Three Thoughts on Tiger Football


Something is rotten in the state of defense, at least the version played by the Memphis Tigers. Four games into the 2017 season, Memphis ranks 126th nationally (out of 130 teams) in total defense, allowing 513.5 yards per game. Last weekend's debacle at UCF was the second time the Tigers have allowed at least 40 points this season, and the eighth such game since the start of the 2016 season. Injuries have compromised defensive coordinator Chris Ball's unit (perhaps most significantly the loss of pass rusher Jackson Dillon for the season). But games must still be played. Four teams on the Tigers' remaining schedule are averaging more than 450 yards of offense, including the next two (UConn and Navy). We've reached the point where an old cliche applies: The Tigers' best defense is a strong offense. The irony, though, is that Memphis has a quick-strike attack, one capable of scoring in less than three minutes of possession time. Short drives mean only more time on the field for that 126th-ranked defense. Head coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey face an uncomfortable challenge: score lots of points . . . but do it slowly.
Jay McCoy
  • Jay McCoy

• With his third touchdown catch of the season (against Southern Illinois), Tiger receiver Anthony Miller became just the fourth Memphis player to score 25 career touchdowns. You've surely heard of DeAngelo Williams (60 TDs from 2002 to 2005). And Dave Casinelli (36, 1960-63). Each of them has had his jersey number retired by the U of M. But what can you tell me about Jay McCoy, who scored 27 touchdowns as a Tiger? I had to call on the preeminent Tiger historian of them all — sideline reporter Matt Dillon — to learn about this unsung star, who did his damage at the Liberty Bowl from 1968 to 1970. "Coach [Billy] Murphy used him generally to run outside as a tailback," says Dillon, "but he was strong enough to get tough yards between the tackles if needed. Jay was one of the most versatile players in that era when it was basically three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. He was also called on to be the backup kicker on field goals and PATs [as a senior]. Skeeter Gowen got most of the publicity McCoy's last two years, but Jay was one of those multipurpose guys who held everything together. One of the very underrated players in Tiger history." McCoy is one of only six non-kickers to lead the Tigers in scoring twice (1968 and 1970). He scored 10 touchdowns as a sophomore, eight as a junior, and nine as a senior.

New England is lovely in the fall. This trip to Connecticut comes at a perfect time for the Tigers. You see, the Huskies rank 127th in total defense, allowing 541.8 yards per game. Their only win this season came against Holy Cross in the opener. Memphis and UConn haven't played since the 2014 season, when the Tigers won handily (41-10) at the Liberty Bowl. The U of M, though, lost (handily) its only game in East Hartford, the 2013 season finale (Justin Fuente's second on the sidelines for Memphis). Norvell didn't pull any verbal punches at his press conference Monday: "I'm embarrassed as a head coach for how we had them prepared to play [at UCF]. We're going to respond. Talk is cheap; what you see is who you are." Friday night will indeed be a time for the Memphis football program to respond, and reset its direction for a season not so young any more.

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