• The Memphis defense can win a game.
You have to go back a quarter-century — October 28, 1995 — to find a game the Tigers won without scoring more than 10 points as they did last Saturday at Navy. In Rip Scherer's first season as coach at the U of M, the Tigers edged Tulsa, 10-7, at the Liberty Bowl. The win improved that team to only 3-5, though, and it would not win another game that year.
The 2020 Tigers are not Rip Scherer's defense. Even after shutting down Navy, Memphis ranks 106th in the country (out of 127 teams), allowing 457 yards per game. But Saturday night in Annapolis, that defense rose when it had to, in particular sophomore safety Quindell Johnson. The New Orleans native delivered a fumble-causing hit behind the Navy line of scrimmage on fourth down to end one second-quarter drive with the game tied at 7. Then on the next Midshipman drive, Johnson stepped in front of a Tyger Goslin pass for an interception with Navy already in field-goal range. Rare is the defensive playmaker in modern college football. But Johnson, Morris Joseph (two tackles for loss), and Sanchez Blake (forced a Navy fumble) made key plays last weekend to earn Memphis a third straight victory.
"It isn't easy coming to Navy's home field and beating them," said Johnson after the win. "We all had fun, flying around, just playing together, communicating. We lead as a defense when we play like that."
• Seven is a lucky number . . . and well earned. Should the Tigers beat Tulane this weekend, it will mark seven straight seasons with at least seven wins for the Memphis program. It would extend an already unprecedented stretch, as the longest streak of seven-win seasons before the current one was four years (from 1960 to ’63 and 1973 to ’76). Better yet, two more wins would make it seven seasons in a row with eight victories for the Tigers. (If COVID testing allows, the Tigers should play three more games, including a bowl contest.) The University of Memphis has a history with more valleys than peaks, but we are witnessing a golden era, one that now stretches across three head-coaching administrations. Fans tend to get lost either in the past or with what's to come (recruiting is everything, remember). If you wear blue and gray in these parts, you'd do well to pause, raise a glass, and salute the now of Memphis Tiger football.
• Ten thousand is a big number . . . also well earned. With 88 passing yards at Tulane, Brady White will become only the second Memphis quarterback to top 10,000 yards for his career. (Danny Wimprine's record is 10,215.) White's 2,602 yards this season are eighth in the country and his 24 touchdown passes this year are tied for fourth. The superlatives will keep coming a few more weeks for the Ph.D. candidate, now with a record 26 wins to his credit as Tiger quarterback. It will be interesting to see how NFL scouts view White's credentials. His two predecessors — Paxton Lynch and Riley Ferguson — also put up big numbers, but fell short of signal-calling duty on Sundays, even with Lynch having been drafted (by Denver) in the first round. White is blessed with physical tools, but not the size or arm strength of most men you see winning Super Bowls. He's also skilled between the ears and, simply put, knows how to win. Here's hoping he gets the chance to compete for an NFL job in 2021. He won't be intimidated by the challenge.