continues to live up to his name. On Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl, the Tigers' freshman tailback became the first FBS player in 22 years to run for 100 yards (104) and accumulate 200 receiving yards (203) in the same game. Gainwell's historic performance helped Memphis avenge a 2018 loss to the Tulane Green Wave and righted the ship a week after a controversial loss at Temple.
"We talked all week about our response," said Memphis coach Mike Norvell after his team improved to 6-1 for the season (2-1 in American Athletic Conference play). "We were in total control of how we prepared this week, how we responded to the adversity we've seen. The attitude, the approach in meetings, the approach in practice . . . there was a great purpose. We applied it at an elite level. Offense, defense, special teams. ... They were dominant tonight."
Gainwell scored three touchdowns in becoming the first Tiger to rush and receive for 100 yards in the same game. His catch-and-run for 32 yards on a fourth-down play seven minutes into the game gave the Tigers their first lead (7-3), one they would not relinquish. It was the first of five straight possessions before halftime that resulted in Memphis touchdowns. Tiger quarterback Brady White
hit Calvin Austin III
in stride in the back left corner of the end zone late in the first quarter, then connected for a short (3 yards) touchdown pass to Joey Magnifico
and a lengthy (46 yards) touchdown to Austin in the second quarter to stretch the U of M lead to 27-10. White finished one of the best games of his two-year Tiger career with 358 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions, completing 21 of his 29 passes. He became the fifth Memphis quarterback to top 5,000 yards for his career.
"We made sure there was some extra focus this week," said Brady. "I was over-emphasizing, with little drills. But you see we had no turnovers. That's good news. We felt like we had good options both in passing and the run game. The offensive line did a really good job up front. And the guys catching the ball are pretty dang good. It was fun, a good win. It was pretty close to a complete game."
Tulane (5-2) suffered only its second loss of the season and first in AAC play, dropping into a tie with Memphis behind SMU in the AAC West. The Tigers held the Green Wave to 187 passing yards, accumulated seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and intercepted Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan three times (Austin Hall, Thomas Pickens
, and Quindell Johnson
). The sixth win earns Memphis bowl eligibility for a sixth straight season.
"That's become the new standard," said Norvell. "I take a great deal of pride in that. Not only do we represent a university, we represent a community. People from the outside don't understand the importance of that. We have a wonderful platform with this football program, the great players we have. We're just trying to do our part. It was a pretty special night."
Gainwell grinned when asked about his record-setting night, and acknowledged the influence of past Tiger stars (like Tony Pollard) as he earns his first national spotlight. Now with 830 rushing yards and 441 receiving yards, Gainwell is already eclipsing numbers put up by Tiger legends like DeAngelo Williams. (Saturday's game was Gainwell's fifth with 100 rushing yards. Williams only had four as a freshman.)
"I just try to put my best out there," said Gainwell. "I play aggressive. I won't let one man tackle me, one man stop me. It's just preparation. I work in practice and try to move that over to a game."
The Tigers will travel to Tulsa (2-5, 0-3) to face the Golden Hurricane next Saturday. They return to the Liberty Bowl on November 2nd for a showdown with SMU (7-0, 3-0) that could decide the AAC West Division title.