Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2019 at 10:49 AM

click to enlarge Kenneth Gainwell - MATTHEW SMITH
  • Matthew Smith
  • Kenneth Gainwell

The Tigers have started three of the last four seasons 3-0. So a win this week at South Alabama would be no big deal, right? (Quick side note: This is surely the first time Memphis has faced Jaguars two weeks in a row. Surely.) The smooth start to football season in these parts, while becoming regular, remains anomalous on the big scale of Tiger history. Before opening the 2015 season 8-0 — yes, that happened — the Tigers had enjoyed exactly three 3-0 starts since World War II: 1961 (6-0), 1973, and 2004. It's one more example how this is not your father's Tiger football program. It's not even your older brother's Memphis football program. South Alabama on the road will not be a gimme. These Jaguars scored 21 points agains Nebraska in their opener, then trounced Jackson State (37-14) last week. Another 3-0 start for the Tigers would be, as coach Mike Norvell likes to say, "hard-earned."

• When I see Joey Magnifico catch passes, I see an NFL tight end. The senior from St. Benedict is, if anything, an under-utilized asset in the Tiger offense. But his impact is clear. He was named second-team all-conference after the 2017 season despite catching only 21 passes. What's telling for Magnifico is his average gain per reception: 13.3 yards as a sophomore and 17.3 last season (another 21-catch campaign). Those are atypical for tight ends, who normally don't roam much beyond the line of scrimmage, serving as outlet receivers or Plan B options if a play breaks down. Magnifico chewed up 45 yards with one of his three catches last Saturday against Southern and had a total of 74 yards on his three grabs. (He did not catch a pass in the opener against Ole Miss.) Listed at 6'4" and 232 pounds, Magnifico has an NFL body. (Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez played at 6'5" and 247.) And with every Brady White pass he pulls down, Magnifico appears to have NFL hands. Norvell and offensive coordinator Kevin Johns would be wise to target this senior with their play-calling while they still can.

• "People are going to bring their best to us. We're the Memphis Tigers." That's actually not a thought of mine, but one senior linebacker Austin Hall shared after the Southern win. Again, this is new (for anyone who has followed the Memphis program as few as seven years). The idea that opponents have the Tigers circled on their schedules, that every game against Memphis is a big game?

I'll let Hall — the pride of Collierville High School — expand on his message: "The team changes every year, but the culture is still here. Everyone's bought into it. We want to prove that we're the best team in America, win every game we can, each week at a time. It starts with Sunday practice, looking at film, learning from mistakes. You gotta prepare the same way, no matter who you're playing."

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