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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Football

Memphis by the numbers, part 2: Taming Tigers no easy task


offense

Senior Riley Ferguson may not have the same pedigree as NFL backup and former Memphis star Paxton Lynch, but he is still dangerous. Ferguson’s offense comes into the game with 1,814 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. | File photo/The Cougar

The University of Memphis Tigers are the latest, and one of the toughest, obstacles in the Cougars’ path to a conference title. Get to know who the Cougars will be lining up against.

Overwhelming passing offense

Last season, the Memphis Tigers boasted one of the most solid offenses in the NCAA, especially when it came to passing. With then-junior QB Riley Ferguson completing 63.2 percent of his attempts, the Tigers averaged more than 300 yards and 2.6 passing touchdowns per contest, ranking among the Top-20 teams in the nation. Moreover, the Tigers had one of the most adept backfields in catching the football, with all three main running backs securing at least 10 receptions throughout the season.

This year, having kept almost every single offensive contributor from last season, the Tigers are turning out even better. This offense runs 76 plays while scoring 40-plus points, gaining around 490 yards and 4.8 scores each game, which places them among the FBS Top-15 teams in all categories.

Trusting Ferguson to throw an overwhelming 40 passes a game, Memphis cashes those into 310 yards and 3.3 touchdowns, ranking it in the NCAA Top-20 across all three parameters. The only downside comes in the form of their bottom-league ranking with nine offensive penalties a game.

As far as rushing is concerned, aside from averaging a solid 5.15 yards per rush, the Memphis backfield does not impose much damage on the ground. Meanwhile, as was the case last season, every Tiger running backs has multiple catches to his name, including a couple of TD receptions.

Defense gives up ground, makes up in turnovers

The Memphis defense appears to be focusing on one thing only: turnovers. It relies on the productivity of its offensive teammates, preferring to take chances on defense while risking giving up big plays.

Last season, Memphis ranked No. 6 in the NCAA with 2.2 turnovers forced per game, while staying out on the field for an exhausting 79 plays and allowing 443 yards to the opposition.

This year, the situation appears to have worsened a bit. While still tied for third in the country with 2.8 turnovers a game, the Tiger defense shows atrocious numbers in other categories. It ranks in the bottom of the league in playing 82 snaps, while allowing 4.3 touchdowns, 34 points, and 477 yards per game to opposing offenses.

On top of that, the Memphis defensive unit gets called on more than eight penalties per contest, placing it among the worst ten schools in FBS.

The 2016 Tigers

Last season, the Tigers went 8-5, including a 5-1 record against below -.500 opponents, and 2-4 against top teams, one of those being a down-to-the-wire 48-44 home win against the Cougars.

Riley Ferguson was able to feed on the Cougar secondary by throwing for over 400 yards, four scores (two of those to top receiver Anthony Miller) and no picks. Additionally, the Tigers were able to rush for another two scores and won the turnover battle 2-0.

To gauge Memphis’ road performances, we see that Tigers went 3-1 against below .500 teams and lost to a 9-win Navy squad. That sole loss came at Ole Miss after threw three interceptions and no scores. As for particular offensive features of Memphis’ opponents, the Tigers had considerably more success against pass-dominant teams (5-2) than rush-based offenses (1-3), including losses against Top-10 rushing offenses of Navy, Tulsa and South Florida.

Who they have faced

This season, Memphis boasts a 5-1 record. This includes wins against the nation’s top rushing offense, the Navy Midshipmen, and second best passing offense, the UCLA Bruins.

Most of their games, bar Navy, came against highly-proficient passing teams, and it took a road game against a great all-around offense of UCF to tame the Tigers. Such as in last year’s loss against Ole Miss, Ferguson threw three picks, and Memphis’ backfield did not help by losing a fumble and rushing for only 75 yards.

Most of the defenses Memphis has faced this season rank in the bottom of the league in either passing or rushing yards allowed, with the exception of UCF. The Knights rank Top-10 nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 90 yards on the ground per contest. In terms of per-play defensive efficiency, UCLA boasted a Top-50 passing defense with just 6.54 yards allowed per catch, and that led to a very tight 48-45 loss against the Tigers in Memphis.

To overcome that hot passing Tiger offense Thursday night, the Cougars will need every bit of support the fans at TDECU Stadium have to offer. To avenge last year’s loss, the defensive front will need to crank up the pressure on Ferguson, with Cougar secondary paying close attention to wide receiver Anthony Miller.

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