VOL. 133 | NO. 175 | Tuesday, September 4, 2018
The Press Box
Memphis Thumps Mercer, 66-14
By Don Wade
By the second quarter, Twitter couldn’t help itself: When will the “Mercer” rule go into effect? And Lord, have Mercer! On and on it went. But why not? The University of Memphis offense went on and on in a 66-14 season-opening romp over the FCS Mercer Bears.
Hello, college football. Glad to have you back.
A crowd of 33,697 turned out at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday night for the first of seven home games. Or as coach Mike Norvell has taken to calling them, seven civic festivals.
University of Memphis quarterback Brady White (center) looks for an open receiver during the Tigers' game against the Mercer Bears at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018. (Daily News/Jim Weber)
Just one thing: Norvell isn’t much on the football team acting as hospitable hosts. By halftime, it was 56-0 and Memphis had outgained Mercer in yards 530-37 and in first downs 23-1.
A running clock would have been – sorry, here it comes – Mercerful.
Of course, this first festival was most notable for the debut of graduate transfer quarterback Brady White. And to hear him tell it, the offensive output in the first half was more the result of a simple mathematical equation. Preparation + execution = results.
“We were ready to go,” White said. “We did a good job showcasing.”
Certainly, White did. His previous college experience consisted of completing 25 of 49 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Arizona State in 2016.
White surpassed those numbers in the first half Saturday. He finished 22 of 28 for 358 yards and five TDs, with no interceptions; he should have had one pick when he overthrew a short pass in the middle of the field and two Mercer defenders collided, but the ball went unclaimed and fell to the turf.
Mostly, White looked as advertised: strong and accurate arm, good head on his shoulders, won’t wow you with his speed or athleticism. His first deep ball, intended and on-target for wide receiver Demonte Coxie, was a sure TD if Coxie had held it.
“He was locked in,” Coxie said of the quarterback he saw in the huddle on the first series. “I seen it in his eyes.”
He was also ready in the postgame press conference, steering clear of any questions that tried to tap into his emotional or mental state at game’s start after waiting two years to play again. Or that might have led to an answer that made him sound like he was giving himself too much credit after two quarters against an overmatched team.
Asked to grade his debut, White simply said, “I’m not gonna do that.”
Beyond White, running backs Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor were too much for the Bears at the line of scrimmage and in the open field. Five different players, including Coxie, Henderson and Taylor, caught TD passes from the starting quarterback.
“When you have weapons like we do,” White said, “you just want to get them the rock.”
Defensively, cornerback T.J. Carter made the first interception of the season and ran it back 35 yards for a score, linebacker Jackson Dillon had the first tackle that forced a punt, and linebacker Austin Hall had the first combination hurry/pass breakup.
Carter also became the first defender to try on the new Ric Flair-style turnover robe, a nice accompaniment to the defense’s beloved turnover belt.
“Great tradition of wrestling in Memphis,” Norvell said.
Great tradition of takeaways by the Memphis defense the last couple of years, too, but what waits for the Tigers next Saturday in Annapolis will be a much fairer fight: a Navy team, even after a rough trip to Hawaii, with intentions to contend in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference. And a team that brings the challenge of the triple-option on offense.
So Saturday was fun, starting with the pregame Tiger Walk that Norvell said might have been the best since he arrived at Memphis, right on through those nine touchdowns, 32 first downs, 752 total yards, and a first-half defensive performance the coach called “lights out.”
But now it is done. And given the level of the competition, it made sense that Brady White didn’t want to play the grade-his-performance game. It’s meaningless in the larger picture.
“We’ve got big goals and standards for ourselves,” he said.
Which is the new quarterback’s way of saying that the only letter grade he’s chasing is the next W.