I’ve been covering University of Memphis sports for a decade now, and Saturday’s football season finale is the first time I’ve felt relieved by a season’s conclusion. There’s been disappointment before (2006 football), even heartbreak (2005 basketball), but this is the first time on my watch a Tiger team was overmatched — clearly inferior — from a season’s start to finish.
Along with relief, I ache for Larry Porter, his coaching staff, and particularly his players. I played for a few miserable teams — senior year in high school, my basketball team went 4-16 — so I have a degree of empathy for suiting up, listening to a game plan, and going to battle knowing you don’t have a chance. Such was reality for the 2010 Memphis Tiger football team and, sadly, the lasting reality for 21 seniors honored last Saturday before the final drubbing of their college careers.
The lone mystery to the 2010 campaign will be how the Tigers managed to beat Middle Tennessee for their lone win. (The Blue Raiders are 5-6 entering their season finale next weekend.) This was a team that went through a four-game stretch in the middle of the season in which the games were decided before halftime. (The Tigers’ deficit at halftime from the Louisville game to the Tennessee game: 35, 18, 32, 33.) The Tigers averaged but 14.4 points a game, while giving up a school-record total of 478 (or 39.8 per game).
It was a starless team, too. No player near 1,000 yards rushing or receiving, Marcus Rucker the top playmaker with all of eight touchdowns. Senior linebacker Jamon Hughes became a star in the way every natural disaster produces heroes. Hughes compiled more tackles (147) than any Memphis player since 1980. But what an ugly stat upon which to hang your helmet. Had the Tiger defense managed a few more stops each game, Hughes could have been resting his tired body — accumulating fewer tackles — and watching his teammates on the offensive side of the ball give him a chance to win.
I’m relieved to see the season end, if only for a temporary silencing of the twin refrains I heard so frequently over the last three months. The first: “You gotta give Coach Porter a few years to turn this around.”
Of course you have to give a football coach time to turn a team around. But what good did the sentiment do Porter — or those 21 seniors — this season? Think beyond this season and consider how the team’s juniors — young men like Frank Trotter, Ron Leary, and Jermaine McKenzie — might feel about “a few years” to turn this thing around? College athletes, particularly today, don’t necessarily have a few years. They have this year, this season, this weekend. And it was agony every weekend — save that glorious aberrant win on September 18th — for the 2010 Tigers.
The second common refrain? “The University of Memphis has to give up football. It will never happen here.” This is a selfish sentiment, with more to say about a fan’s devotion to a program than it does the program itself. Serious changes are needed with the Tiger program. (The stadium is too big, probably by 50 percent. But the school and city seem stuck in a partnership that helps neither.) But give up football in the heart of the Mid-South?
Whether or not the University of Memphis ever competes for a BCS championship — or even qualifies for a BCS league — football is as much a part of a southern college’s fabric as sorority row or homecoming. Perhaps the U of M has thought too big. Maybe a move to Division II should be on the table for discussion. Costs could be cut, overhead trimmed, expectations mercifully reduced. But the school would still provide an opportunity for young athletes good enough to play college football to do so at the highest level 99 percent of the football-playing population ever can. There would still be a team to cheer for the devoted few who were spotted — even after halftime! — at the Liberty Bowl all season long this fall. Tell those fans football should be eliminated at the U of M. I sure couldn’t.
I’m excited to see where and how Larry Porter picks up his program. I’m excited to see if Ryan Williams can become the college quarterback we caught glimpses of in this season of defeat. I’m excited to see the next conference win — it will happen — and the possibility of a winning streak, even if but two games. And I’m excited to see the new blood Porter (the acclaimed recruiter) brings to town. This excitement will build, oh, about eight months from now. But today . . . relief.
Outlined against a bright-blue November sky, the 2010 Memphis Tigers took the field at the Liberty Bowl one last time today. The extraordinary sunshine seemed to be a message to all associated with the maligned football program: life goes on.
Quite possibly the worst season in the program’s history ended at the hands of UCF, a team that will face SMU next Saturday in the Conference USA championship game. Freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey completed 14 of 17 passes for 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the Knights to their ninth win of the season. Godfrey also rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown, easily winning the individual battle of frosh quarterbacks with the Tigers’ Ryan Williams. (With 272 yards passing, Williams finished the season with 2,075, the highest such total for a true freshman in the program’s history.)
A 23-yard touchdown strike from Williams to Marcus Rucker tied the game, 7-7, with 3:38 left in the first quarter. And the score remained tight through halftime, UCF taking a 16-7 lead on a four-yard scamper by Latavius Murray just 1:17 before halftime. But D.A. Griffin fumbled the kickoff to open the second half, a miscue recovered by the Knights. Four plays later, Murray again reached paydirt (from seven yards), and the rout was on.
“I thought this game was a lot like our season,” said Tiger coach Larry Porter after the game, his inaugural season ending with a 1-11 record. “There were a lot of opportunities; we just couldn’t quite put it together. I thought our defense was solid. Having that fumble, coming out in the second half, was quite costly. But we fought, and hung in there until the bitter end.”
The Tiger defense gave up 356 yards to C-USA’s East Division champions, the fewest it has allowed since September. It was exposed nonetheless. On the first play of the fourth quarter — with UCF up, 23-10 — Godfrey completed a pass to Jamar Newsome on third-and-18. Not only was the completion good for a first down, but four Tiger defenders missed Newsome . . . at the same time. The wideout reached the end zone to complete a 56-yard play. (Newsome scored again four minutes later, this time from 23 yards out.)
Twenty-one Tiger seniors suited up for the last time and one of them — tight end Deven Onarheim — caught a touchdown pass with 37 seconds left for the final points of the season. It was the first and last touchdown of Onarheim’s career.
“They held strong,” said Porter of his departing seniors. “Those guys were the reason we were able to continue to compete. They were just as disappointed as I am, but they tried to channel it in a way that led to results and productivity.”
This marks the first time in almost 90 years of Tiger football that Memphis has lost 11 games, and the program now carries a record of 3-21 over the last two seasons. There were fewer than 10,000 fans in the Liberty Bowl to witness the finale.
“This town only supports winning,” said Porter. “I truly understand that, and we didn’t produce wins. As a result, we got what we got. At some point, our support has to strengthen our program. These kids come and fight their hearts out, and they deserve more. They do. You can be mad at the coach; I understand that. But love our kids. They played their hearts out.”
Among the departing seniors, linebacker Jamon Hughes will leave the largest void. Hughes made 11 tackles against the Knights, the eighth time in 12 games he’s accumulated at least 10 stops. His 147 tackles for the season are the most in 30 years and the fourth-most in Tiger history.
Saturday, Liberty Bowl, 11 a.m.
• Twenty-one Memphis seniors will be honored Saturday as part of the annual Senior Day tribute. (Those who started a game this season are listed in bold.) Marcus Ball, Winston Bowens, Keenan Bratcher, Charlie Bryant, Darius Davis, D.A. Griffin, Jamon Hughes, Kindly Jacques, Colton Jenkins, Malcolm Jones, Lester Lawson, Jeremy Longstreet, Stevie Matthews, John McArthur, Deven Onarheim, Brad Paul, Torenzo Quinn, Gregory Ray, Dominik Riley, Justin Thompson, Bryan Wright.
• Over the last 10 years, the Tigers are 6-4 on Senior Day. Memphis lost to UAB last year, 31-21.
• Since joining Conference USA in 2005, UCF has twice played for the league championship. The Knights lost to Tulsa, 44-27, in 2005, then beat the Golden Hurricane two years later, 44-25. With a win at the Liberty Bowl, UCF would host this year’s title game on December 4th. Should SMU win at East Carolina, the Mustangs will face the Knights for the championship. An SMU loss and a Tulsa win (over Southern Miss) would send the Golden Hurricane to the finale.
• UCF enters Saturday’s game with a record of 8-3 (6-1 in C-USA play). The Knights have won six of their last seven games, the only loss being a 31-21 defeat at Southern Miss on November 13th. UCF’s other two losses came in September, against North Carolina State and Kansas State.
• Despite sporting the best record in C-USA, UCF is only seventh in the league in total offense (393.5 yards per game). The Knights have the top-ranked defense, though, allowing only 320.3 yards and 19.1 points per game. Memphis ranks last in total offense (284.1) and 11th in total defense (470.2).
• UCF tailback Ronnie Weaver is third in C-USA in rushing with 853 yards.
• Based on the Knights’ performance last week at Tulane, the Tigers should expect a heavy ground attack. UCF ran the ball 43 times against the Green Wave and passed only 15 times in a blowout 61-14 victory. UCF was up 31-0 at the end of the first quarter. UCF is second in the league in rushing offense (204.9 yards per game) and 11th in passing (188.5).
• The Tigers have lost five of six games against UCF, and have never beaten the Knights since they joined C-USA. The lone Memphis win came in 1990 at the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers have played UCF close at home, losing by two in 2006 and seven in 2008.
• Jamon Hughes’ 136 tackles are the most by a Tiger player since Glenn Sumter had 137 in 2001. With 12 tackles against UCF, Hughes would finish the season with the fourth-highest single-season total in school history. (Michael Thomas holds the record with 162 in 1980.)
• Freshman quarterback Ryan Williams has passed for 1,803 yards, more than Danny Wimprine had during his freshman season with Memphis (1,329 in 2001). Wimprine was a redshirt freshman, while Williams is playing as a true freshman.
• The Tiger offense had its second-most productive game last week at UAB with 331 yards. (Memphis gained 413 against East Carolina in the second game of the season). But the game marked the sixth time this season the Tiger defense has allowed more than 500 yards. The Blazers were the seventh straight team to gain at least 20 first downs against the Tigers.
LAST WEEK: 5-1
EAST CAROLINA over Southern Methodist
Southern Miss over TULSA
Central Florida over MEMPHIS
MARSHALL over Tulane
RICE over Alabama-Birmingham
TEXAS TECH over Houston
Josh Pastner is too nice a guy to have a doghouse. But Will Coleman had to be wondering midway through the first half of tonight’s game at FedExForum. The 14th-ranked Tigers raced out to a 9-2 lead, then with four minutes gone, Pastner substituted an entire five-man unit for his starters. Yet there sat Will Coleman on the bench, as active as his father, in the stands among the crowd of 15,909.
With just under 11 minutes to play before halftime, though, the senior center with the U of M log tattooed to his left arm rose from his seat to enter the fray. Over the game’s next 25 minutes, Coleman scored a career-high 18 points (and finished with 20, to go with seven rebounds).
“I’ve been really hard on myself with my play,” said Coleman after the game. “I just cooled it, and thought about a lot of things while I was playing. It feels good to go into the Thanksgiving break with this kind of game. It never left, but I’m glad to know I’ve still got it. I’m the same Will who was here last year.” Prior to tonight’s contest, Coleman had scored nine points in four games, giving an ominous symbolism to his uniform number of 0.
One of Coleman’s multiple dunks came on the receiving end of a no-look alley-oop pass from freshman Will Barton, who tied Coleman for team scoring honors while picking up six assists (also a game high, tied with fellow frosh Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford). Jackson finished with 16 points, Welsey Witherspoon had 14, and Angel Garcia scored 15 and grabbed nine rebounds in 17 minutes.
UT-Martin was led by Central High alum Reuben Clayton with 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Skyhawks shot 57 percent in the first half, only to find themselves down 20 points.
Following the game, Pastner didn’t pull any punches in explaining his substitution plan. “Will Coleman has to produce,” he emphasized. “Today, he was the 11th guy. I texted him before the game: you gotta get back to rebounding the ball, blocking shots, catching lob passes, and dunking. Forget everything else; that’s what you’re good at. I told him he was the 11th man, that I can’t justify putting him anywhere else. To his credit, he came in and produced. He’s got to be like that every day.”
Freshman center Tarik Black was limited to six minutes after cutting his shin early in the game. A minor injury, but a contributing factor to Will Coleman playing the way his coach demands.
“Everything happens for a reason,” added Coleman. “When I got in, I made the most of my minutes. After the first dunk, I felt really, really good. It felt different.” When asked if he could embrace coming off the bench, Coleman toed the company line. “If that’s what we need to win, I have no problem with that. I don’t care if I’m a starter or the 29th man off the bench. All we’re trying to accomplish . . . it’s way bigger than me. We’re trying to get a championship, and I truly believe we can get one. Whatever Coach Pastner needs from me, I’m going to give him.”
The Tigers, now 5-0, have a week off before returning to FedExForum for a game with Arkansas State on December 1st.
Behind 20 points from Wesley Witherspoon and a pair of late three-pointers from freshman Chris Crawford, the Tigers beat LSU at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo to improve their record to 4-0. Memphis now has two victories over teams from a power-six conference after earning only one such win the entire 2009-10 season.
Sunday's game was the second straight in which Witherspoon paced Memphis in scoring. The junior forward hit six of seven free throws and has now converted 29 of 32 from the charity stripe over the last three games. Crawford and fellow freshman Joe Jackson joined Witherspoon among double-figure scorers, with 12 points each.
LSU led at halftime, 34-33, thanks largely to the play of reserves Eddie Ludwig and Garrett Green. The two forwards each scored eight points before the break, but none over the game's last 20 minutes.
Memphis held its SEC foes to 35-percent shooting, while hitting 47 percent.
LSU had its last lead (57-56) with just under five minutes to play. But Crawford drained a trey from the left corner and Witherspoon drove for a dunk after an in-bounds play to give the U of M a 62-57 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The 19th ranked Tigers — those from Memphis — will return to FedExForum Tuesday night to face Tennessee-Martin. The game will be the U of M's fifth in 12 days before a seven-day break around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Saturday, Birmingham, 3 p.m.
• “The Battle for the Bones” has come to be a game of note for both programs, with an extraordinarily heavy rack of bronze barbecue ribs going to the winner each year. UAB currently has possession of the trophy, having won last year in Memphis, 31-21. The Tigers had won the two previous meetings. Overall, the Blazers own an 8-4 edge in the series.
• The two teams have met every season since 1999, the longest annual series on the Memphis schedule except for Southern Miss. (The Tigers and Golden Eagles have played every year since 1981.)
• UAB enters the game with a 3-7 record (2-4 in C-USA play). The Blazers beat Troy on September 18th, UTEP on October 16th, and Southern Miss on October 30th. The victory over the Golden Eagles — 50-49 in Hatttiesburg — is one of the biggest upsets in C-USA this season.
• Among common opponents, UAB lost to Tennessee in overtime, 32-29 (Memphis lost, 50-14), beat UTEP, 21-6 (Memphis lost, 16-13), lost to Mississippi State, 29-24 (Memphis lost, 49-7), beat Southern Miss, 50-49 (Memphis lost, 41-19), lost to Marshall, 31-17 (Memphis lost, 28-13), and lost to East Carolina, 54-42 (Memphis lost, 49-27).
• UAB quarterback Bryan Ellis is third in C-USA with an average of 259 passing yards per game. Ellis has completed 57 percent of his passes, with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Blazer tailback Pat Shed is sixth in C-USA with 688 rushing yards.
• UAB ranks 5th in C-USA in total offense (421.4 yards per game), while the Tigers are last in the 12-team league (279.4). The Blazers are 8th in total defense (410.1), while the Tigers are again last (466.2).
• Tiger linebacker Jamon Hughes continues to pace C-USA in tackles with 119, eight more than Marshall’s Mario Harvey.
• Sophomore DeRon Furr’s interception last week at Marshall was the Tigers’ first in six games, and the first of Furr’s career.
• Tiger punter Tom Hornsey is third in C-USA with an average of 43.0 yards per punt. In terms of total yardage, Hornsey is far and away the league leader with 2,965.
• The Tiger offense has the distinction of scoring every time it has entered the opponent’s red zone this season. Trouble is, Memphis has only snapped the ball from inside the red zone on 15 possessions this year. Marshall has the next fewest such trips, with 20, followed by SMU with 27.
• With 10 more points allowed, the Tigers will break the record for points allowed in a season. The 2007 Tigers gave up a total of 419 points (in 13 games; 44 points were allowed in the New Orleans Bowl).
LAST WEEK: 4-2
UAB over Memphis
East Carolina over RICE
Central Florida over TULANE
SMU over Marshall
SOUTHERN MISS over Houston
TULSA over Texas-El Paso
The Demons came to play tonight. But so did Will Barton.
The most highly acclaimed freshman on a team packed with blue chips, Barton played more minutes in tonight’s win over Northwestern State (31) than he did in the 19th-ranked Tigers’ first two games combined (26). Playing somewhat gingerly since turning his ankle shortly before his first college exhibition game, Barton had scored but five points (and missed all six of his three-point attempts) in the Tigers’ first two wins of the season. Tonight, though, he came to the rescue of a team that will need him.
Devon Baker’s jumper from the foul line capped a 12-4 Demon run to start the second half and gave the visitors a 63-61 lead with just over 13 minutes to play. But Barton took a pass in the left corner and drained a three-pointer to regain the lead for Memphis and lift the crowd of 16,215 to its feet for the first time. A steal on the next Demon possession led to a Barton dunk, which was followed shortly by another pair of Barton treys (one from the right corner, another from the right wing, as though he were playing a high-stakes game of Around-the-World). Over two-and-a-half minutes, Will Barton scored 11 points, gave the Tigers a 72-65 lead, and restored confidence in Tiger Nation that, yes, Josh Pastner has the finest recruiting class in the country.
“It just felt so good,” said Barton after the game. “I mean, the crowd, everybody in Memphis has been waiting for me to have a day like this. I had to let it all out. No one ever gave up on me, and that was big. If someone was open, I would have passed the ball, but I was open so, hey, let’s keep it going.
“I knew we had fallen behind. When things are falling apart, I just want to take over a game. Not just necessarily scoring, but my leadership, rebounding, passing the ball. We don’t want to lose.”
Thanks to Barton’s one-man run and some second-half defense from fellow freshman Chris Crawford (who helped slow down the Demons’ Will Pratt, who ended up with 23 points), the Tigers improved to 3-0 heading into their game this Sunday against LSU (in Tupelo). Wesley Witherspoon scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help the cause. Witherspoon hit 13 of 14 free throws and has now made 23 of 25 over the Tigers’ last two games. (“They’re free, so you might as well make them,” he quipped. Witherspoon entered the season a 70-percent foul shooter.)
Coach Josh Pastner opened his postgame comments by apologizing — twice — for hitting the scorer’s table during the game. The remarks would have made for good comedy were he not so serious.
“I don’t like doing that,” he said. “I promise you, I will try, but I’m sure I will knock it a few more times over the season. But I got frustrated. I knew the importance of this game, and the hangover effect. This could be a trap game. If you start reading your press clippings, you have a tendency to have a hangover. We got up 17 or 19, and we just thought the game was over, and we could let up. This was a great opportunity for us to learn that when you have a team down, you’ve got to keep them down.
“Winning is hard. I know everyone is tired of me saying it. But I mean it. Winning is hard, every single game. With a young team, we’re going to be up and down. We’re working through some things. But there’s nothing better than being 3-0.”
Senior center Will Coleman was limited to nine minutes on the floor (two points, one rebound) and junior Angel Garcia only played 11 (though he scored nine points). Pastner acknowledged that frustration is in the air, particularly with Coleman. “I love the guy,” said Pastner. “He has a huge heart, and he’ll be back. But it’s about production.”
Memphis had 19 turnovers, but outrebounded the Demons, 42-28. Freshman center Tarik Black scored nine points and pulled down five rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench.
In a game that started Monday night and ended Tuesday morning, the 19th-ranked Tigers beat Miami, 72-68, for their second win of the young season. The game was part of ESPN's 24 hours of college basketball, an annual viewing festival to open the network's coverage of the sport.
Freshman point guard Joe Jackson led the Tigers with 17 points and four assists. Charles Carmouche (13 points), Wesley Witherspoon (12), and Antonio Barton (off the bench for 10) joined Jackson in double figures for Memphis.
The Tigers held on for the win despite being outrebounded by the Hurricanes, 51-31, and shooting only 34 percent from the field (Miami was held to 33 percent). After shooting the lights out in their opener against Centenary last Friday night, Memphis was a miserable 4-for-22 from three-point range. Chris Crawford made only two of eight long-distance attempts after hitting all four against the Gents.
Durand Scott led Miami with 20 points, while Reggie Johnson added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Tigers are right back at it Wednesday night, when they host Northwestern State at FedExForum. Tip-off for that game is a nice-and-early 7 p.m.
Depth, Size, Range
A 64-point win over a team that should be playing Division III basketball is hardly a measuring stick for what’s ahead for the 2010-11 Memphis Tigers. The team’s national ranking (19th by the AP) has more to do with the reputation of Josh Pastner’s second recruiting class than it does with on-court performance by the squad’s veterans. But Friday night’s win seemed to foreshadow elements that weren’t so visible last season. Three elements, in particular, may have the experts talking four months from now.
Pastner would never admit it, but his thin roster last season made his adjustment to head coaching a little easier than it would have been had he been forced to distribute minutes among 10 or 12 capable players. When your rotation is limited to seven scholarship players, the only thing that forces a substitution is foul trouble.
Those days are over. Against Centenary last Friday, 11 Tiger players played at least 13 minutes. (Last season, only seven players averaged as many as 10 minutes per game, and five of them averaged 25.) Looking at the box score, you could arrange two completely separate five-man rotations, each of them capable of competing in Conference USA this season: (1) Joe Jackson, Will Barton, Wesley Witherspoon, Angel Garcia, and Will Coleman; (2) Antonio Barton, Charles Carmouche, Chris Crawford, D.J. Stephens, and Tarik Black. (These two units don’t include Drew Barham, who played 19 minutes against the Gents.)
“We don’t have a selfish person on this team,” said Coleman after Friday’s win. The ball seemed to deflect from one Tiger player to another as Memphis attacked a desperate zone defense from the undermanned Gents. And reporters found themselves checking uniform numbers to see who scored last, or who grabbed the most recent rebound. Last season, Elliot Williams led the Tigers in scoring in each of their first eight games. Mark this down: no Tiger this winter will match such a streak. The Tigers will likely have at least six players pace the team in scoring over the course of the campaign.
“I’ve got help down low, as far as rebounding and scoring inside,” added Coleman. “I’m happy for Tarik.” The senior center was speaking of his freshman teammate, Tarik Black, a few months removed from his playing days at Ridgeway High School. Black stands an inch shorter than the 6’9” Coleman, but actually outweighs his older teammate by seven pounds (252). With Angel Garcia fully recovered from his knee woes, the Tigers could put a front line on the floor that averages almost 6’10”. Should Pastner decide to add the 6’9” Witherspoon to this mix, Memphis would have its biggest lineup in years.
Garcia drained a pair of deep treys against Centenary, but recognizes the importance of contributing inside and outside for this team. “I want to do both,” said Garcia after the opening win. “When we play small teams, I’ll go down low. I need to be ready for everything. If the corner’s open, I can roll to the outside.”
Pastner’s decision (announced Saturday) to redshirt freshman Hippolyte Tsafack (6’8”, 231) says a lot about his view of the roster’s depth, and the strength of the big men he can rotate in the post. And with a combined 10 fouls to give, look for Coleman and Black to flex muscle in ways the 2009-10 squad never could.
Last year’s Tigers had three consistent threats from beyond the three-point stripe: Williams, Doneal Mack, and Roburt Sallie. Witherspoon hit 43 percent of his long-range shots, but took only 79 of them in 34 games. Friday night, Antonio Barton, Carmouche, and Crawford combined to hit all 10 of their three-point attempts. Garcia is an oversized marksman from long range, Barham is on the roster largely because of his shooting touch, and Will Barton is a better shooter than his 0-for-5 debut would suggest. (Witherspoon didn’t attempt a trey against the Gents.) That’s six players capable of hitting the most dangerous, game-swinging shot in basketball.
The big news over the weekend, of course, was Pastner’s dismissal of prized recruit Jelan Kendrick, whose disciplinary problems proved to be too significant to hide, especially on a team with so many players ready and able to take the vacated playing time. The irony is that Kendrick’s removal from the roster is one less piece for Pastner to consider as he formulates his rotation system for the season ahead. But that’s where the similarities end between his rookie year as the Tiger head coach and this brand-new season, one where his options seem to be as unlimited as the potential of his young team.
The Tigers had an all-too-rare two-score lead this afternoon in Huntington, West Virginia, but gave up 21 unanswered points in the second half and lost to Marshall, 28-13. The loss drops Memphis to 1-9, while the Thundering Herd — now on a three-game winning streak — improves to 4-6.
Tiger quarterback Ryan Williams connected with Jermain McKenzie for a 43-yard touchdown pass just over five minutes into the game, and Paulo Henriques converted a 25-yard field goal in the second quarter to give Memphis a 10-0 halftime lead. But Marshall scored two touchdowns within two minutes in the third quarter — the second after a Williams fumble was recovered by the Herd — to take a 14-10 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
After allowing more than 500 yards to each of its last four opponents, the Tiger defense toughened some this afternoon, holding Marshall to a total of 379 yards. DeRon Furr had the first Tiger interception in over a month, and Memphis forced six Marshall punts. But the Tiger offense sputtered, gaining a total of 242 yards and converting only four of 14 third-down opportunities. Williams completed 14 of 32 passes for 201 yards and no interceptions. McKenzie caught six of those passes for 109 yards. Memphis was led on the ground by Greg Ray, with 64 yards on 15 carries.
Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson completed 20 of 28 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
The Tigers travel to Birmingham next Saturday to face UAB before wrapping up the season at the Liberty Bowl (against UCF) on November 27th.
Tiger fans will be left to wonder what might have been with swingman Jelan Kendrick. After numerous disciplinary issues over his first few weeks as a college basketball player, Kendrick was dismissed from the team permanently this afternoon.
In a press release, coach Josh Pastner said, “After meeting with Jelan today, we decided it was best that we part ways. We are grateful and thankful for his time with the Memphis program, and we wish him all the best.”
Kendrick arrived on the U of M campus as a member of one of the most heralded recruiting classes in the country, a consensus top-20 recruit who promised versatility on the wing and explosive athleticism (not unlike fellow recruit Will Barton, who made his Tiger debut Friday night in a win over Centenary). But according to numerous sources, Kendrick showed a quick temper and allowed minor conflicts — even with teammates — to escalate into major disputes.
His dismissal, in some respects, makes Pastner's job easier, as the Tiger roster is packed with players hungry for minutes on the court. Consider 20 to 25 minutes per game now up for grabs.
Opening Night for Tiger basketball remains a phenomenon. Two nights after our Grizzlies couldn't draw 11,000 fans to see the home team play one of the best outfits in the NBA, the Tigers packed 17,792 into the same arena to see the U of M trample a team that will be playing in Division III a year from now.(Let’s hope tiny Centenary — enrollment: 904 — makes its athletic budget for the year with the check they get to deposit for making this trip from Shreveport. No player for the visiting club scored as many as seven points.)
Six players made their Tiger debuts tonight, one of them a bit later than originally planned. Sheffield High grad Chris Crawford was benched for the first half after missing a class, but proceeded to hit all six shots he took in the second half (including four three-pointers) for 16 points. Another rookie, junior transfer Charles Carmouche, added 13 points, while Antonio Barton — the less heralded of the freshmen Barton brothers — led the Tigers with 17 points, four assists, and five steals.
The Bartons combined for the play of the game midway through the second half when Antonio received a breakaway pass from Crawford, then lobbed the ball to a high-flying Will, who dunked for a 71-30 Memphis lead. Still nursing a tender ankle, Will Barton was limited to 15 minutes on the floor and scored four points. Antonio was all smiles after the game in recounting the family alley-oop. “That brought me back to my high school games, playing with him,” said Antonio. “It felt so good.” Joe Jackson (seven points, four assists) and Tarik Black (nine points, five rebounds) also entered their names in the Memphis scorebook for the first time.
Though it will count in the Tigers’ season record, the contest was every bit as one-sided as the two exhibition games the U of M played earlier this month. The Tigers forced 28 turnovers and held the Gents to 26-percent shooting from the field. Memphis won the rebounding battle, 40-28.
Memphis at Marshall, Saturday, 2 p.m.
• The Thundering Herd has won two straight games after opening its season 1-6. They beat UTEP at home on October 30th (16-12), then scored a season-high 31 points to win at UAB last week. (Marshall’s other victory came against Ohio on September 30th). Looking at common opponents between the Herd and Tigers, Marshall lost to Southern Miss by 25 (Memphis lost by 22), to East Carolina by 27 (Tigers by 22), and beat UTEP by 4 (Memphis lost by 3).
• Memphis and Marshall have played each season since the Herd joined C-USA in 2005. The Tigers won in 2005 and ’07 (both games in Memphis), while Marshall has won three times, including a 26-16 win last year at the Liberty Bowl. The only team on the Memphis schedule with a shorter history of competition is UTEP (four games to date).
• For the second straight week, Memphis will face a team with a first-year head coach, in Marshall’s case Doc Holliday.
• Quarterback Brian Anderson leads the Marshall offense, having passed for 1,668 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. Anderson threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the win at UAB last week.
• Marshall is last in C-USA in rushing with an average of 100.8 yards per game (just under the 103.7 Memphis is averaging). Martin Ward leads the Herd with 304 yards on the ground. Greg Ray leads Tiger rushers with 557 yards, good for 8th in the conference.
• Saturday’s game will feature the top two tacklers in C-USA. The Tigers’ Jamon Hughes leads the way with 105 (though he only had four last week in limited action against Tennessee). Marshall’s Mario Harvey — like Hughes, a senior — has 102 tackles, including 4.5 sacks. The Herd’s Vinny Curry leads C-USA with 9.5 sacks.
• Marshall ranks 11th in C-USA in total offense (311.6 yards per game), ahead of only Memphis (283.7). The Herd has the league’s 6th-ranked defense (396.2 yards per game), while the Tiger D is last (477).
• The Tigers have not intercepted a pass in five straight games. The last Memphis pick was made by freshman Mohammed Seisay against UTEP on September 25th. Since forcing four turnovers in the team’s lone victory of the season (against Middle Tennessee on September 18th), the Tiger defense has forced only three over the last six games.
• With three games left in the 2010 season, the Tigers are in danger of matching a level of two-year futility not seen in more than 20 years. Memphis won only three games combined in 1985 and ’86 (coached those seasons by, respectively, Rey Dempsey and Charlie Bailey). In 1981 and ’82, under coach Rex Dockery, the Tigers went a combined 2-20. Memphis is 3-18 since the start of the 2009 season.