They may say that football has become a quarterback’s game, but this year’s Memphis Tigers’ team is showing that the true key to success is balance.
Now, this is not me saying that the individual accolades of Brady White or Kenneth Gainwell do not deserve to be mentioned, but each facet of the offense helps to make the other better.
The team’s balance offensively is what helped to get them the 54-48 victory over the No. 15-ranked SMU Mustangs as ESPN’s prime time game, despite star running back, Gainwell not having the biggest game.
Ultimately, he rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. He also had two receptions for 14 receiving yards.
His efforts helped him to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards on the season, making him the 11th Tiger in history to accomplish that feat.
But, his success this year, he was clearly the Mustang defense’s primary focus for, and that allows White and this passing game to have the success they had tonight, especially with the deep ball.
Antonio Gibson has been the team’s go-to deep threat, and that continued during this week. He had six catches for 130 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. He also had a 78-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the Tigers’ victory. In total, he had 386 all-purpose yards in the game, a Memphis record.
Gibson spoke to the media after the historic day and said that has extra importance because of the game’s stage.
“I feel blessed,” Gibson said. “Not to sound cocky, but big-time players make big-time plays. Everybody showed out and that’s what they came to see.”
Fellow wideout Damonte Coxie, made multiple tough catches that helped result in first downs for the team. He finished the game with a team-leading seven catches for 143 yards and two receiving touchdowns.
Of his offense’s performance, Mike Norvell said that his group did a good job of keeping things together despite SMU’s best efforts to thwart them.
“I think offensively we did a nice job of maintaining balance,” Norvell said. “They worked to take away the run as much as they could, but our guys did a great job executing.”
With this offense making big plays in each of their drives, scoring on five of their six first half drive, it forced SMU to get aggressive with their play calling to put points on the board.
It also did not help that their running game was having a difficult time getting itself going, despite having talent at the running back position.
Senior running back, Xavier Jones, was expected to have similar production as Gainwell considering how good his season had been, but he was ineffective for most of the game. He had 11 carries for 22 rushing yards and a touchdown.
He was outshined by fellow running back, Ke’Mon Freeman who had 74 rushing yards on six carries and two rushing touchdowns. However, 68 of his yards came on one run.
Mustangs’ quarterback, Shane Buechele on the contrary, had a big day against the Tigers’ secondary and was 34 for 54 passing for 456 yards and three passing touchdowns. His yards were well above Memphis’ average of 200 passing yards allowed per game.
Wide receiver, James Proche was the biggest catalyst of the passing game and had 149 receiving yards for the game. He had 94 of those receiving yards in the first half alone.
This does not even take into account what special teams was able to do. Though the Tigers would have preferred having more touchdowns in the first half, kicker Riley Patterson was clutch when his number was called.
He converted on all four of his field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder, tied for his longest of the season.
Gibson also had a big contribution as a kick returner and scored on a 97-yard kickoff return, the first play of the second half.
With all of these elements clicking, it is nearly impossible to ignore Memphis as the top team in the American Athletic Conference.
As the other top teams like Cincinnati, SMU and Navy having their fair share of struggles, including tow of the team’s losses to Memphis, they have shown that they can compete with anyone.
Ending their drives with field goals as opposed to touchdowns may hurt, but that is a problem that can be fixed, especially when they can find a way to decrease the ridiculous 16 penalties they had.
This team has the look and feel like a group that is more dialed in now that it had been in Norvell’s previous three years with the team.
As they head into next week’s bye, they will have ample momentum as they prepare for their November 16 when they head to Houston to improve their current three-game win streak against them.
Norvell told the media that the upcoming bye is not just going to be used to rest.
“We’re going to use this as a week of improvement,” Norvell said. “If we can continue with the same sense of urgency to improve like we’ve done throughout the season, I know we’ll be in good shape.”