VOL. 133 | NO. 170 | Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Memphis Tigers, QB White Set to Open New Campaign on Saturday Against Mercer
Special to The Daily News
Memphis Tigers football head coach, Mike Norvell, encourages his players to hustle during practice at their outdoor practice facility. The Tigers first game of the year will be against Mercer on Sept. 1 at the Liberty Bowl. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Memphis coach Mike Norvell isn’t a big fan of season openers. The mysteries tend to bother him. “I really don’t like first games,” Norvell said during his first weekly luncheon press conference of the season on Monday, Aug. 27. “There’s so many unknowns.”
Those unknowns will become more of a reality on Saturday, Sept. 1, when the Tigers kick off for the first time this season, facing the Mercer Bears in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
There are no scouting reports going into the first game. No game video on which to rely. No preview of adjustments made by opponents from last season.
“The thing about game one is you never really know. … Each team is going to have its own unique look,” Norvell said, adding: “Regardless of what we see, our guys will be prepared."
Among the key questions entering the first game is how transfer quarterback Brady White will handle the pressure. White, a graduate transfer from Arizona State, was named the starter after quarterback David Moore left the program last week. White will take his first snaps as a Tiger in only his second career start.
“I think everyone will have nerves,” Norvell said when asked about White’s approach. “We have guys that have started 30, 40 games in their careers, and they get nervous before any kickoff.”
The Bears are the only FCS team the Tigers will play this season, and Norvell said he prepares as if every opponent is the same, regardless of conference affiliation. The 2018 season is the sixth since Mercer returned to football after a 72-year hiatus. Head coach Bobby Lamb is 32-25 over that time span.
Mercer comes off a 5-6 campaign where they lost three games by a touchdown or less. The Auburn Tigers defeated Mercer 24-10 last season, and the Bears were in striking distance until the game’s latter stages.
"The Mercer team that is coming is one that is a team on the rise,” Norvell said. “It's been a young football team. It's a program that restarted just a few years back. Coach Lamb does an incredible job. The determination and culture that has been established there is one that they play relentless.”
The Tigers two-deep depth chart was released Monday before the media luncheon. White will be backed up by Connor Adair or Brady McBride – there was no differentiating between the two. JJ Russell and Curtis Akins will start at the two inside linebacker spots, where Norvell feels he has four starters because of the capabilities of Tim Hart and Keith Brown Jr.
Dylan Parham has won the competition on the offensive line and is listed to start at left guard. He has moved from tight end to defensive line and now to offensive lineman, where he will see his first game action.
"He might be one of the players I'm most excited to see run out of the tunnel and play his first game,” Norvell said of Parham. “What he's been able to do in spring ball and now has been exceptional.”
– True freshman Isaac Ellis is taking over the backup center duties. The Louisiana native is listed at 6-foot-2, 325 pounds.
– Tyrez Lindsay and La’Andre Thomas are listed as starting safeties, but Norvell said that is another position where the Tigers could rotate players.
– True freshman Kenny Gainwell is listed as Tony Pollard’s backup at the tailback spot. The Mississippi native has impressed coaches throughout camp.
– Sam Craft is listed as a starting wide receiver after receiving his sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.