Monday, November 18, 2019

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football: Memphis Beats Houston Edition

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 10:37 AM

• A win for the ages . . . or at least the decade.
Their 45-27 win at Houston Saturday has the Memphis Tigers on the cusp of the fourth 10-win season in the 104-year history of the program. (If you remember the first such season — 1938 — you belong in the president's suite at the Liberty Bowl.) A win Saturday at USF would make it three 10-win seasons in six years for Memphis, an absurd sentence to write, much less say if you've waved a blue-and-gray flag for as long as a decade.

And speaking of decades, the win over the Cougars clinched a winning decade for Memphis, its first since the 1970s. A winning decade after putting up a 3-21 record the first two years of the period and being 28 games under .500 (10-38) after the 2013 campaign. Since 2014, though, the Tigers have gone 54-22. The 64 wins this decade are actually the most since the 1960s, when the Tigers, led by coach Spook Murphy, went 70-25-1. (College teams played fewer games — and there were fewer bowl games — in the 1970s, a decade that saw the Tigers go 60-48-1.) The program's ascendance under, first, Justin Fuente and now Mike Norvell has been historic by measures both empirical and aesthetic. If you call yourself a Memphis football fan, count your blessings this month — this decade — for living in the right time.
click to enlarge Brady White - LARRY KUZIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuziewski
  • Brady White

• Still doubting Brady White? Please stop.

The Tigers' lone PhD candidate may not have the arm of Paxton Lynch or the elasticity in the pocket of Riley Ferguson, but Brady White has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the country, let alone the American Athletic Conference. As measured by passer rating — the original "analytic" statistic — White is seventh in the nation. And judge him by the company he keeps. Those ranked ahead of White are Jalen Hurts (of 8th-ranked Oklahoma), Tua Tagovailoa (5th-ranked Alabama), Joe Burrow (top-ranked LSU), Justin Fields (2nd-ranked Ohio State), Tyler Huntley (7th-ranked Utah), and Tanner Morgan (11th-ranked Minnesota). White, it should be noted, ranks one slot ahead of Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, a player many said was ready for the NFL last year, when he led his Tigers to the national championship as a freshman. White has completed 67 percent of his passes on his way to 2,852 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. Should the Tigers achieve the unachievable — a New Year's Six bowl berth — it will be largely thanks to the under-appreciated "game manager" we'll soon be able to call Dr. White.

• Downfield deliveries.
Part of White's brilliance has been utilizing a corps of receivers unlike many seen in these parts before. Memphis has five players who have caught at least 19 passes and averaged at least 12.5 yards per catch. Consider that. When White finds Damonte Coxie (15.9 yards per catch), Antonio Gibson (25.0), Kedarian Jones (14.1), Joey Magnifico (17.5), or Kenneth Gainwell (12.5), the result is, on average, a first down. Add Calvin Austin into the mix, and the numbers get silly: The sophomore from Harding Academy has only caught 12 passes but is averaging 21.6 yards per catch. It's a bounty of weapons at White's disposal, with merely a 1,000-yard rusher (Gainwell) standing behind him in the Tiger backfield. We should have a degree of sympathy for the defensive coordinators at USF and Cincinnati. Or maybe not. Let the aerial show continue.

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