ItÕs suddenly a little bit nicer to be a fan of University of Memphis football.
Despite an undefeated opponent, a defense that struggled against Louisville just one week ago, and an injury to starting QB Travis Anglin, the Tigers managed to pull out a surprising 22-17 victory over conference rival and CUSA leader University of Southern Mississippi (USM).
Also going against the Tigers was history. In the past three years, the Tigers had managed only 11 points on offense and no touchdowns against the Golden Eagles (3-1, 1-1) from Hattiesburg.
Things didnÕt look good for the Tigers to change that history as USM sported a defensive unit ranked 2 in the nation. USM was also ranked number 3 in the nation in turnover ratios.
The defensive ranking might stand, but the Golden Eagles can forget about that turnover ratio as it gave up a fumble and four interceptions. The Tigers, for their part, did not turn the ball over once.
Memphis (3-2, 1-1) didnÕt help its own cause however, giving up three blocked punts in Tiger territory. Two of those blocks led to USM scores.
UM also struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball, achieving only 4-18 third down conversions, 79 yards rushing, and 103 yards passing. The offense was not helped as starter Anglin left the game early with a aggravation of an earlier shoulder injury. Anglin left the game after connecting on only 1-3 passes for one yard.
That left red-shirt freshman Danny Wimprine to come in at the quarterback slot. Wimprine ended the night with 13-27 passing for 102 yards. Running back Dante Brown also added to the Tiger cause by running 19 times for a net 62 yards on the field and one TD from 1 yard out.
With a struggling offense, that meant the Memphis defense would have to come up with something special. They did. The Tigers harried USM quarterback Jeff Kelly all night long, forcing him into his four interceptions, two of which led directly to U of M scores. The Tigers also scored 5 sacks and a number of hurries.
Memphis senior linebacker DeMorrio Shank (shown in picture) led the way. Shank forced the USM fumble that led to BrownÕs TD run, broke up a key USM third down pass for a potential score, and even caught his first career interception.
Memphis linebacker Derrick Ballard caught another Kelly pass for an interception, and then ran that back for a 29 yard touchdown score. Free safety Glenn Sumter and cornerback Glenn Harden came up with the other two USM interceptions.
The TigersÕ last three scores came off of kicker Ryan WhiteÕs field goals from 37 yards out and 45 yards out, respectively, as well as a defensive safety when Kelly fell in his own end zone.
Kelly would end the night with 21 completions on 37 attempts and his four interceptions. He did throw for one touchdown to receiver Bobby Garner from seven yards out. Rushing, USM relied on running backs Tim Blackwell and Dawayne Woods who both ran for 37 yards apiece.
The win re-energizes MemphisÕ hopes for a bowl bid this year. The Tigers travel to Houston for an October 13 match. They then travel again to East Carolina on October 20 before returning home again to face the University of Alabama-Birmingham on October 29.