• It’s not the size of the dog in the fight . . . .
There was much to please a Tiger fan over the last 23 minutes of Saturday’s loss at Marshall. When the Thundering Herd scored to go up 31-7 midway through the third quarter, most 1-7 football teams would cash in their chips, check for battle scars, and start preparing for how to spin another blowout loss. But over a span of seven game minutes — starting at the 1:43 mark of the third — the Tigers scored three straight touchdowns to make a game of it. (It should be noted that scoring after a tailback fumbles inside the one-yard line is not prescribed for such rallies. But for one afternoon, this was a happy part of the comeback recipe.)
For the first time all season, the Tigers managed to rush for 100 yards (141) and pass for 200 yards (231) in the same game. Trouble was, Marshall’s offense was relentlessly efficient behind quarterback Rakeem Cato, averaging 6.1 yards per play and scoring 38 points with only 22:23 of possession time. (One more reason to ignore time of possession, a stat Memphis dominated last Saturday.) The game goes into the loss column, like seven before it. But the comeback suggests there is indeed some fight in the U of M dog.
• The combined record of the Tigers’ last three opponents: 15-12. The combined record of the Tigers’ next three opponents: 4-23. A season of distinct progress can be salvaged, but it will require the Tigers winning two of the remaining three games. This would give Memphis a 3-9 final record, one victory better than last year’s 2-10 campaign.
With two of the three games at home, and all three against teams struggling as much as Memphis (Tulane and UAB are 2-7, once-mighty Southern Miss is 0-9), this final quarter of the season is one Justin Fuente and his staff have to accentuate for a team all too familiar with losing. NBA coaches like to stress “win the quarter” when their team has fallen well behind its opponent. The Memphis Tigers need to “win a quarter season” and send its fan base into winter with reason for optimism.
• Inexplicably, the Tigers enter Saturday’s contest against Tulane with a six-game winning streak in the series. No matter the depths of the Tiger program, they seem to have the Green Wave’s number. The current streak began with a 38-10 Memphis win in 2002, a year the Tigers went 3-9. Last year, of course, Memphis won in New Orleans (33-17) for the third and final win of Larry Porter’s two seasons as head coach. (The programs did not meet in 2009 or 2010.)
Tulane enters Saturday’s game at the Liberty Bowl with a 2-7 record but having scored a total of 102 points in its last two games (a win over UAB and a loss to Rice). Senior quarterback Ryan Griffin threw for 466 yards and five touchdowns against the Blazers, then 476 and four against the Owls. But the Green Wave gives as much as it gets, allowing an average of 39.6 points per game (11th in Conference USA). In terms of total defense, Tulane is dead last in C-USA (491.9 yards per game).