The Memphis football team has gone through a sort of Renaissance in the last 12 months. After hiring former Arizona State offensive coordinator, Mike Norvell, the team went 8-5 last year, with Norvell winning the most games of any first year coach in the program’s history. They are returning a good amount of 2016 starters, and have a solid quarterback in Riley Ferguson. They started the year with a win against University of Louisiana, Monroe, but had game two postponed due to Hurricane Irma. This week, the Bruins look to hand the Tigers their first loss and stay perfect going into Stanford.
Riley Ferguson began his collegiate career at Tennessee, but was never exactly happy. He had turned down both LSU and Michigan to go to Tennessee, but on signing day when Tennessee also took Josh Dobbs, he immediately began to regret his decision. So beginning in 2016, after a short stint powder coating fences in Charlotte, he became a Tiger at the University of Memphis. In 2016 after a rough start, he completed 280 passes on 443 attempts for a total of 3,698 yards and 32 touchdowns. Not half bad for a kid who took a year off, I’d say. Ferguson can also run, which our defense is going to have to step up and stop. He is poised to have the best season of any quarterback in Memphis history and is already considered a top prospect in the 2018 quarterback class. Not only does Memphis have a strong quarterback in Ferguson, but they have a duo of running backs that are a force to be reckoned with.
I’m really scared here. Now, let’s be realistic: the numbers that Memphis put up against UL Monroe are a but inflated due to the fact that Monroe doesn’t exactly have much of a defense. They allowed opponents to put up an average of over 260 yards and 39 points in 2016. However, let’s remember that both Texas A&M and Hawaii had more than one play where a running back broke away for 30+ yards because our defense was unable to stop the run. This was a shock to most Bruin fans, myself included. Patrick Taylor, Jr. and Darrell Henderson are the Tigers’ go-to guys for yards on the ground, and together amassed 300 yards in their first game this season. Taylor, Jr. had one touchdown run for 66-yards, and Henderson had his own highlight reel which included touchdown runs of 55 and 63 yards. This wouldn’t be so alarming because, hey, it was UL Monroe. But A&M’s Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford combined for 317 yards and five touchdowns, and even Hawaii’s Diocemy Saint Juste was able to put up 154 yards of his own on our defense. This is an area where Memphis can really cause problems for UCLA, so the Bruin defense will need to get their act together to stop the run on Saturday.
Ferguson’s favorite target, Anthony Miller, is coming off a 14-touchdown season, but only had one reception in their first game of the season. Ferguson split his tosses to seven different receivers in game one, three of which had only one reception but double digit yardage. The secondary is going to have to cover deep since Memphis seems to be stacked in this category. Due to the weakness our defense has shown on the run, I’d expect the Memphis playbook to be pretty evenly split between runs and passes.
Memphis fans can commiserate with Bruin fans in the area of inconsistent play on the front line. The Memphis offensive line returns four starters and has two impressive junior college transfers, and they are in their second year of Norvell’s system that has asked them to step up and do a lot more. Towards the end of 2016 they showed some improvement, but according to lineman Gabe Kuhn, another year has made “all the difference in the world”. Memphis has undergone a culture change, and the players can feel it. This year, the coaches are seeing more physicality and better communication among players. Junior Drew Kyser will anchor the line at center, with Dustin Woodard and Trevon Tate on his left, and Kuhn and Roger Joseph on his right.
Stop. The. Run. I can’t say this enough. It doesn’t seem to matter who we play—this is already a huge problem and the weakness has been exposed. As well as our defense played last year, I’m surprised to even be discussing this. We have linebackers up front that can put pressure on Ferguson, but I fear that our defense is going to continue to allow running backs to find holes for huge break out runs that put us six points in the hole.