College football is all about culture. And part of that culture is the haves beating the snot out of the have-nots to start their season. For a second straight season, the Memphis Tigers put 63 points on the board at the Liberty Bowl against a hapless FCS team. Missouri State, alas, managed to score a touchdown, whereas Austin Peay was shut out a year ago. By one measure, then, the University of Memphis football program — culturally speaking — has arrived.
The victory extends the program's winning streak (dating back to last October) to eight games. The significance of such a streak for Memphis? It's safe to say a good portion of tonight's crowd at the Liberty Bowl (41,730) was not alive the last time the Tigers won so many games in a row. The last eight-game roll the Tigers enjoyed began with John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the White House and ended with Lyndon Baines Johnson in the oval office. Home games were then played at Crump Stadium, the Liberty Bowl having not yet been constructed. This is new territory for the U of M, though you'd hardly know it listening to coach Justin Fuente's initial postgame remarks.
"I'm glad we were able to send everybody home happy," said Fuente. "From a first-game perspective, some good and some bad. We've got to get a lot better in order to be the type of team we'd like to be. There's a bunch of things that happened out there that I'm happy about, and a bunch of things that I'm not pleased about. I don't feel we played as well with our twos as we should have. We weren't as efficient and crisp on both sides of the ball with our twos."
When the worst complaint a Memphis football coach offers is the lagging play of his reserves, yes, new territory has been reached.
The Tigers scored four touchdowns in the game's first 11 minutes, capitalizing twice on short fields after recovering Bear fumbles. Junior quarterback Paxton Lynch connected with Mose Frazier in the back of the end zone for a five-yard score just 1:53 into the game. Not quite three minutes later, Frazier caught a 44-yard touchdown pass, this time from fellow wideout Phil Mayhue on a reverse option. The game's most heart-warming touchdown came with 8:26 to play in the first quarter when sophomore Doroland Dorceus — having missed most of the 2014 season with a knee injury — rumbled in from two yards, the first of two scores he had in the game.
"I felt stronger and faster," said Dorceus. "I had confidence in my knee; I was ready for [the game]." When asked about maintaining focus when the score is lopsided early, Dorceus insisted his team stuck to business. "We came out after halftime [when the score was 42-0] acting like the score was 0-0. We just keep going. I'm excited about all the running backs, as long as we keep going 1 and 0." Jarvis Cooper led the Tiger ground game with 102 yards rushing and was one of three Memphis players (along with Frazier and Dorceus) to score two touchdowns.
Lynch was relieved of duty late in the first half, and finished with 78 yards passing, completing eight of 12 attempts. Redshirt-freshman Clay Holgorsen took over and completed seven of eight passes for 80 yards and a touchdown (to Jae'Lon Oglesby).
Twenty-six Tiger players were credited with at least an assisted tackle on defense, with no one picking up more than three. Fuente's ire was drawn early in the third quarter when Tiger lineman Ricky Hunter was flagged — and ejected from the game — for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bears quarterback Breck Ruddick, a violation that helped Missouri State to its only touchdown of the game.
The Tigers' longest score came on a 63-yard punt return by sophomore Roderick Proctor, the program's first such touchdown since the 2004 season. "We've put in too much work," said Proctor, "not to have another great season."
The Tigers travel to Lawrence, Kansas, next week and will try and improve to 2-0 for the first time since, yes, the 2004 season. (The Jayhawks of the Big 12 lost to South Dakota State — an FCS program — earlier on Saturday.) "Leading up to the first game, you have a lot of time to prepare, scheme-wise," said Fuente. "Then all of a sudden you've got just a week [to prepare for Kansas]. How we handle that, across the board, will be interesting. There are some young guys out there, or at least some new guys. We have to find accountability and consistency. I know they were anxious to play. I just don't know how smart they played."