In three weeks, the Memphis Tigers have gone from contention for a New Year's Six bowl berth to the fourth-best team in the American Athletic Conference. Such is the downward spiral coach Justin Fuente's program is on, having lost three straight games to superior AAC rivals Navy, Houston, and today in Philadelphia, Temple. Despite several potentially costly mistakes on the part of the Owls — an early fumble, interception, and two turnovers on downs in their own territory — the record-breaking Memphis offense never found traction, gaining only 226 yards for the game. The Tigers' previous low for the season: 425.
The loss drops Memphis to 8-3 and 4-3 in AAC play. Temple improves to 9-2 and will clinch the AAC's East Division with a win next week against UConn.
Temple quarterback P.J. Walker passed for 261 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 49 yards on seven carries. While the Owls were twice stuffed on fourth down, they converted on 10 of 16 third-down attempts, extending drives against an overmatched Tiger defense. Temple earned 25 first downs while Memphis was held to a season-low 13.
The Tigers' only points came on four Jake Elliott
field goals. (Elliott became the third player in Memphis history to score 300 points for his career.) It was the first game this season the Tigers have failed to find the end zone.
The game could have been closer than the final score. Tight end Alan Cross
dropped a pass as he turned toward the end zone from the 10-yard line in the first quarter and Elliott hit the left upright on a 37-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch
appeared to suffer a lower-leg injury early in the game and was off the mark for the duration (in part due to a fierce Temple pass rush). Not that long ago a popular dark horse for the Heisman Trophy, Lynch completed 25 of 34 passes but for only 156 yards. And the Tigers were no better on the ground, rushing for 74 yards on 35 carries.
Two Tigers — linebacker Jackson Dillon
and Cross — were ejected for targeting penalties (helmet-to-helmet hits) in the second half, so will be ineligible to play in the first half of next week's game.
On November 7th, the Tigers took the field at the Liberty Bowl in front of 55,000 fans, undefeated, riding a 15-game winning streak, and ranked 15th in the country. Next Saturday, they'll welcome AAC bottom-feeder SMU to town for Senior Day, hoping to end a three-game losing streak and restore a measure of joy before this historic — but lately disappointing — regular season comes to a close.