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.