The Liberty Bowl has become a Tiger cage for visiting teams. Since the start of the 2014 season, Memphis has accumulated a 30-5 record at home. You have to go back 11 previous seasons (2003-13) to count 30 Tiger wins at the Liberty Bowl. Only once over the last five years has Memphis lost as many as two home games in a season (Tulsa and USF beat the Tigers in 2016).
It's a remarkable run of home-field dominance that shouldn't be taken for granted as the Memphis program aims for national recognition (both from those who vote in polls and from long-distance recruits interested in making large-scale impact). Thursday night's tilt with Navy will be a test, the Midshipmen leaning on that vexing triple-option attack that causes fits wherever they play. Quarterback Malcolm Perry passed for two touchdowns and ran for four more in Navy's evisceration of East Carolina in the teams' American Athletic Conference opener. The Tigers lost a crusher (22-21) in Annapolis last season and have won only one of four meetings since Navy joined the AAC for the 2015 season. And yes, the Midshipmen are one of the five teams to beat the Tigers in Memphis since 2014.
To make this week's game all the more meaningful, Navy and Memphis occupy the same division in the AAC. It's as close to a must-win for the Tigers as you'll see in September.
- Larry Kuzniewski
- Liberty Bowl
• The Tiger offense is averaging 37.3 points per game. What's wrong? I kid. The 15 points scored in the season-opening win over Ole Miss will hurt this average for a few weeks, but the Memphis attack doesn't appear to be suffering for the losses of Patrick Taylor or Pop Williams (the latter will miss the rest of the season). Freshman tailback (and Taylor fill-in) Kenneth Gainwell leads the AAC with 102.3 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Brady White has completed more than 70 percent of his passes. New offensive coordinator Kevin Johns isn't surprised. When I met Johns during the preseason, he was effusive in his praise of Tiger head coach Mike Norvell. "Any offensive coach in this country would love to work at the University of Memphis," he said. "For me, it's a chance to learn from a great offensive mind. This is his show. I'm trying to learn it and teach it to the quarterbacks. As he and I spend more time together, there's a chance for me to bring concepts from other places [I've been]. My philosophy is very similar to Coach Norvell's: You keep a tight end on the field at all times and you find a way to run the football. That takes care of everything else."
• The Tigers need to retire three more jerseys, and soon. It took some time, but the names (and numbers) of six honored Tiger football players are now proudly displayed at the Liberty Bowl: John Bramlett, Isaac Bruce, Dave Casinelli, Charles Greenhill, Harry Schuh, and DeAngelo Williams. It's been six years since a Tiger has received this ultimate salute (both Bramlett and Schuh were honored in 2013). Thanks in large part to the amount of success the Memphis program has enjoyed since the turn of the century, three names need to be added to this pantheon.
First and foremost, Anthony Miller: the greatest receiver in Tiger history and a first-team AP All-America in 2017. Darrell Henderson belongs in the group, having rushed for more than 3,500 yards (in three seasons) and also earning first-team AP All-America recognition (in 2018). The third name isn't mentioned as often: Danny Wimprine. Memphis has suited up some talented quarterbacks over the last decade, but none has approached the career passing records (10,215 yards, 81 touchdowns) Wimprine has held now for 15 years.