Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

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• I love the collective force the Tiger defense has become.
There's some star quality on the Memphis defense — Bryce Huff and T.J. Carter come to mind — but this unit is becoming a force because impact is being made, front to back, by several players. In the win over Tulane last Saturday, five Tigers made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage: Huff, Carter, Austin Hall, Everitt Cunningham, and Desmond Hawkins. Three Tigers intercepted passes: Hall, Thomas Pickens, and Quindell Johnson. An eighth Tiger defender — sophomore linebacker Xavier Cullens — led the team in tackles with eight.

Before the season, new defensive coordinator Adam Fuller emphasized one unit when asked about his scheme, his tactics for slowing down an opponent. Rather than relying on linemen for pass pressure or the secondary for run support, Fuller envisions 11 men working together on every snap of the ball. That's the sense I had in watching the Tigers shut down a Tulane team that had scored at least 38 points in five of its first six games. Just as a good offense causes headaches with multiple weapons, the Memphis defense is imposing itself as a single (multi-part) machine of disruption.
Mike Norvell - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Norvell

• Mike Norvell is skipping rungs as he climbs the Tiger wins chart.
In less than four seasons, Norvell has secured 32 wins as head coach at Memphis, good for fifth in program history. While Norvell has posted a .680 winning percentage to start his career, only two of the men ahead of him (Spook Murphy and Ralph Hatley) finished their Tiger careers with winning records. (Tommy West went 49-61 while Zach Curlin was 43-60-14.) With scoring records breaking like fall-temperature marks in the Mid-South, Norvell has become a college football star, and still shy of his 40th birthday. How long will he remain in blue and gray? How long can he ignore the siren calls from larger, wealthier, "Power Five" programs? I'm not gonna try and forecast Norvell's tenure here. But he seems to genuinely appreciate the culture not only of his program, but of the city of Memphis. The program he would leave is different from that left by any of his predecessors, even Justin Fuente. (Fuente did not suit up first-team All-Americans in consecutive seasons.) For the time being, Norvell and his "hard-earned culture" march forward, another 1-0 weekend in the plans.

• Never look beyond your next opponent . . . except for this week.
How big would the November 2nd Memphis-SMU clash be if both teams win this week? Only once since the Liberty Bowl opened in 1965 has Memphis hosted a game as late as November in which the teams combined for no more than one loss. In 2015, Navy (6-1) came to town and broke the hearts of Memphis fans riding an undefeated (8-0) season and an astounding 15-game winning streak for the Tigers. (The Midshipmen won, 45-20.) If the Mustangs (currently 7-0) beat Houston Thursday night and the Tigers (6-1) win at Tulsa Saturday, we'll have two ranked teams colliding at the Liberty Bowl, with stakes as high as a New Year's Six bowl berth. At the very least, the game may well decide the American Athletic Conference's West Division champion. (Memphis is aiming for a third straight.) Enjoy this weekend's game against the Golden Hurricane. It's a take-care-of-business road trip for the Tigers. A big day — a huge game — awaits.

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