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UCLA Football at Memphis Coaching & Special Teams Preview: Norvell’s Tigers Will Look A Lot Like the ASU Sun Devils

Most of Norvell’s top coaches worked with him at Arizona State. The Tigers’ special teams seem to be in flux.

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Memphis vs Western Kentucky Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start off our Memphis previews this week with a look at the Tigers coaching staff and special teams. Or, should we just call them the Memphis Sun Devils? Let’s look at the coaching staff first.

Coaching Staff

Memphis thinks they hired the right guy to replace Justin Fuentes. Mike Norvell’s bio on the Memphis official site lists all of his accomplishments during his first season at the helm of the Tigers, including most wins (8) by a first-year head coach in program history and first head coach to lead the Tigers to bowl eligibility in his rookie season.

Calling them the Memphis Sun Devils could make sense. That’s because Memphis head coach Mike Norvell was the offensive coordinator for Arizona State from 2012 to 2015 before taking over the Tigers’ football program last season.

But, that’s not all.

Norvell’s defensive coordinator is Chris Ball. Before heading to Memphis with Norvell, Ball was the co-defensive coordinator for Todd Graham at ASU, starting in 2012. So, Jedd Fisch should be able to plan and scheme by going back to the ASU game tapes from 2012 to 2015.

So not only will the Tigers’ schemes look familiar on offense, but they will also look familiar on defense.

The wildcard could be the fact that the Memphis offensive coordinator is Darrell Dickey who was a holdover from Justin Fuentes’ staff. But, even if that’s the case, it shouldn’t be much of a problem because Dickey was the Tigers’ OC when the team came to the Rose Bowl back in 2014.

Of course, the big difference should be talent. Frankly, the talent at UCLA and ASU should be better than the talent at Memphis. So, while that should be enough, it could also come down to special teams. The Memphis Special Teams Coordinator is Joe Lustig.

Lustig did not come from Arizona State. At least, not directly. Lustig spent 2014 & 2015 as a defensive position coach at Utah State. But, he was the ASU Special Teams Coordinator in 2012 and 2013.

So, even the guy who didn’t come from Arizona State came from Arizona State.

Like I said, the Memphis Sun Devils....

Let’s look at the Tigers’ Special Teams.

Special Teams

On special teams, the Tigers appear to be undecided as to who their specialists are.

On one hand, the Tigers’ depth chart lists Riley Patterson, a true freshman, as their starting kicker and redshirt senior Spencer Smith as the second-string kicker.

But, while Patterson took care of the extra points after touchdowns against Louisiana-Monroe, Smith was called on for a 20-yard field goal. Meanwhile, the pair split the kickoff duties with a slight edge to Smith who kicked off four times to Patterson’s three.

The schizophrenia continues to their punting. Smith is listed as the first-string punter, yet he split punting duties against ULM with Nick Jacobs. And, just in case that’s not enough confusion, on the first drive of the game, the Tigers drove down to the ULM 34-yard line where their drive stalled. Facing 4th and 10, QB Riley Ferguson quick kicked and pinned the Warhawks on their own 2.

Memphis looks a little more consistent on returns. While running backs Tony Pollard and Darrell Henderson share the kickoff return duties, Pollard appears to the more dangerous of the two. Pollard returned two kickoffs against ULM. One went for 99 yards for a touchdown and the other one was returned 45 yards while Henderson’s lone return was for 22 yards.

Wide receiver John Williams is listed at the top of the depth chart as a punt returner and he handled both of the Warhawks’ punts in Week 1, but don’t be surprised if receivers Anthony Miller or Roderick Proctor end up returning a punt.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the Tigers’ offense.

Go Bruins!!!