In beating the bark out of the Connecticut Huskies Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl, the Memphis Tigers did the expected. But after a thoroughly deflating loss at Tulane eight days ago, the Tigers also did what was needed
as they reached the midpoint of the regular season. Playing as flawlessly as they have in six games, Memphis rolled up 634 yards of offense, forced four turnovers while not committing any, and unleashed not one, but two star tailbacks on the toothless Husky defense.
"We played with intensity," said Memphis coach Mike Norvell
following the win, which improved the Tigers' record to 4-2 and 1-2 in the American Athletic Conference. "I wanted a 60-minute battle. I didn't care about the situation or circumstance. I wanted to see a response. There were too many penalties, and our third-down conversion [rate] on defense has to improve, but we played like the Memphis Tigers. Our guys prepared this week. They were prepared. They knew how to respond."
Tailbacks Darrell Henderson
and Patrick Taylor
combined to rush for 335 yards and six touchdowns and Tiger quarterback Brady White
completed 16 of 18 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown to lead their team to a fourth blowout in as many home games. White found tight end Joey Magnifico
over the middle without a defender within 20 yards for a 44-yard touchdown just 1:48 into the game. The Tiger offensive line opened similar space for Henderson (174 yards) and Taylor (161 yards) in giving Memphis a 41-14 lead by halftime. Reserve quarterback Connor Adair
relieved White in the fourth quarter and connected with Antonio Gibson
, who made an acrobatic catch for the game's final touchdown. Memphis has scored no fewer than 52 points in its four home games (though no more than 24 in its two road losses).
"We came with a purpose," emphasized Norvell. "We coached every single play. Our guys knew we had to go out and respect this program, the standard we want to play this game. We've had a couple of setbacks. All we can do is continue to grow. We're a young football team; just eight seniors. It's good to see young guys forced into leadership roles when bad things happen. Tonight was a great response. We have bigger challenges in front of us."
The Huskies dropped to 1-5 with the loss and are now 0-3 in the AAC. The 634 yards allowed were actually below UConn's season average entering the game (663).
Taylor + Henderson = 335 yards + 6 touchdowns
The soft portion of the Tigers' home schedule is over. Reigning AAC champion UCF visits the Liberty Bowl next Saturday and will enter the game on an 18-game winning streak (which includes two victories over Memphis last year). The game could be a tipping point — either direction — for a Memphis team still determining its performance ceiling. "I want them to go out and play to the capability they can," said Norvell. "The passion. The energy. Being more detailed, more disciplined in our approach. Our next opponent is not a good one, but a great one. We have to focus on ourselves."
White is ready for next week's confrontation. The chance to play meaningful snaps in the fourth quarter of a home game could be invigorating — and season-defining — for an entire squad. "All three phases of our team can perform at a high level," stressed Brady. "I'm confident we'll do well. [UCF] is a good team, and so are we. We know it's gonna be a dogfight, a 60-minute battle. However it plays out, we're gonna be ready to go. It's about the day-to-day approach."
NOTE: With his big night against the Huskies, Darrell Henderson moved into third place on the Tigers' career rushing chart. His 2,569 career yards now trail only Dave Casinelli (2,636) and DeAngeolo Williams (6,026).