good news? The Tigers are on track to score 500 points for the fourth year in a row, thus the 5-4 record to date. But the U of M requires a significant transformation on the defensive side of the ball before we return to a discussion of Top 25 possibilities.

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