Halloween arrived two days early for the Tiger football team, particularly those players responsible for slowing an opponent's offense. A week after being gashed by Navy for 532 yards, the Memphis defense allowed 596 to Tulsa and made a star of Golden Hurricane tailback James Flanders. Filling in for the injured D'Angelo Brewer, Flanders ran for 249 yards and set a Tulsa record with five touchdowns. (Flanders and Brewer now each have more than 800 yards rushing on the season.) Tulsa improves to 6-2 on the season (3-1 in the American Athletic Conference) and virtually eliminates Memphis (5-3, 2-2) from contention for the AAC West division title. The Tigers have lost consecutive games for the first time under rookie coach Mike Norvell.
"Congratulations to Coach [Philip] Montgomery and his team," said Norvell after the game. "They dominated in every phase. Tonight, we're not a very good football team. We had a lot of mistakes, a lot of things to correct. That starts with me. The only thing I know to do is focus and get back to work. I believe in the young men in [that locker room], but you can't go out and play like we did tonight and be very successful."
The Tigers turned the ball over four times (two fumbles and a pair of Riley Ferguson
interceptions) and committed 12 penalties for 115 yards. Just as damaging, the U of M defense put no pressure on Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans, who completed 20 of 33 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. In eight games this season, Memphis has a total of seven sacks. The Tigers had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage compared with eight such hits for the Golden Hurricane.
"We gotta win gaps, both offensively and defensively," said Norvell. "We didn't get that done tonight. We turned the ball over. Mistake after mistake. And it's a good team we played; they capitalized."
The Tigers played from behind throughout the game, down 14-0 barely five minutes into the game and 28-14 after a 1-yard Flanders run midway through the second quarter. The only consecutive scores Memphis enjoyed flanked halftime, a 40-yard field goal by Jake Elliott with 1:31 left in the first half, and a 3-yard touchdown reception by Anthony Miller
early in the third quarter that closed the Tulsa lead to 35-30 (after a failed two-point attempt).
The Tigers held Tulsa to a field goal after the Miller score, but were forced to punt on their next two possessions. Flanders galloped 48 yards for his fourth touchdown with 3:06 left in the third quarter, then scored for the final time on a 7-yard run after Tulsa recovered a Tiger fumble, putting the game out of reach at 52-30.
The lopsided defeat made a footnote out of a historic night by Miller, who broke a 51-year-old Memphis record with 250 receiving yards. (Bob Sherlag had a 186-yard game in 1965.) The junior from Christian Brothers High School caught 12 passes, scored two touchdowns, and now has 822 yards for the season. Only Isaac Bruce has reached the 1,000-yard milestone for Memphis (in 1993), and his season-record of 1,054 yards is well within Miller's reach with at least four games left to play.
The Tigers went pink with their logo in support of the fight to beat breast cancer.
Ferguson completed 19 of 41 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns, though he lost a fumble, threw the two picks and was sacked three times. Freshman Patrick Taylor
led the Tigers' ground attack with 92 rushing yards.
"It's a challenge," emphasized Norvell, "when you have a plan and you go out and don't execute to the level that's necessary to be successful. Our guys are sick; I'm sick. Opportunities are there, and we have to capitalize. I felt confident. They jumped up 14-0. A key play early: we had a personal-foul penalty on a third-down stop on their first drive. We did not play the way I expected we would. Each man — including myself — needs to get better. All the things that are the true core of who we are . . . we didn't get done tonight."
The Tigers will travel to Dallas next Saturday to face SMU, winners over Tulane Saturday and Houston on October 22nd. They remain a win shy of bowl eligibility with four games (two at home) left to play.