Memphis Tigers prepare to battle South Alabama

3-1 Tigers host 1-2 Jaguars at Liberty Bowl Saturday

Mike Norvell On Facing South Alabama

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - After knocking off Georgia State 55-29 at the Liberty Bowl last Friday, the Memphis Tigers now set their sights on the South Alabama Jaguars.

Tigers head coach Mike Norvell talked about the win over the Panthers, and looked ahead to the matchup against the Jaguars at his weekly press conference on Monday.

Mike Norvell

Opening Statement… “Wrapping up last week, I’m really proud of our football team and the way that we responded. We talked last week about needing to rise up, as a program and as individuals, and I thought our kids building up to a national audience went out there and showed what they were capable of. In no way did we play a perfect game, but I thought our guys competed and were dominant in all three phases. That’s something that we needed to see and, like I said, I was proud of them and how they approached that game and their mentality. We have to build off that moving forward. Obviously we came back and went to work yesterday afternoon and that was my message to the team; we have got to push, and keep that relentless spirit in growth and work together to get better. There are plenty of things we have to clean up from the game, even with the quality victory like that, there were a lot of mistakes that we made and things we need to progress on. I know that our team is hungry for improvement and is able get that done. We’re excited about being back home at the Liberty Bowl again here on Saturday, and with a Saturday night game it should be a great crowd and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone out at the Tiger Walk at 4:30 and looking forward to playing in front of Tiger nation once again.”

On rushing for 400 yards for the first time in his tenure… “I thought the way the game played out was how we were hoping. We knew that Georgia State was going to stack the box a little bit and play with tight edge defenders, so we were able to loosen them up early with some runs on the perimeter and taking what they were giving us in the passing game. I thought that we were extremely efficient being able to throw the football, and at half, while I don’t know the exact numbers, it was somewhere around 200 and 200, passing and rushing, which is what you want. With the lead, we were able to grind it out and in the second half we hit some explosive marks that gave us that big number. I think that’s a tribute to our offensive line, our tight ends and our receivers. Any time you break 40, 50, 60 yard runs, it takes 10 other guys on the field to make that happen. Our quarterback’s doing a great job of getting us in to the right play calls, calling checks for the run game and managing the perimeter with his arm. Really pleased for our guys and grateful for our backs, winning their one-on-one matchups when they get those opportunities.”

On the play of the Special Teams… “I’m really glad with how they’re progressing. When you look at the game, one of the key plays was the decision to fake the punt on our first possession, and while that was planned and we wanted to stay aggressive with that, our guys executed when they were called. You look at what we were able to do in the return game; that was big. On punt returns, we thought that was an area we really needed to improve on from the past seasons. We feel like we have a very capable returner in Pop Williams, so that’s something we’ve actually worked more on this season, in spring practice and fall camp, to get that going. I think he had 5 returns for 75 yards, with the one big one to set up an extremely short field. Even with our kickoff return unit, we didn’t have any big returns because of what we’ve done. They squibbed every kick, so our average starting field position was the 35 yard line, which is extraordinary. You look at Riley Patterson and what he’s doing on his kickoffs, the number of touchbacks he’s been able to create has been awesome, and when a team elects to bring it out, our guys have been relentless in their coverage. And as I mentioned in the post-game, the two blocked kicks were huge. The extra-point after a 13-play drive, for our guys to put forth the effort to go and create that blocked kick was great and obviously the field goal there late at the end of the game was impressive to see.”

On utilizing the wildcat formation… “It’s something we’ve always looked at and something that we’ve utilized our last couple years. It’s really dependent on the game plan and what teams are going to give us.The great thing with both those guys (Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor) is that they both throw, so if it gets to where teams are squeezing everything down and trying to stop the run, they can both sit back and throw the ball to the perimeter or push it down the field a little bit. It makes it unique for what we’re trying to do and accomplish, but I thought we executed very well in the game on Saturday and it was impressive to see.”

On the game-plan for using Darrell Henderson… “It’s the same as in every game, where we’re trying to take what the defense will give us, you know that’s what this offense is predicated off of. Being able to have those direct runs where we know he’s going to get carries, so as we went through the game he did a really nice job of making the most of his opportunities. I thought Brady did a really good job with his reads, pre-snap and post-snap, and that’s what really made us go. Darrell’s really having an exceptional year and, when you look at it, he’s essentially only played about two games worth of total snaps… but he’s a special back and will get plenty of opportunities because he knows what to do when the ball is in his hands.”

On Kenny Gainwell… “I like calling his number. He’s such an explosive player and really fits the mold of what we’re looking for. He’s an extremely smart young man, relentless worker, very humble in his approach but so diverse in his skill-set. You see him in his first couple of weeks when Tony (Pollard) was out, he was manning that position and did a really nice job. He had a couple really huge third-down catches there on the road, in the rain, he’s just a tough football player and does all the little things. I was glad to see him in the game the other day, where he gets a direct run, makes one defender miss and then shows off some of the speed he has to take it to the house. I’m excited to watch his future, as he’s a great young man, represents everything that we want to represent and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

On looking at South Alabama… You see an extremely tough and physical, and very passionate, football team. You look at their first three games, starting off against Louisiana Tech at home under a new staff, they made a couple mistakes early but turned it around and made a run late. They came up a little bit short, but you saw a response. They play extremely hard and are going to vary offensively. They’re going to be up the field, as their D-line is the best one we will have played against so far this year; very aggressive linebackers with down-hill players and versatile guys in the backfield that can play multiple styles of coverage. This last game against Texas State they were down, turned the ball over early, but then they responded. They had a pick-six and then another interception that they brought down to the five yard line and they ended up finishing the job they started in the Louisiana Tech game. You see a team that is growing in confidence with what they’re being asked to do. I know Coach Campbell very well, he was coaching at UCA the past couple of years, so I’ve been able to watch from afar and I know this is going to be a well-coached football team. It’s one where they’re going to be aggressive and have the right mentality; we’re going to be in it for a 60-minute battle.

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