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The Dirty Dozen: Memphis

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The Bulls travel to Memphis for a November match up that could possibly have American championship game implications.

NCAA Basketball: SE Missouri State at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

University of Memphis:

Location: Memphis, Tennessee

Stadium: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

Head Coach: Mike Norvell (first year, former OC at Arizona State)

Offensive Coordinator: Chip Long (first year, was at ASU with Norvell as TE coach/recruiting coordinator), multiple; up-tempo

Defensive Coordinator: Chris Ball (first year, also was at ASU with Norvell serving as the Co-DC and DB coach), 3-4

New head coach Mike Norvell gets his first shot at being the BMOC at Memphis after former head coach Justin Fuente left after the 2015 season to take over for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. He will bring an aggressive and up-tempo style to the Tigers, similar to current ASU head coach Todd Graham. Norvell has worked with Graham since 2007, moving each time Graham left. First with Tulsa, then Pittsburgh (which lol) and finally at ASU.

The Mothership's Bill Connelly previewed the Tigers in August. Little known fact: he is a lot smarter than me. Me reading Connelly’s preview:

The Offense:

Paxton Lynch is gone to the NFL to back up a 7th round pick in Denver (lololol), and the only other quarterback to throw a pass for Memphis is also gone. In steps Tennessee/Coffeyville C.C. transfer Riley Ferguson to take over an offense that is looking to push the pace even more than in previous years. Ferguson was a four-star recruit by ESPN coming out of high school.

Junior tight end Daniel Montiel told Tom Schad of The Commercial Appeal recently:

We had tempo with Fuente, (but) this is just constant tempo. With Fuente, we would slow it down if we needed to slow it down. We’re just moving constantly with this offense.

To help Ferguson, the Tigers return two of their top three pass catchers in junior wide receiver Phil Mayhue, 6-3, 210 pounds and junior Anthony Miller, 5-11, 190 pounds. Mayhue (51 rec, 670 yds, 1 TD) threw for as many touchdowns as he caught in 2015, and is the leading returner in passing yards for Memphis. Miller added 47 catches and 694 yards with five touchdowns, and also rushed nine times for 54 yards and two touchdowns.

Even though star receiver Mose Frazier is gone, there is still plenty of skill to go around. Junior Roderick Proctor has very sure hands and can stretch the field, and his 86.2% catch rate led all Memphis receivers with at least 25 targets. Miller (10.6 ypt) and Proctor will help open up the middle for Mayhue who only averaged 8.5 yards per target.

Miller was recently lauded by his teammates as being the offensive MVP of training camp.

“He’s just got so much more explosion to him," Montiel said. "He’s confident now, too. He knows how good of a player he can be, and how he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. People think they know who he is, but they really haven’t seen him burst out.”

Montiel will be replacing four-year starter Alan Cross—who is still on the Bucs roster at this moment—at TE. Montiel had 10 catches for 155 yards to go along with three touchdowns in 2015.

While the receiving corps may be the strong suit, the running backs are the direct opposite.

Starting tailback Doroland Dorceus and running back Sam Craft are the only backs with carries at the collegiate level. RB Jarvis Cooper transferred in May and and fellow RB Jamarius Henderson followed suit and left in July to be closer to his son.

You may know Cooper from this:

That’s right, he got the tattoo in March and transferred in May. He at least had a sense of humor about it once he decided to transfer:

Dorceus did a little bit of everything for the Tigers last year, carrying the ball 155 times for 661 yards, 4.3 ypc and eight touchdowns. He was far more explosive catching the ball out of the backfield as he racked up 217 yards on only 11 receptions, three of which went for scores.

Craft chipped in 82 carries for 333 yards, 4.1 ypc and five touchdowns. He also had eight catches for 114 yards and two scores.

Connelly’s title to the Memphis running backs was “The shaky state of the backfield” and that was with Cooper and Henderson still on the team. Three freshmen back up Dorceus and Craft at their respective positions and things could go south in a hurry if one of them go down for an extended period of time.

Oh, and they have to replace first-team all-AAC left tackle Taylor Fallin as well as four offensive linemen that accounted for 11 starts last year.

Trevon Tate, 6-4, 280 lbs. moves over from right tackle to left tackle where he had ten starts last year. Senior Christopher Roberson (6-7,330; nine starts) OR true freshman Dustin Woodard (6-2, 280) will be the left guard. Sophomore Drew Kyse r(6-5,300; 12 starts) slots back in at center. Junior transfer Lio Lafaele (6-4, 290) will be the right guard, and junior Gabe Kuhn (6-4,295; 12 starts) moves over from right guard to right tackle.

The offensive line will have months of playing together to click before the Bulls face them, it could happen and the running games improves tenfold...don’t bet your house payment on it though.

The Defense

Chris Ball runs a very aggressive 3-4 defense, and after having to replace a lot of experience all over the defense going into 2015, the Tigers were exposed. Notably in the secondary where they had to replace every starter. That lack of experience led to 48 passes of 20 or more yards.

Experience for the 2016 team however won’t be a problem as they return seven of eight primary defensive linemen, five of seven linebackers, and four of the top five defensive backs.

The Tigers were good against the run, 38th in yards per game and 48th in S&P+, that should continue as the trio of Donald Pennington, DeMarco Montgomery and Christian Johnson return. They combined for 17 TFL and eight sacks. Junior Ernest Suttles actually jumped ahead of Johnson on the depth chart going into game one and he added 2.5 TFL and one sack, respectively.

Shareef White is the leading tackler to return in 2016, he will step into the ‘Mike’ role. Running the ball could be a bit of a struggle for the Bulls in this game. Make no mistake, Marlon Mack will get his, but Quinton Flowers and company may not have a huge day on the ground.

Through the air may be the way to attack the Tigers since they allowed a lot of big plays. USF had three alone in their meeting in 2015, a 26-yarder to tight end Sean Price set up the Bulls first touchdown and the last two came on the their second touchdown drive, 20 yards to Rodney Adams and a 23-yard score to Elkanah Dillon.

The Tigers secondary lost free safety Reggis Ball who led the team in interceptions (like the one that ended the Bulls comeback), and with the move of speedster Rodney Adams to the slot that could prove to be their Achilles heel. The starting cornerbacks will be seniors Dontrell Nelson and Arthur Maulet, the latter of which was mentioned as the defensive MVP of training camp along with White and sophomore linebacker Genard Avery. Both back-ups at CB are seniors and the person to replace Ball could be junior transfer Jonathan Cook.

Even though they are a year older doesn’t mean they automatically got better and by November 12th, we will know which is true.

Special Teams:

The most stable part of this Tigers team.

Kicker and First-team All-AAC Jake Elliot returns and is a stud. He was 23-28 on field goals in 2015, 10-11 on kicks of 40+ yards, and 63-63 on PATs which broke his own record set the year before. Nearly 75% of his kickoffs were touchbacks.

First-team all-AAC punter Spencer Smith returns as does his 47.1 yards per punt.

For the kickoff and punt return unit, they have a few good options in Jae’lon Oglesby (23.5 yards per return)and Craft (19.8) returning kickoffs. Proctor will handle punt returns and he averaged 7.4 yards a return and took one back 63 yards for the score against Missouri State.

Bottom line:

After posting their first back-to-back nine-win season since just after WWII, the Tigers will likely take a step back as they have to replace too many key people on offense. Add in a very leaky secondary and a new system on both sides of the ball, and the Gulf Coast Offense could run roughshod. The Bulls should handle this team and earn their first win at Memphis since The J.R. Reed Game in 2003.