It may just be one game into the season, but the new-look Tigers’ defense has the makings of one of the best the school has seen in years. In their 15-10 victory over Ole Miss, they outplayed their highly-celebrated offensive counterparts. Memphis allowed the lowest amount of points against their SEC rival since 2005 where they also held them to 10 points.
In their first game under new defensive coordinator Adam Fuller, the Tigers dominated the Rebels in every facet of the contest and held them to just 173 total yards on offense. A stark difference for Mississippi when they averaged 498.2 yards per game in 2018.
Head coach Mike Norvell spoke with the media following the game and quickly began to praise the job that Fuller and his staff had done with the team.
“Hats off to our defensive staff and Coach Fuller,” Norvell said. “I think that our defensive staff did an incredible job of keeping [Ole Miss] off balance all game long.”
They were especially impressive in the first half of the game where on 26 of Rebels’ plays, they had just 42 total yards. 43 yards came through the air and they lost 1 rushing yard on 13 carries. They also prevented Ole Miss from getting in the red zone or scoring any points.
In the second half of the game, Ole Miss did a better job of running the ball, earning 81 in the half. However, their passing game still struggled to get off the ground as Mississippi added just 50 yards passing in the final 30 minutes of action.
Even when there seemed to be fatigue, the Tigers didn’t waver and only allowed Ole Miss to convert just one of their 10 third down plays for 10% overall.
So, what drove the Tigers to have such a dominant performance? It started with their defensive line that consistently won their matchups against Rebels’ offensive line. They managed to pressure the redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral throughout the game and finished with four hurries and three sacks.
Their excellent play didn’t just stop with their defensive line but was apparent throughout the entire defense.
Before his ejection following a targeting call, safety La’Andre Thomas led the team with three tackles and a sack, which set the tone for the first half of the defense. When he was forced to leave, backup Quindell Johnson stepped up and posted four tackles and an interception, the team’s first of the season.
Still, with all of the excellent performances, the defensive player of the game goes to defensive end Bryce Huff. He had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in the fourth quarter that helped the Tigers to force a safety and gave them a 15-10 lead with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter.
It proved to be the dagger that sealed the victory for Memphis.
Bryce Huff spoke with the media about the play and said that he felt like the squad needed a big play.
“When we were running onto the field, I told myself that I had to make something happen,” Huff said. “When the ball was snapped, and I came off the block, I was able to get the tight end off me and saw that the quarterback still had the ball in his hands.
Now the question becomes, which is the real Tigers’ defense? The one in the first half that stifled everything that Ole Miss did or the second-half defense that showed signs of fatigue and couldn’t make big plays until their backs were against the wall?
While the season is young, this does not mean that there are not reasons for excitement. For this defense, it is motivating to hold any opponent to less than 20 points after allowing 33.3 points per game last season.
As they prepare to set their sights on Southern for next Saturday’s contest, look to see if they can maintain the energy the team had this week and if they can do a better job of staying consistent as the game wears on.