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USF football: Five things to know about Memphis

The Tigers average a conference-best 7.2 yards per play.
Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) and freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell (19) lead one of the nation's most potent offenses into Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.
Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) and freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell (19) lead one of the nation's most potent offenses into Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]
Published Nov. 20, 2019

A quick look at No. 18 Memphis (9-1, 5-1), which plays USF (4-6, 2-4) Saturday at 4 at Raymond James Stadium:

1. Offense at full throttle … and full strength

A Tigers offense that has scored at least 40 points in its past four games will arrive at Raymond James Stadium with its full arsenal. Senior tailback Patrick Taylor, out since the season opener with a leg injury, returned for Saturday’s 45-27 win at Houston, gaining 14 yards on five carries.

He’ll help fortify a run game already averaging 183.3 yards behind freshman Kenneth Gainwell (1,166 yards, 12 touchdowns, 6.7 yards per carry).

“He’s not very big (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), but he’s very powerful and strong and can run behind his pads,” USF coach Charlie Strong said. "Breaks a lot of tackles; we’re gonna have to tackle well to get him on the ground.”

In case you hadn’t heard, the passing attack (297.7 ypg) isn’t shabby either. Six-foot-3 junior Damonte Coxie (48 catches, 765 yards, seven touchdowns) averages nearly 16 yards a catch, 6-2 senior Antonio Gibson had a school-record 386 all-purpose yards against SMU, and 6-4 senior tight end Joey Magnifico has more than 1,000 career receiving yards.

MORE BULLS: USF players, coaches rally around kicker Spencer Shrader

2. White hot

Memphis junior quarterback Brady White has thrown for at least 300 yards in five games this season.
Memphis junior quarterback Brady White has thrown for at least 300 yards in five games this season. [ MARK HUMPHREY | AP ]

No quarterback in the American Athletic Conference has been more efficient than Tigers junior Brady White (184.0 rating), coming off a 341-yard, five-touchdown effort at Houston.

A graduate transfer from Arizona State (where he was a teammate of Blake Barnett’s), White has thrown for 2,852 yards, 28 TDs and five interceptions in 10 games, completing 67.4 percent of his throws (186-for-276). Saturday’s performance at Houston was his fifth 300-yard effort of the season.

3. Norvell in demand

Memphis coach Mike Norvell has the Tigers on the cusp of the program's third 10-win season.
Memphis coach Mike Norvell has the Tigers on the cusp of the program's third 10-win season. [ MARK HUMPHREY | AP ]

Though his name has been attached to the coaching vacancies at Arkansas and FSU, fourth-year Tigers coach Mike Norvell (a Central Arkansas alumnus) evidently hasn’t been distracted. To the contrary, his team’s rolling.

Nonetheless, it’s safe to speculate Norvell may be coaching his final games for Memphis. His 32 victories are the most of any Tigers coach through their first four seasons, and he has his program on the cusp of its third consecutive West Division title.

"I don't control what people say about anybody within this program,” Norvell, who reportedly has only a $500,000 buyout, told reporters last week. “It's been asked a good number of times, and it's a lot better than having to try to defend the job that we're doing.”

4. Third-down dominance

Memphis wide receiver Damonte Coxie (10) celebrates with running back Kenneth Gainwell, center, and wide receiver Calvin Austin III (84) after Coxie caught a 49-yard touchdown pass against SMU during the Tigers' wild 54-48 victory earlier this month.
Memphis wide receiver Damonte Coxie (10) celebrates with running back Kenneth Gainwell, center, and wide receiver Calvin Austin III (84) after Coxie caught a 49-yard touchdown pass against SMU during the Tigers' wild 54-48 victory earlier this month. [ MARK HUMPHREY | AP ]

One of the more glaring statistical disparities of the Tigers-Bulls matchup involves third-down efficiency. The Tigers convert on third down 46.6 percent of the time, which leads the AAC and ranks 20th nationally.

USF defense, by contrast, allows its opponents to convert 44.2 percent of the time, which ranks 11th in the league and 105th nationally.

5. Stability starts up front

The Tigers have used the same starting offensive line for all 10 games. Anchored by senior center Dustin Woodard (48 career starts), the unit has helped Memphis average a league-best 7.2 yards per play. The 17 sacks allowed are tied for fourth fewest in the conference.

Similarly, the defensive front features three players who have started at least 20 career games, led by senior tackle Jonathan Wilson (41 career starts) and junior nose tackle O’Bryan Goodson (32). Watch for senior edge rusher Bryce Huff, whose 10 tackles for loss (and 3.5 sacks) lead Memphis.

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