Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 8:00 AM

• First of all, my sincere apologies for misreading the tea leaves for the American Athletic Conference standings last week. I was guilty of applying linear logic to the Tigers' chances for winning the West Division: They'd need one more win than Tulane to advance to the AAC championship game, the Green Wave having beaten Memphis earlier this season. Lesson learned: no linear logic in three-way or four-way ties. Tulane beat the Tigers, indeed, but the Green Wave lost to Houston and SMU. Memphis beat the Mustangs, so if they beat the Cougars this Friday, they'll have a better record within the three-way (or four-way) tie than Tulane's. Were I a Tulane football player, I'd cringe at the sight of Memphis playing for the league title. But I'd especially regret the losses to those teams from Texas.
click to enlarge Memphis coach Mike Norvell - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Memphis coach Mike Norvell

Memphis football desperately needs an annual conference "rivalry game." Well, we have it Friday at the Liberty Bowl. With Southern Miss and UAB no longer annual clashes, the cat-fight between the U of M and UH has become the most meaningful contest on the Tiger schedule. (Memphis has dominated its series with Tulane for too long, owning a 22-12-1 advantage even after this year's Green Wave victory.) The Tigers have won the last two meetings with Houston after dropping six straight from 2006 to 2015. (Houston leads the series, 15-11.) The aggregate score of the the last four games between these teams (split two each): Memphis 148, Houston 145.

I love Senior Day, and love the way it falls near Thanksgiving. Commitment to a football program — from its players — is the only chance a program has to succeed. The annual pregame salute to departing players honors this commitment, and with families on the field. It's wonderful.

Two of this year's seniors — Sam Craft (WR) and Jackson Dillon (LB) — played their first games for Memphis in 2013. They each endured two redshirt seasons to recover from injuries so have been a part of all five winning clubs since 2014. Craft even snuck in some basketball for coach Josh Pastner's squad in 2016.

I don't like the expression "supporting role" for young men who have donned helmets and pads in heat and cold for years without any limelight while helping their team improve on a daily basis. So let's say the following seniors have played building roles for Memphis: Ross Anderson (DB, White Station High School), Noah Arrindell (DB, Houston High School), Tim Belles (LS, Houston High School), Hayden Ferrari (WR, Christian Brothers High School), and Brandon Murphy (DL).

Emmanuel Cooper (DL) has been part of the Tigers' pass rush and contributed 4.5 tackles-for-loss this season. Tito Windham (CB) has been a two-year starter and leads the Tigers this year with two interceptions. Linebacker Curtis Akins is a three-year starter and leads Memphis with 72 tackles this season (43 of them solo). No unit has been more impacted by seniors this season than the Tigers' offensive line. Center Drew Kyser will play in his 51st game (and make his 50th start) against Houston. (Kyser is the first and only Tiger to share an alligator-hunting story with me.) Left tackle Trevon Tate will make his 46th start against the Cougars and was a preseason all-conference pick by Athlon. Right tackle Roger Joseph will make his 24th start Friday.



Get to the Liberty Bowl early (kickoff is 11 a.m.) to help send these Tigers off the right way. A winning tradition requires time . . . and players like these.

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