Previous Bullseye Opponent Primers:
We’ve now reached the final home game of the regular season for USF football in our Bullseye primer series and for this late-November showdown, they’ll be hosting a team that is striving to not only get back to the AAC Championship game for a third-straight year, but to hoist the trophy this time around.
- Travels to USF on Saturday, Nov. 23. Time and Network TBA
- Head Coach: Mike Norvell (4th season)
- 2018 record: 8-6 (AAC runner-ups)
- 2019 Returning Production: 80% (7th)
- 2019 Projected S&P+: 26th (Highest in AAC)
- SB Nation team site: Underdog Dynasty
As the preseason favorites to win the AAC West, Memphis rolls into the 2019 season with a considerable amount of hype as one of the teams that could potentially dethrone UCF and represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl game this winter.
And for good reason.
The Tigers have claimed the last two west division titles under head coach Mike Norvell, with a 52-31 thumping of Houston last November capping an 8-4 regular season campaign in 2018 and sending them to a second straight showdown with the Knights in the AAC title game.
Even with this success, the ability to close out big games was a major Achilles heel for the Tigers last year.
They allowed Navy to stage a fourth-quarter comeback for a 22-21 win in Week 2. A 31-17 halftime lead in their regular-season matchup with UCF was squandered in the second half. A 38-21 halftime lead against the Knights in the aforementioned title game was promptly squandered as a McKenzie Milton-less UCF team rallied for a 56-41 win. Even the Birmingham Bowl went south as the Tigers were held to only six second half points in a 37-34 loss to Wake Forest. These turn of events have prompted us in the TDS Slack to jokingly refer to the Memphis head man as “Lemon Booty” Mike Norvell.
The good news for Memphis heading into the new campaign is the fact that they return a significant chunk of depth on both offense (79%) and defense (80%), ranking seventh in the country in returning production. Even with those setbacks, it’ll help to have guys who have been through the fire in big games.
And having that experience is huge considering the fact that the program experienced massive staff turnover this offseason. Norvell brought in former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Kevin Johns at OC, Marshall defensive coordinator Adam Fuller at DC and Ball State head coach Pete Lembo as special teams coordinator.
Time will tell if the coaching transition will translate onto the field.
Brady White was calm and cool for Memphis last season. pic.twitter.com/8vFuZyW7vQ— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 8, 2019
Returning to the Tigers for another season as the starting quarterback is Brady White, who transferred from Arizona State last offseason.
White had an excellent 2018 campaign, throwing for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns with a 62.8 completion percentage although his play in Memphis’ losses last season left a lot to be desired. With the NCAA granting him another year of eligibility due to previous injuries, he’ll be firmly entrenched as Memphis’ QB1 through 2020.
The most notable departure for the Tigers from last year is workhorse running back Darrell Henderson, who ran for a ridiculous 8.9 yards per carry on his way to a 1,900+ yard season with 22 rushing touchdowns. Fortunately, Norvell and Johns has another high-caliber workhorse back locked and loaded in Patrick Taylor Jr., who ripped off 1,122 yards and 16 TD’s last season as well. Also factoring into the run game will be Kenneth Gainwell and Tim Taylor.
Brady’s receiving core will be without WR/RB hybrid Tony Pollard but will once again dominated by junior Damonte Coxie, who caught 72 balls for over 1,100 yards and seven trips to the end zone last year. Just behind him on the depth chart is John “Pop” Williams and Kedarian Jones.
Also offering a hand in the passing game as will be senior tight end Joey Magnifico, who caught five TD’s last season.
The Tigers offensive line will have only two returning starters in the fold in redshirt sophomore Dylan Parham and senior Dustin Woodard. A First-Team All-AAC guard in 2018, Woodard will be making the move to center this fall.
Former four-star prospect Obinna Eze will start at left tackle and on the opposite side replacing all-conference right tackle Trevon Tate will be Glendale CC transfer Manuel Orona-Lopez. Scottie Dill is slated to replace Woodard at right guard.
DC Adam Fuller’s athletic four-man front returns a lot of valuable production, beginning with junior O’Bryan Goodson at nose tackle. Senior Jonathan Wilson (9.5 TFLs, six sacks in 2018) is another upperclassman returnee at defensive end as well as former walk-on Joseph Dorceus (50 tackles, seven TFLs, six sacks in 2018).
And there’s All-AAC linebacker Bryce Huff, who will be transitioning into Fuller’s ‘FOX’ position on the line that serves as a DE/LB hybrid. Huff led the team in sacks with 9.5 last year to go along with his 49 tackles and two pass deflections. East Mississippi CC transfer Everitt Cunningham is also a name to look out for on the line.
The linebacker unit loses Curtis Atkins, who led the team with a solid 100 tackles last season. However, experience reins among the returnees with senior Austin Hall and juniors Tim Hart and J.J. Russell all returning to the fold for UM. All three recorded around 60 tackles last season.
The group looking to make the most improvement this season is the secondary, a unit that gave up several big plays last season. All-conference cornernack and former AAC Rookie of the year T.J. Carter is back for his junior year and playing opposite to him will be Chris Claybrooks on the other side.
Redshirt junior Tyrez Lindsey and his 71 tackles will be returning to safety as well as La’Andre Thomas, who’s had a nice fall camp. Quindell Johnson and Sanchez Blake have also been getting reps with the one’s in fall camp.
Memphis CB TJ Carter (@TCarter615) discusses the dynamic between himself and opposing wide receivers.— GoTigers247 - The Memphis 247Sports Affiliate (@GoTigers247) August 6, 2019
“If you do say something out of place, when the ball is snapped you’re going to feel me,” Carter said of receivers talking trash.
FULL VIDEO HERE: https://t.co/At3wNI01Gb pic.twitter.com/2aN5y5MDJk
Kicker Riley Patterson is back after going 15-for-20 last year and so is punter Adam Williams, who flipped fields with 43.2 yards per punt in 2018. The aforementioned Pop Williams earned all-conference honors as a return specialist last season and will be back for more this fall
Norvell and company have a chance to make noise immediately this Saturday when welcoming depleted region rival Ole Miss to the Liberty Bowl. They have a pretty manageable schedule throughout as they avoid UCF in the regular season and get division darkhorse Tulane at home on Oct. 19.
However, the final three games will be a challenge as a trip to Houston on Nov. 16 will be followed up with another trip to Tampa to face USF before closing the season out with Cincinnati at home.
The pieces are in place for the Tigers to make another run at a conference championship and if the staff turnover isn’t too much of an issue, this could be one of Memphis’ best teams ever as Bill Connelly put it back in April.