On a raw, cold Friday night at the Liberty Bowl, the Memphis Tiger offense stayed red hot. At least for the first 20 minutes against Tulane.
Having scored touchdowns on their last six possessions of their previous game (at Houston on October 19th), the Tigers scored on five of their first seven drives Friday to take a 35-0 lead against their longtime rivals from New Orleans. Despite a midgame lull that allowed Tulane back in the contest, the Tigers secured their fourth straight win to improve to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the American Athletic Conference, still in command of the league's West Division.
"We knew we had to start fast tonight," said Memphis coach Mike Norvell
. "This Tulane club presented so many challenges. That's a good football team that's getting better. We had to have balance, be able to run the football. Our offensive line did a great job, our backs did a phenomenal job. Our guys prepared this week with a purpose. They know that every challenge we see will continue to get bigger."
Sophomore Darrell Henderson
led the ground attack with 112 yards on 10 carries, highlighted by an 82-yard touchdown scamper early in the second quarter that gave Memphis a 28-0 lead. Another sophomore, Tony Pollard
, scored the game's first touchdown when he took a reverse pitch and carried it 58 yards to pay dirt just 4:18 into the game. When Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson
connected with sophomore Kedarian Jones
for a 37-yard touchdown pass, the Tigers seemed to have locked up the victory, leading 35-0 with 11:20 to play before halftime.
Memphis then played more than 25 minutes of football without scoring. Ferguson tossed an interception — his seventh of the year — in Tulane territory shortly before halftime, a turnover that led to a Tulane touchdown at the other end on the last play of scrimmage in the second quarter. The Tigers were then forced to punt on their first three possessions of the third quarter. The Green Wave had closed the margin to 16 points (35-19) until Tiger linebacker Austin Hall
recovered a fumble in the Tulane end zone for a Memphis touchdown not quite three minutes into the fourth quarter. A pair of Ferguson touchdown runs in the game's final 10 minutes completed the scoring and gave the Tigers their second-largest point total of the season.
"Our guys played fast," emphasized Norvell. "They had a lot of confidence in our plan. I was pleased to see the big plays. I'd like to see us sustain it a little better. We had that turnover late in the first half. When you're able to score 56 points, it's a good night. But we have to be more consistent with what we're doing."
Linebacker Genard Avery
had a stellar game to lead a much-improved Memphis defense, accumulating 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 3.5 sacks of Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks. The win gives Avery and other four-year Memphis seniors a new program record for career victories with 34. (The previous record of 33 was held by the 1963 senior class.)
Senior receiver Anthony Miller
made an acrobatic catch in the first quarter for his tenth touchdown of the season and the 32nd of his remarkable career. He pulled down the 200th reception of his career and, with 75 yards for the game, surpassed Duke Calhoun for the most receiving yards in Memphis history (now 2,987).
"Anthony is a special player, a special person," said Norvell. "His work ethic is truly what separates him. He's the best, hardest-working player I've had the opportunity to coach. You watch him at a Tuesday practice and he plays just like he did tonight. The passion. The energy. He helps develop the culture we have here. It's a special night for him. His picture will be up on our walls.
The Tigers finished with 557 yards of total offense despite having the ball only 22:32. Tulane was held to 325 yards on 83 plays, the best showing for the Tiger defense this season.
Memphis travels to Tulsa next Friday to face the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa is 2-7 after losing to SMU Friday night.
NOTE: The Liberty Bowl has added a lengthy banner, directly beneath the press box, displaying the names and numbers of the six former Tigers who have had their jerseys retired: John Bramlett (64), Isaac Bruce (83), Dave Casinelli (30), Charles Greenhill (8), Harry Schuh (79), and DeAngelo Williams (20).