Two-minute drill: Ole Miss vs. Memphis
Throughout the season, The Rebel Walk’s Joel Jackson will bring you our “Two-Minute Drill,” a quick weekly look at the Rebels’ upcoming opponents through the eyes of the beat writers who cover them.
This Saturday, October 1, Ole Miss plays Memphis in Oxford. This week, we visit with Larry Marley, co-host of Tigers Tonight. Marley night only has great insight into the Tigers, but also into all things barbecue.
Towards the end of the 2015 season, the University of Memphis football program went through some massive changes. Former head coach Justin Fuente took over at Virginia Tech for the retiring Frank Beamer, taking most of the staff with him, and the Tigers’ record-setting QB Paxton Lynch was drafted in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos.
Memphis soon hired former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell as the new head coach, and former Tennessee QB Riley Ferguson transferred in to play for the Tigers.
The Rebel Walk: What do you think of Memphis’ quarterback Riley Ferguson?
Larry Marley: My understanding is the 6-foot-4 Ferguson really came in and took the “bull by the horns” right off the bat in fall practice. Riley Davis, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Starkville High School (Miss.) pushed Ferguson, but was not quite ready. Ferguson appears to have really grown from his days at Tennessee where he redshirted in his first year (2013) after suffering a leg injury.
Thus far, Ferguson is 61-of-91 passing for 843 yards and 11 TDs, with his longest going for 84 yards against Kansas.
The Rebel Walk: New head coach Mike Norvell has a reputation of being flexible with his offenses. What are some differences you have seen between Norvell’s offense and Fuente’s?
Larry Marley: The Tigers have made few adjustments on the offensive side of the ball. Norvell does use more spread sets than Fuente did, and we’ve seen a lot of pistol sets with the QB in shotgun and the RB’s lined up behind him. The other thing I’ve noticed is less lateral movement after the ball. Coach Fuente’s offense was known for the lateral movement of the WR’s and RB’s after the snap with lots of misdirection, screens, draws and veers. In the spring game, I saw more of a conventional running attack with more play action, but lots of stacked sets with the WR’s. During the season thus far, however, we’ve seen the Tigers run the ball on 41% of standard downs as compared to 56% in 2015.
The Rebel Walk: What are areas in which Memphis needs to improve in 2016?
Larry Marley: Last season, their DB’s were not very good. The zone coverages were savaged by below-average QB’s. (See the Houston game for this.) The real problem was the front 7 failed to get much pressure without blitzing. The other problem was a lack of imagination in the base package. While running the 4-3 can give you lots of options for both blitzing and twists/stunts, Memphis failed to utilize this. Memphis also showed flashes for a half here or there, but overall the DB’s failed to maintain coverage long enough for the pass rushers to get to the QB and the down linemen failed to get to the QB quick enough to help them out.
Thus far in 2016, Memphis is ranked 4th in the NCAA with respect to pass defense efficiency. The Tigers have only allowed one passing TD by their opponents this season and are ranked No. 16, overall, in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.
The Rebel Walk: Give people a sense of fan excitement around the program. From all observations, ticket sales for Memphis football have been great. Also, can you talk a little bit about the suggestions of Memphis joining the Big XII?
Larry Marley: The excitement here is based around the commitment the University is showing towards football and athletics in general. The relatively new President (Dr. Rudd) and the athletic director (Tom Bowen) are committed to football in a way we haven’t seen in my lifetime, honestly. The stadium and Tiger Lane have added a lot to the game day atmosphere. The new indoor practice facility under construction and the renovations to the football offices have made a huge difference in recruiting and assisted in the team’s performance on the field. Obviously being successful the last two seasons has helped, but the excitement was building even prior to that.
As far as the Big XII is concerned, a move would obviously change the landscape of the Memphis program. It would bring in top tier opponents, and provide the program with a real path to a national championship. The biggest change, however, in my opinion would be the ability to recruit top talent outside of the area. As they say, we shall see.
The Rebel Walk: We have to ask—what do you consider the best barbecue places to eat in Memphis? Everyone seems to have a different two or three.
Larry Marley: Wow, the eternal question. Here’s the truth, you have to try about 10-12 and find the ones YOU like. My personal favorites are:
Three Little Pigs
Ole Miss and Memphis kick off at 6:00 p.m. (CT) in Oxford. The game will be televised on ESPN2.