No. 19 Memphis showing off offense filled with playmakers
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Norvell’s biggest selling point for the 19th-ranked Memphis Tigers is how his program is built for playmakers to make plays.
Lots of plays for lots of yards.
Wide receiver Antonio Gibson is Memphis’ latest example, setting an American Athletic Conference record with 386 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns scored three different ways in a 54-48 victory over SMU on Saturday night .
“We’re going to try to put guys in the best position whether it’s in the backfield, split out,” Norvell said. “Heck, we’ll line them up wherever.”
Just look at what the coach did with Gibson. The senior had 104 yards receiving by halftime thanks to a 50-yard TD catch and finished with 130, took the opening kick of the third quarter 97 yards for a TD and capped his night by taking a handoff 78 yards for his third TD. If not for officials ruling his left elbow down just outside the goal line in the first quarter, it might’ve been more.
Norvell credits the senior with really developing over the past year.
“He is a special talent, and I love seeing him play his best ball as a senior,” Norvell said.
Gibson has had to be patient. He noted the Tigers had Darrell Henderson, now in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams, and Tony Pollard, who is with the Dallas Cowboys, so of course Memphis would run the offense through them.
“This year we had the weapons, but we just had to find out who was going to be the guy, and it turned out we got (playmakers) all over the place,” Gibson said. “Running back, receiver, quarterback, linemen, everybody. So it’s just trying to balance it out and not being self-centered, so if somebody else shining, congratulate him, be proud, be happy for him. I say our team is very unselfish.”
That unselfishness is showing as the Tigers (8-1, 4-1) moved up five spots Sunday in the AP Top 25. They go into their open date averaging 41.1 points and 475.4 yards a game.
Redshirt freshman Kenny Gainwell has been Memphis’ top offensive threat, taking a streak of six consecutive 100-yard rushing games into the AAC Western Division showdown with SMU, which fell from No. 15 to No. 23 following the loss. Gainwell snapped that streak but still ran for a touchdown and finished with 88 yards. He now has 1,067 yards rushing this season with 12 TDs, with at least three games remaining.
Gibson finished with a game-high 97 yards rushing on just three chances.
“That last run, I was like, ‘Whoa!’” quarterback Brady White said of the 78-yarder. “I was impressed. That was a big boy run right there. He had an awesome game, so we’re really proud of him and kind of what we said about Kenny the other week, we’re not surprised by it or shocked by it. We knew that’s in him and that’s what he can do.”
The final key playmaker as the Tigers try to make their case to be the Group of Five’s representative for the New Year’s Six bowls is White.
Criticized early this season over arm strength, White threw for 350 yards and three TDs against SMU, including a 49-yard completion to Damonte Coxie and a 50-yarder to Gibson. He threw a dart to Gibson on third-and-8 to start the 98-yard drive at the end of the third quarter, a drive in which he also hit Calvin Austin for 24 yards on fourth-and-3 and finished it off with a 24-yard TD to Coxie.
“He’s giving everybody the ball, giving everybody a chance, and we’re making plays for him so his confidence and his trust with us is getting better,” Gibson said. “So that’s a good thing, and (he’s) playing at a great level right now.”
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker