Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

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• The Tigers are better than they looked at Cincinnati. They couldn't have looked much worse, particularly after the no-call on what appeared to be pass interference in the Bearcat end zone early in the second half. (A Memphis touchdown would have closed the Cincinnati lead to four points.) You're forgiven if you suffered a "Larry Porter flashback" on Halloween, 39-point losses once being more customary in these parts. But this ain't 2011, Ryan Silverfield isn't Larry Porter, and there's too much talent on the Tiger roster for last weekend's result to suggest anything more than a very good team (Cincinnati is now ranked 6th in the country), motivated to the shoulder pads (Memphis beat the Bearcats twice last season, including for the conference championship) finding its groove on home turf.
JASON WHITMAN/MEMPHIS ATHLETICS
  • Jason Whitman/Memphis Athletics

Few football teams win without a ground game, and the Cincinnati defense eliminated half of the Tiger attack, allowing merely five yards(!) on 29 carries by Memphis running backs. It's easy to miss Kenneth Gainwell (the sophomore opted out of the season instead of attempting to repeat his 1,000-yard 2019 campaign). But it's a good time to look carefully at the Tiger offensive line and measure its strengths (and weaknesses) with half a season yet to play. Right tackle Dylan Parham is an all-conference candidate and left tackle Obinna Eze was one of Mike Norvell's highest-ranked recruits. Sophomore guards Isaac Ellis and Evan Fields have fewer than 10 career starts, and center Manuel Orona-Lopez was among those helping Brady White back to his feet after six sacks. These are the five players to watch this Saturday against USF. Cincinnati is the seventh-ranked defense (based on points allowed) in the country. USF is 77th. Should be a different story for the Tigers' O-line when they square off against the Bulls.

• We'll learn a lot about Ryan Silverfield's motivating skills over the next five weeks. For the first time since 2016 — Norvell's first season as the Tigers' head coach — Memphis isn't playing for the American Athletic Conference championship. Saddled with two league losses, it's highly improbable the Tigers can secure one of the league's top two spots in the standings. (Four teams have fewer than two losses, and another pair also have two in the loss column.) But an 8-2 record beats 7-3, and the Tigers have wins in reach. Their next two opponents (USF and Navy) have been outscored by more than 100 points each. Stephen F. Austin (November 21st) should be an FCS walkover. Then it's Tulane (currently 3-4) Thanksgiving weekend and the season finale at home against Houston (2-2). Memphis won't play in a New Year's Six bowl game this season. It's again the name on the front of their jerseys that should make the difference.

• The Tiger D is . . . disheartening. For years now, Memphis has been able to get away with allowing 30 points, sometimes 40, because the program has featured one of the country's top-scoring offenses. We saw Saturday how things might look if the Tiger offensive machine blows a piston. With half the season behind us, Memphis ranks 101st in total defense (556.8 yards per game). That's out of 103 teams, and the two teams behind them (Minnesota and New Mexico) have played a combined three games. The case could be made that, right now, Memphis has the worst defense in the country. No one has more to gain (or perhaps lose) over the season's second half than defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre. His unit hasn't been good enough, not without the Memphis offense in highest gear. Personnel, scheme, play calls, whatever. Changes must be made.

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