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VOL. 131 | NO. 218 | Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Norvell, Tigers Look to Flip the Script at SMU Saturday

By Don Wade

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Redshirt junior receiver Anthony Miller had a record-setting day with 12 catches for 250 receiving yards. But with the University of Memphis suffering a second straight defeat last Saturday, 59-30 to Tulsa at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, he hasn’t spent much time replaying the good moments.

Navy QB Will Worth rushes past Memphis linebacker Curtis Akins (7), defensive back Austin Hall (25) and safety Jonathan Cook. Both Navy and Tulsa ran all over Memphis.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“What lingered in my head was a couple of dropped balls,” Miller said of his performance. “It just comes down to fundamentals and a handful of plays that can win the game or lose the game.”

By coach Mike Norvell’s count, there were eight dropped passes by the Tigers. That, in combination with 12 penalties covering 115 yards, and allowing 596 total yards by Tulsa, 362 of them on the ground, was too much to overcome.

Now 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the American Athletic Conference, the season’s narrative has taken a slight downward turn. From 5-1 with the only loss to an Ole Miss team that was ranked at the time of the game, the Tigers have lost the last two games to Navy and Tulsa by an average of 21.5 points.

They’ve also shown no ability to stop the rush – Navy had 447 yards running the ball – and also have struggled to run the ball well enough to keep defenses honest and the pass rush off quarterback Riley Ferguson.

Against Tulsa, Ferguson threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns, but it was less than efficient. He completed only 19 of 41 passes and was intercepted twice. And it’s the nature of the game that after wins the QB gets extra credit and after losses additional blame.

“He knows his teammates are behind him,” Miller said. “It’s not just him. It’s all the guys around him. I just told him don’t put pressure on yourself.”

The Tigers had an announced crowd of 36,984 for the Tulsa game and interest in the team has been high. But two straight losses have, predictably, produced some negative comments. Social Media is nothing if not impatient and traditional media are now asking a lot questions about what’s gone wrong the last two weeks.

The defensive line has been dominated and Norvell said, “At the end of the day, it comes down to pad level and physicality.”

The offensive line has been makeshift, pretty young, and after a step forward at Navy, Norvell saw some regression against Tulsa. There remains individual competition for playing time there, but that’s a complicating factor for an offensive line more so than some other units.

“Five guys have to play as one,” Norvell said.

Meanwhile, all coaches and players are getting a little more scrutiny, a little less praise.

“When times are good and you’re winning games, I would hope you’re not getting your gratification from everything from the outside,” Norvell told The Daily News. “Because when times don’t go good, that tends to affect you a little bit.

“I’ve got a tremendous responsibility for what we’re putting out on the field and I understand if people get upset when you lose. I’m right there with them. The turnout has been exceptional. There’s excitement within the city.”

The Tigers play at SMU (4-4, 22) at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Mustangs have won back-to-back conference games for the first time since the 2013 season. In their last game, a 35-31 victory over Tulane, freshman quarterback Ben Hicks threw for a career-high 302 yards. Running back Braeden West rushed for 119 yards and wide receiver James Proche caught six passes for 164 yards and two TDs.

Two weeks ago, in a 38-16 upset of then-No. 11 Houston, the Mustangs allowed just 62 rushing yards. SMU has intercepted 14 passes this season, tied for second-most in the nation. The secondary is aggressive.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Miller, whose 822 receiving yards on 53 receptions ranks 16th nationally. “I hope they give me some man coverage so I can maybe work ’em a little bit.”

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