If Larry Porter returns to command the Memphis football program a third season, it will be very much despite the way his second season as coach ended. Playing in conditions as dark and gloomy as the collective mood of the Tiger fan base, Memphis was beaten by halftime and lost its third straight Black-and-Blue Game to longtime rival Southern Miss. (Now 10-2, the Golden Eagles advance to next Saturday’s Conference USA championship game, where they’ll face the 12-0 Houston Cougars.)
The Tigers took the field without their starting quarterback. (Andy Summerlin replaced Taylor Reed, who broke a leg in the Marshall game on November 17th.) Already without tailback Jerrell Rhodes, the Tigers lost leading rusher Billy Foster to a lower-leg injury in the first half. Southern Miss outgained the U of M 386 yards to 55, and outscored the Tigers 34-0 over the game’s first 30 minutes.
The Tigers scored their lone touchdown in the fourth quarter when safety Mitch Huelsing recovered a Southern Miss fumble in the end zone. Summerling completed 21 of 44 passes for 174 yards. He had two interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Golden Eagles, one of them the length of the field by Kendrick Presley.
Let the debates over Porter’s job status begin. With only three wins over his two years at the helm, Memphis has endured its worst two-season stretch since Rex Dockery’s first two years as head coach in 1981 and 1982. (Dockery went 2-20 over his first two seasons before going 6-4-1 in 1983.) Going back to the 2-10 campaign of 2009 (Tommy West’s last as Tiger coach), the program has only five wins in three seasons.
Looking for progress inside the numbers? Last season, Memphis averaged 14.4 points per game in going 1-11. This year: 16.3 points (2-10). Last season, the Tigers gave up 39.8 points per game. This year: 35.1.
NOTE: In a season of turn-your-head-away statistics, senior wide receiver Tannar Rehrer put up a figure to be remembered. In grabbing seven passes this afternoon, Rehrer became just the second Tiger with 70 receptions in a single season. With an even 70, his total is second only to the 74 catches by Isaac Bruce in 1993.