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VOL. 132 | NO. 196 | Tuesday, October 3, 2017

After 40-13 Loss at UCF, Memphis Tigers Embrace a Put-up or Shut-up Mentality

By Don Wade

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Had the University of Memphis football team gone into Orlando last Saturday and defeated UCF, the Tigers would have been 4-0 and likely moved into the Top 25. In fact UCF (3-0) did slide into the 25th spot in the Associated Press poll after giving Memphis a 40-13 beatdown.

“Talk’s cheap,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell said after the team’s practice Monday morning. “What you see is who you are.”

The Tigers did not like who they were last Saturday night. The Knights ran over a young Memphis defense for 350 rushing yards, 603 total yards. Memphis even gave up the longest play from scrimmage in American Athletic Conference history when Adrian Killins ripped off a 96-yard touchdown run.

Memphis also committed five turnovers, including quarterback Riley Ferguson being intercepted three times and losing a fumble. Although UCF held only a 27-25 edge on first downs, the Knights converted on third down 10-of-18 times while Memphis went 4-for-12 on third down.

Memphis running back Tony Pollard (1) is tripped up during the game between the UCF Knights and Tigers on Saturday, Sept. 30, in Orlando, Florida. The Knights won handily 40-13. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Time of possession fell heavily on UCF’s side: 37:23 to 22:37.

“If you go back and look at it, it does look like a blowout if you look at the score,” Ferguson said on Monday. “But we killed ourselves so much. As long as we go out and handle our business, we know we can get the job done. We had four possessions inside the 40 where we got 0 points. It could have ended up being a one-possession game late in the game. It did kind of snowball on us a little bit.”

Originally, Memphis was supposed to play at UCF on Sept. 9. Hurricane Irma changed that.

But this meant when the game kicked off last Saturday, Norvell and his staff had the benefit of extra preparation time.

“We prepared for the last opponent as much as any I ever have,” Norvell said. “Our execution was very poor. And that comes down to me as a head coach and having these guys ready to play. We were able to create some negative plays on defense, but we gotta do a better job of getting off the field.

“When you turn the ball over five times, you’re not gonna win against any good football team.”

The biggest positive Norvell took from the loss?

“On the sideline, I actually loved our guys’ eyes,” he said. “Even to the very end. These players care. They care about this program. They care about each other.”

Going forward, the Tigers will continue to have an uphill fight on defense. Out of the 12 AAC teams, Memphis ranks ninth in scoring defense (36.2 points per game) and ninth in total defense (513.5 yards per game). They’ve sacked opposing quarterbacks just three times in four games, which ranks last in the AAC.

Norvell, however, is more concerned about not giving up big plays.

“There were a lot of plays in the game (against UCF) where I thought we had a great call and everything was set, we got what we expected to get, but we didn’t execute it,” the coach said. “Miscommunication on three different calls cost us almost 150 yards and two easy touchdowns and one that should have been avoided based on situational play. Having some new players adds challenges to that because they just don’t have experience, but that’s why practice is so important.”

Redshirt senior defensive end Christian Johnson agreed that players were sometimes caught out of place.

“I went back and watched film that night and it just seemed like somebody was outside a gap here, or they didn’t communicate coverage here or there,” Johnson said. “Chemistry. Everybody’s gotta be on the same page. More indecision than anything because if you’re not really sure where you’re supposed to be, you start overthinking it. And when you’re overthinking it, you play slower.”

The Tigers next will play at Connecticut (1-3, 0-2) at 6 p.m. Friday (ESPN). On Monday, Ferguson was cautioning teammates to not take the Huskies lightly.

“I was telling people this morning, you can’t overlook anybody,” he said. “Southern Illinois was a good football team. I feel like people were overlooking them and you saw how that game came out.”

Memphis struggled to put SIU away, winning 44-31. Now, after the debacle that was last Saturday night at UCF, the Tigers should be of a mind to take everything – and everyone – seriously.

Ferguson liked what he saw at practice Monday morning. The pain of losing made an impact.

“I think it lit a fire under us,” he said. “We were juiced up and went out and had fun today.”

And that’s good. But as Norvell said, talk’s cheap.

“We’ve gotta come out Friday night and show something much better if we have any intention of winning this week,” Norvell said.

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