Monday, September 30, 2019

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Mon, Sep 30, 2019 at 9:51 AM

• How significant is the Tigers' 4-0 start?
Since World War II, the Memphis program has boasted a 4-0 record exactly three times. In 1961, coach Spook Murphy's Tigers started 6-0 before losing (to Mississippi State) in late October and finishing the season 8-2. Then in 2015, Justin Fuente — and quarterback Paxton Lynch — helped Memphis win its first eight games and climb to a ranking of 15th in the country. Alas, that Tiger team lost four of its last five games before Fuente departed for Virginia Tech.

So our first lesson: Football teams aren't memorialized for strong starts. Rather, it's strong finishes that get carved in granite. The Tigers' start is no mirage. They've beaten an SEC foe (Ole Miss) and a team that's given them fits since becoming a conference rival (Navy). The four wins have the Tigers ranked 23rd in the country in one poll (coaches) and on the cusp of entering the AP rankings. The unblemished record is absolutely required for any discussion of an American Athletic Conference championship (SMU is also 4-0), to say nothing of a berth in a New Years Six bowl game. (There are currently three "Group of Five" teams in the AP Top 25: Boise State, UCF, and SMU.) Going undefeated for a third of the season is worthy of recognition, particularly in these parts, but it's the next two-thirds that will determine the 2019 Tigers' place in the history books.
click to enlarge Brady White - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Brady White

• The Tigers have a .500 record for the decade, and this is significant.
Memphis has been playing football since 1912 but the program has only enjoyed four decades with more wins than losses, and the most recent was the 1970s (60-48-1). After starting the current decade by going 3-21 over two seasons under coach Larry Porter, Memphis has managed to climb to .500 (59-59) with a stretch that will include six consecutive winning seasons for the first time in more than a half-century (1959-64). Even Fuente was 10 games under .500 after his first two seasons (7-17). The Tigers must finish the season with at least four more wins than losses, of course, to secure a break-even mark for the decade. The achievement would be a significant statement on the big-picture rise of a program once considered little more than a fall distraction before basketball season tipped off.

• Brady White became a star quarterback in the win over Navy.
It's ironic, considering the boos White heard during the first half of last Thursday's game as the Midshipmen took a 20-7 lead. But the Tigers don't beat Navy without White's right arm. Over a 15-minute stretch of the second half, White threw touchdown passes of short (5 yards), long (73), and intermediate (31) length to erase that deficit and give the Tigers a key win over an AAC division rival.

White heard the boos, but he smiled (slightly) when asked about them after the game, noting that they bother his parents more than they affect his approach or performance. "My mindset is the next play," emphasized White, who ignores social media during the season, though relishes various platforms for impacting lives positively as an athlete in the spotlight. "I'm my biggest critic. I wasn't playing like myself [in the first half]. But I settled down; I knew I had the support. The defense kept us close. We came out and executed. I'm blessed to have the teammates and coaching staff we have." White isn't the only prominent Tiger feeling blessed in these undefeated days. "That guy is pretty dang special," added Tiger coach Mike Norvell. "I'm glad to coach him."

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