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Main motivation for Saturday?

SMU Memphis Football-1
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Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson, who is a former prep star in North Carolina, celebrates a touchdown last week against SMU in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Memphis football coach Mike Norvell has been asked multiple times this week about motivation, or a possible lack of it, and he has remained steadfast in his answer.

The question comes naturally because regardless of the result of Saturday’s game between East Carolina and the Tigers in Memphis, UM has already clinched first place in the American Athletic Conference West Division and will play in the conference’s championship game. ECU, at 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the league, will see its season come to an end Saturday.

Both Norvell, whose team is 9-1 and ranked No. 17 in the nation, and second-year ECU coach Scottie Montgomery have talked about the importance of this contest for the senior players.

“We know that we have one more game after this one and that’s a great opportunity for our football team because we know we will be playing for a championship, but if we do not progress this week as a team then I don’t think we’ll be in the best position to have success the next week,” Norvell said Monday during the league coaches teleconference. “All of our focus is going to go on East Carolina throughout this week.”

Memphis will play Friday’s winner between South Florida and Central Florida in the league championship next Saturday.

The Tigers are 6-0 at home this year, which Norvell also pointed to as a big motivation for the game against the Pirates. Memphis’ lone loss came Sept. 30 at UCF in a 40-13 defeat.

“Another goal that we had is to go undefeated at the Liberty Bowl, and if we find a way to go out there and put ourselves in position to be successful then that’s another goal that we can check off the list,” Norvell said. “Our kids are going to be motivated to play in front of our home crowd and it’s a big day.”

The Pirates just went through their senior day and they put together probably their most complete game of the season, leading wire-to-wire in a 48-20 victory over lowly Cincinnati last Saturday. It was actually the junior connection between quarterback Gardner Minshew (444 yards, four touchdowns) and receiver Trevon Brown (AAC-record 270 yards, two TDs) that led the way for the team’s seniors to win in their home finale.

Memphis’ most recognized senior is quarterback Riley Ferguson, a Matthews native and former junior college standout who in his second season as the UM starting quarterback has 3,201 pass yards, 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Last week in a 66-45 victory against SMU, he had five total touchdowns — three rushing, two passing — and completed 21-of-27 passes.

ECU’s secondary was shorthanded against Cincy, but it limited QB Hayden Moore to 187 yards through the air. Stopping Ferguson and the Tigers will be a much more difficult task, but in many ways, the Pirates’ motivation comes from using last week’s result as a positive transition into a final Saturday together.

East Carolina’s defense includes key seniors at each level in lineman Kiante Anderson, linebacker Jordan Williams and safety Korrin Wiggins.

“It’s one last ride, and that’s all together and one last ride together that we will go on and get to compete with these seniors,” Montgomery said. “We were already emotional going into last week and we’ll be more emotional this week, so we just have to make sure that we turn that emotion into passion and really get going in a positive manner.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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