Know the Foe: Memphis
A look at Memphis, which hosts USF on Saturday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Record: 6-3 (3-2 American Athletic Conference)
Wins: Southeast Missouri 35-17, Kansas 43-7, Bowling Green 77-3, Temple 34-27, at Tulane 24-14, at SMU 51-7
Losses: at Ole Miss 48-28, at Navy 42-28, at Tulsa 59-30
Coach: Mike Norvell (first season)
The breakdown: Though the Tigers have played .500 football since the start of October, their rout Saturday of SMU arguably was their best game of the year. "I liked the physicality and effort our guys played with," Norvell said. "I just think that in every phase our guys were ready and performed at a high level." ... With three more takeaways against the Mustangs, Memphis has 23 for the season, tied for first nationally. Overall, it's 16th in turnover margin (plus-0.78). ... Norvell,
previously the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, combines a fast pace with a scheme more flexible than some might presume. Though pass-heavy this season behind QB Riley Ferguson (2,565 passing yards, 21 TDs), ASU ran 57.1 percent of the time his first two seasons at ASU. Ferguson, the reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Week, leads the conference in efficiency (151.9) and TD passes. His top target has been fifth-year junior Anthony Miller (57 catches, 924 yards, seven TDs), who has five 100-yard games this season. ... Defensively, the Tigers' nickel alignment -- like USF's -- has been susceptible to the run, ranking 87th nationally (194.3). Keep
an eye on junior LB Genard Avery, who had two sacks at SMU and is one of two players in the nation with a pair of pick-sixes this season. ... While USF is ailing on special teams, Memphis boasts arguably the league's top kicker in senior Jake Elliott, who is 10-of-11 in field goal attempts of 40-plus yards this season and is perfect in 184 career PATs.
Odds and ends: The Tigers have won the last three meetings against USF and own a 5-3 overall advantage in the series. ... Memphis went 233 games without returning a kick for a TD before snapping that streak with Tony Pollard's 95-yarder against Temple. Since then, they've taken two more kicks to the house, including one more by Pollard. ... The Tigers have six Floridians on their roster including former Gaither High standout Ernest Suttles, who's in the defensive end rotation. ... Memphis is 5-0 this season when it leads after the first quarter.
Willie Taggart's take: "They're explosive offensively. They're up-tempo. They do a really good job with their RPO, their run-pass option. They kind of live by that, so you've got to be disciplined on defense. Probably more important, you've got to be patient. You can't just run all over the place because you think they're running, and then they raise up and throw the ball. We've got to do a good job, again, of being patient and a good job of tackling. It goes back to that: being able
to line up and just play football."