No. 22 Memphis keeping its focus on Tulsa (Nov 03, 2017)
No. 22 Memphis heads into the final month of the regular season facing the same dilemma it experienced just two years ago.
In 2015, former coach Justin Fuente, after a successful stint with the Tigers, left to become head coach at Virginia Tech.
Now, Memphis is dealing with more coaching rumors, this time with Tigers' frontman Mike Norvell, ahead of Friday's American Athletic Conference game at Tulsa.
Norvell, a former assistant at Tulsa, picked up where Fuente left off, and has kept the Tigers playing at a high level. As a result, Norvell has become a hot prospect and this week emerged as a potential candidate to fill the opening at Florida. The Gators parted ways with Jim McElwain over the weekend.
Norvell held a team meeting on Monday to discuss the rumors with his players.
"Any time you have success throughout a season, individual players, coaches, the people nationally are going to talk about what you're doing, and that is a positive thing for our program," Norvell said at his Monday press conference. "But like I told the players this morning, we had a quick team meeting, there are no distractions. There are no distractions from anything on the outside, the only thing that matters to us is that every individual, player, coach, whatever, is 100 percent focused on being 1-0 this week. The only way we can get that done is by maximizing today."
Memphis (7-1, 4-1 AAC) has bounced back from its only loss of the season with four straight wins. The Tigers backed up a thrilling comeback win over Houston two weeks ago with a 56-26 rout of Tulane last week. Quarterback Riley Ferguson threw three touchdowns, and Memphis rushed for 259 yards and four scores in what Norvell called a complete performance.
"We talked about the importance of starting fast, coming off of a couple of emotional wins with Navy and Houston," Norvell said. "Getting to come back home, I thought our guys prepared in a phenomenal way, I thought they had a real purpose. I could tell it even in pregame, the sense of urgency and the excitement they had to play in that game was pretty awesome."
Tulsa (2-7, 1-4 AAC) has struggled on the road, losing multiple close games, but has been a better team at home. The Golden Hurricane defeated Houston 45-17 in their last home game on Oct. 14, but were unable to build off that win and have dropped back-to-back games at Connecticut and at SMU last week.
Golden Hurricane senior running back D'Angelo Brewer returned from injury and rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown against SMU. Tulsa took a 34-28 lead into the fourth quarter against the Mustangs. The Golden Hurricane had a chance to be up more, but receiver Justin Hobbs was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for high-stepping on his way to end zone on a 72-yard touchdown reception that was nullified by the penalty. Tulsa ended up having to settle for a field goal and was unable to hold the lead in the fourth quarter of another close defeat.
Four of Tulsa's seven losses have come by less than seven points.
"We've been in several of them," Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said after the loss to SMU. "You can always point back to a handful of plays -- whether that's early in the game, right after half or there late. Little things make the difference. This is another one of those games that's tough to swallow. We've had three like this. This is the fourth."
Tulsa beat Memphis 59-30 last season, and Norvell believes the Golden Hurricane remain dangerous, especially at home.
"They've been very competitive in just about every game," Norvell said. "They've played really well at home."
Norvell said, after holding the team meeting, his players were focused at Monday's practice.
"I thought the kids had a phenomenal approach to coming out and working to get better," Norvell said. "That is our sole focus, we're not worried about anything else that's out there other than today, and the opportunity we have to go to work, and I thought our kids did a great job."
The game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Friday at H.A. Chapman Stadium in Tulsa, Okla.