Monday, October 7, 2019

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Mon, Oct 7, 2019 at 12:21 PM

• Where would the Tigers be without Kenneth Gainwell?
They wouldn't be undefeated, that's for sure. When senior running back Patrick Taylor injured an ankle in the season-opening win over Ole Miss, it was next man up for the Tiger backfield. But that's easier said than done. To the rescue came the redshirt-freshman from Yazoo City, Mississippi. After rushing for 78 yards in a supporting role against the Rebels, Kenneth Gainwell has been the primary ground option in the Tigers' last four wins, with yardage totals of 93, 151, 122, and 209. He's the first Memphis freshman in 17 years to run for 100 yards in three straight games. (Ever hear of DeAngelo Williams?) Gainwell's 124 yards per game leads the American Athletic Conference by a healthy margin and his average per carry (8.2 yards) is in the Darrell Henderson area of ridiculous.
click to enlarge Kenneth Gainwell hits a gap. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kenneth Gainwell hits a gap.

Taylor will return, if not this Saturday at Temple, almost certainly this month. As dangerous as the Tiger offense became a year ago when Henderson and Taylor were sharing ball-carrying responsibility, this year's tandem may be just as lethal. With 620 yards through five games, Gainwell is on target to become the first Tiger freshman to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground. The great Williams himself ran for merely 684 yards as a freshman in 2002. Without question, Memphis has the most aptly named running back in the program's history.

• Sirens are now sounding for the Tigers' upcoming schedule.
This Saturday it's Temple (4-1) in Philadelphia. The last time Memphis traveled to the City of Brotherly Love — in 2015 — the Owls handed the Tigers a third straight loss (31-12) after the team had opened the season 8-0. It's not a fun place to play. Then comes Tulane (4-1) at the Liberty Bowl, the Green Wave already victors over Houston. The Tigers then travel to Tulsa (October 26th) before a showdown with SMU (like the Tigers, currently ranked in both polls) at the Liberty Bowl on November 2nd.

It's fun to look at the AAC standings and count no fewer than five teams with an overall record no worse than 4-1. Until you have to start playing them. Whoever survives to face off in the league championship game on December 7th will have earned the trip.

• Might Saturday's game be a low-scoring affair?
Memphis and Temple have the AAC's top two defenses based on points allowed, the Owls first with 17.2 points allowed per game and Memphis second with 19.2. Temple is second in total defense, allowing 292.4 yards per game, while Memphis ranks fourth with an average of 325.4 yards allowed. But that Tiger average grew significantly last weekend, ULM carving up the Memphis defense for 575 yards, exposing the Tigers both on the ground (256 yards) and through the air (319). It's the first game this season that demands serious adjustments from defensive coordinator Adam Fuller.

Keep an eye on turnovers, especially if the score, in fact, stays on the low side. Memphis quarterback Brady White coughed up a fumble and threw an interception at ULM last Saturday. Either would prove more costly this weekend at Temple.

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