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VOL. 132 | NO. 256 | Wednesday, December 27, 2017

ISU Defense a Challenge; Tigers Snag 13 Early Signings for 2018

By Don Wade

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Iowa State may or may not be the best defensive team the University of Memphis has faced this season. But whatever designation you put on the Tigers’ opponent in Saturday’s Dec. 30 AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis coach Mike Norvell knows this:

In 12 games this season, only three teams scored 30 or more points against the Cyclones and that included ISU’s 38-31 victory over Oklahoma, which is in the College Football Playoffs.

“To play a defense that’s only given up 21 points a game, especially the conference that they play in … it’s remarkable,” Norvell said. “We’re gonna have to execute at a very high level because they’ve shut down a lot of good teams.”

WR Anthony Miller (3) pushes past an SMU defender during the Tigers’ win on Nov. 18. Memphis’ high-powered offense will face an Iowa State defense Saturday that allows only 21 points a game. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)

The Tigers’ counter, of course, is having the second-highest scoring offense in the nation at 47.7 points per game. Worth noting: Oklahoma ranks fourth with 44.9 points per game.


No doubt, there were Memphis players who were initially disappointed that they would not be playing in a New Year’s game or going to a beach somewhere. But for weeks the Tigers have been in a routine, approaching the AutoZone Liberty Bowl as the extra home game they didn’t expect and trying to maintain their unbeaten mark at home this season.

“These guys love the game of football. We keep intense. We practice hard,” said defensive coordinator Chris Ball. “They love putting the pads on and getting after it.”

Tony Pollard (Melrose), the Tigers’ triple threat as a return man, receiver and running back, sees multiple benefits to playing a bowl game in Memphis.

“It’s home-field advantage,” he said. “We’re playing in our own backyard instead of having to travel. And our fans can stay home and pack the bowl out.”


The Memphis football team got an early start on filling needs for the 2018 season with the signing of 13 players to National Letters of Intent last week. The early signing period is new to college football this season. The regular signing period begins Feb. 7.

“If you look at the offensive and defensive line and linebacker, we’re going to have a couple of guys leaving the program that are very experienced, explosive players,” Norvell said. “So to be able to replace a couple of them with junior college signees or high school guys that we think will have an opportunity to come in and impact early, we’re definitely fired up.”

Here are the signees:

Keith Brigham // DL // 6-3 // 260

Normal, Ill./Normal Community West/Pima CC

Named a second team all-conference defensive lineman as a freshman at Pima Community College in 2017 … Finished with a team-best six sacks and was third on the team with 79 overall tackles.

Keith Brown Jr. // LB // 6-3 // 235

Madison, Miss./Madison Central/Northwest Mississippi CC

First-team all-conference linebacker at Northwest Mississippi CC in 2017 … Leading tackler for the Rangers with 94 total stops … Second on the team with six sacks and finished third with 10.5 tackles for loss.

Chris Clark // OL // 6-4 // 255

Sardis, Miss./North Panola

Played offensive and defensive line and helped North Panola roll to a 13-1 record in 2017, with the team’s only loss coming in the semifinals of the 3A State Playoffs … Blocked for an offense that racked up 3,083 passing yards and 37 touchdowns and rushed for 3,571 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Evan Fields // OL // 6-5 // 275

Sharpsburg, Ga./East Coweta

Two-time first-team All-Region 2-7A and All-County offensive lineman at East Coweta High School … Helped pave the way for a 1,000-yard rusher for the Indians in 2017.

Cameron Fleming // RB // 5-9 // 175

Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill

First team All-District running back … Finished his career with 761 rushing yards and nine touchdowns … Averaged eight yards per rush in his career.

Kenny Gainwell // ATH // 5-11 // 185

Yazoo City, Miss./Yazoo County

Three-year starter at quarterback and the team’s leading passer with 1,114 yards and 10 touchdowns and the leading rusher with 1,791 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior.

Antonio Gibson // WR // 6-2 // 220

Stockbridge, Ga./Eagles Landing/East Central CC

First-team all-state wide receiver at East Central CC … Caught 21 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns … Also rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown.

Troy Hurst // RB/WR // 6-2 // 185

Greensburg, La./St. Helena Central

Played both sides of the ball in high school, playing wide receiver, running back wildcat quarterback and safety … Had 10 rushes for 63 yards and two touchdowns in state championship game and also added two catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Quindell Johnson // DB // 6-1 // 185

New Orleans, La./Edna Karr

Helped Edna Karr to back-to-back state championships for the first time in school history. Helped the Karr defense hold opponents to just 14.0 points per game in the regular season.

Titus Jones // OL // 6-4 // 265

New Orleans, La./Edna Karr

His senior squad went 14-1 overall and 4-0 in district play and averaged 39.2 points per game in the state playoffs, including a 48-26 win over second seeded Lakeshore in the championship.

Alec Long // 6-0 // 220 // Athlete

Jackson, Tenn./Liberty Tech Magnet

Recorded 41 tackles, five interceptions and a forced fumble at Liberty Tech ... Led the area in kick return yards with 219 yards on 10 returns … Also had 225 yards and a touchdown on punt return team.

Brady McBride // QB // 6-0 // 193

Coppell, Texas/Coppell HS

Finished career 486-of-809 for 6,394 yards and 86 touchdowns in three seasons at Coppell High School. Also rushed 325 times for 1,186 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Jeremy Tate Jr. // WR // 6-4 // 210

Columbus, Miss./New Hope

All-State wide receiver caught a team-high 60 passes for 850 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior … As a junior, he had 46 catches for 727 yards and 11 touchdowns.


Through games of Dec. 25, the Grizzlies were 10-23 (.303) and only the Dallas Mavericks at 9-25 (.265) and the Atlanta Hawks at 8-25 (.242) have worse records.

But the Grizzlies also have the second-lowest points per game at 97.1. The only team worse? The Sacramento Kings, under the guidance of former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, average 96.6 points per game.

Memphis also averages just 39.7 rebounds per game (28th out of 30 teams) and 20.8 assists (24th).

Going into their Tuesday, Dec. 26, game at Phoenix, the Grizzlies had lost nine straight road games. The game against the Suns is the first of a five-game road trip that also includes games against the Lakers (Wednesday), Golden State (Saturday), Sacramento (Sunday) and the Clippers (Tuesday, Jan. 2).

The Grizzlies’ next home game is Friday, Jan. 5, vs. Washington.

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