No. 18 Memphis looks to secure division title against SMU
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The 18th-ranked Memphis Tigers need only one win in their last two games for the American Athletic Conference’s West title and a spot in the conference championship game.
A win there might even mean a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl too.
Yes, there’s a lot riding on Saturday’s game against SMU.
”For us (this) is the first time that we have been able to mention the word `championship,’ because that is there in front of us,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. ”To be the Western Division champions, that is a goal that we set out at the beginning of the year. If we can find a way to be successful, that’s something that is there for us to achieve.”
The Tigers (8-1, 5-1 AAC, No. 21 CFP ) come in having won five straight with senior quarterback Riley Ferguson running an explosive offense. They routed Tulsa 41-14 on Nov. 3.
The Mustangs (6-4, 3-3) have slid out of the hunt for a division title with a two-game skid with pair of close losses to Central Florida and Navy. Last week’s loss to Navy was particularly disappointing as the Mustangs rallied from a 34-11 deficit in the first half and tied the game at 40 before losing 43-40 on a field goal as time expired.
”The preparation, the how-to, will be there,” SMU coach Chad Morris said. ”The will to and the want to, it’ll be there too. It’s just can we put four quarters together.”
Here are some other things to know as SMU visits No. 18 Memphis:
RECEIVER RECOGNITION: The game will feature two of the top receivers not only in the American Athletic Conference but the country. Trey Quinn of SMU leads the conference in average receptions per game with 9.6, and receiving yards with a 100.8 average. Memphis’ Anthony Miller is right behind him in both categories with 7.4 catches a game for a 100.6-yard average. Miller has 11 TDs compared to eight for Quinn.
TULSA TIME: Morris and Norvell know each other – and still friends – after working together at the Tulsa in 2010. Norvell was the receivers coach when Morris was hired as offensive coordinator. They worked for then-Tulsa coach Todd Graham. When Graham left the program the next year, Norvell followed the coach to Pittsburgh, while Morris moved to Clemson where he worked as offensive coordinator until 2015 when he was hired to steer the Mustang program.
HOME SWEET HOME: Memphis is 5-0 at home this season with wins over UCLA and Navy, both of which were ranked in the Top 25 at the time. In both games, the margin was a field goal. In five home games, the Tigers are averaging 43 points. The Mustangs are just 1-3 on the road with the lone victory coming at Cincinnati, 31-28 in overtime.
POLLARD’S PACE: One potential momentum-changer could rest on the legs of Memphis kick returner Tony Pollard, who leads the nation in kickoff returns with a 41.1 average. He also has taken three for touchdowns, tied for tops in the country. Asked if he would kick away from Pollard, Morris replied: ”I really don’t want to see him running down the field.”
FINAL WORD: ”All the goals that are up on our board that we started back in January are still attainable,” Norvell said. ”That is a compliment to these players. That is a compliment to these coaches and to everybody that is involved with it. This opportunity is the greatest challenge that we have had but it is also one of the greatest opportunities this program has had since I’ve been here and our kids feel it and our city feels it.”
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