A week after being upset by lowly UAB, the reigning Conference USA champions took out their frustrations by mauling the Tigers at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando. Less than three minutes into the game, the Knights' quarterback, Jeff Godfrey, ran 29 yards for a touchdown and UCF wasn't threatened the remainder of the contest. Godfrey rushed for 97 yards to lead the Knights, while also passing for 200 yards (completing 14 of 17 passes), including a 25-yard score to Quincy McDuffie.
A missed extra point was the only difference in today's score and the 42-0 drubbing Memphis took at the hands of SMU on September 24th.
UCF outgained Memphis, 505 yards to 134. The Tiger offense was held to just six first downs (while UCF amassed 28). Taylor Reed completed 9 of 20 passes for 97 yards while Billy Foster led the Memphis ground game with 20 yards on seven carries.
The Tigers have now lost seven straight meetings with UCF, though this was the first time the U of M has been kept off the scoreboard.
Now 2-7 on the season, the Tigers will lick their wounds with a bye next week before hosting UAB on November 12th at the Liberty Bowl. The Blazers were handled by Marshall today, 59-14.
LAST WEEK: 4-3
Rice at Houston
Memphis at UCF
Tulane at East Carolina
UAB at Marshall
SMU at Tulsa
Southern Miss at UTEP
• The Tigers’ win over Tulane last weekend was big. Not gargantuan, but big. For a program struggling as mightily as this one, any win is big. This was the first road win for coach Larry Porter and Porter’s first victory over a Conference USA opponent. And, importantly, it guarantees improvement over last season’s 1-11 record. Baby steps, maybe, but significant.
The Green Wave outgained the Tigers 459 yards to 289. Tulane had 26 first downs to 15 for the Tigers. So how does Memphis win by a comfortable 16 points? Big plays. Tulane was marching downfield looking to expand a three-point lead early in the second half when freshman Bobby McCain picked off a Ryan Griffin pass and returned it 79 yards to pay dirt. Less than five minutes later, Tiger quarterback Taylor Reed scored after Memphis had blocked a Tulane punt. A 12-point swing in a game decided by 13 (both point-afters were missed). The last three seasons have been all but devoid of big plays for the U of M. Nice to see two in the same quarter.
• Senior wideout Tannar Rehrer is climbing up the Tiger chart for single-season receptions. With four games left on the schedule, Rehrer has 46 catches, placing him 12th on the list. With 24 receptions, Rehrer would become only the second Tiger to grab 70 passes in a single season (Isaac Bruce caught 74 in 1993). With a current average of 5.8 per game, the Utah native should come close.
• The Tigers have a woeful 1-6 record against this week’s opponent, the UCF Knights. (The only Tiger win came in 1990, six years before UCF became a Division I-A program.) Over the years, boosters and former players have told me UCF is the model for what the Memphis program can be in terms of stadium and facilities. The Knights play in a stadium a fraction of the Liberty Bowl’s size (capacity: 45,000), but one with modern accommodations, and one often filled to capacity with fans cheering on a program with a short but successful history. (The Knights have played in three of the six C-USA championship games, winning in 2007 and 2010.) UCF stumbled last week, losing to UAB in C-USA’s biggest upset of the season. The Knights (3-4) are tops in C-USA in both total defense (261.3 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.3 points per game).
The Tigers ended a 16-game losing streak in Conference USA play this afternoon in New Orleans, beating the Tulane Green Wave at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game ended a four-game losing streak for Memphis (now 2-6) and extended Tulane's downward spiral. The Green Wave has lost five in a row, and is now 2-6 after the resignation last week of head coach Bob Toledo.
Freshman quarterback Taylor Reed returned to the starting lineup for Memphis and tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Justin Henderson to open the scoring five minutes into the game. The Tigers took a 14-10 lead into halftime — the second straight game the Tigers led at the break — on the strength of another Reed touchdown pass, a 19-yarder to Tannar Rehrer just over five minutes into the second quarter.
The U of M fell behind early in the third quarter when Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin hit Wilson Van Hooser for 29 yards and a 17-14 lead. But just when momentum seemed in the pocket of the home team, Tiger defensive back Bobby McCain intercepted a Griffin pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown and a 20-17 lead Memphis would not relinquish. (Paulo Henriques' extra-point attempt was blocked, the first of two he missed.) Reed scored on a sneak late in the third quarter and Billy Foster took a reverse 22 yards with 6:55 to play in the game for the final touchdown.
The victory is the Tigers' first over a Football Bowl Subdivision team this season.
Reed completed 14 of 26 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and a single interception. Foster gained 58 yards rushing on 15 carries. Memphis prevailed despite giving up 459 yards while accumulating only 289. Three Tulane turnovers (the most significant being McCain's interception) made the difference.
The Tigers travel to Orlando next week to face UCF, a team upset Thursday night by UAB.
LAST WEEK: 5-0
UCF at UAB
Memphis at Tulane
East Carolina at Navy
Marshall at Houston
Tulsa at Rice
SMU at Southern Miss
Colorado State at UTEP
• I was surprised to hear the announcement before last Saturday’s game against East Carolina that senior transfer Sylar Jones would get the start at quarterback. Starter Taylor Reed and backup Andy Summerlin were nursing injuries, sure, but not of the debilitating variety. But the start for Jones made sense for two reasons: (1) The Tigers were coming off a game at Rice in which the offense failed to score a touchdown against one of the weakest defenses in Conference USA and (2) if not now (again, Jones is a senior), when?
Jones completed a deep pass to Curtis Johnson and showed some mobility Reed and Summerlin haven’t (he carried the ball six times for 18 yards). But an ill-advised pass into coverage from deep in Tiger territory led to an interception and long return for East Carolina, setting up a go-ahead touchdown for the Pirates early in the second half. Jones had to leave the game early in the fourth quarter after sustaining an injury to his hip. With five games left in his college career, Jones will likely return to emergency duty. After the ECU loss, coach Larry Porter was unequivocal about his signal caller: “Taylor Reed is our starting quarterback,” he said.
• Four-hundred yards is a magic number in college football. If an offense gains 400, it will likely be in the top half of its league’s total-offense rankings. Conversely, if a defense can hold an opponent under 400 yards, it will be among the top units in the conference. Through seven games, the Tigers have gained 400 yards only once (in the victory over Austin Peay). The Tiger defense has allowed fewer than 400 yards only twice (against Austin Peay and Rice). The numbers suggest systemic flaws, the kind that go beyond, say, a weak running game, or poor secondary play. Memphis has passed for as many as 332 yards (against Austin Peay), but as few as 87 (in the loss to Arkansas State). On the ground, the Tigers rushed for 164 yards in the opener against Mississippi State, but was embarrassed by the SMU defense for a net loss of 14 yards.
The defensive struggles have been just as severe. In only one game (Austin Peay) have the Tigers held their opponent to fewer than 150 yards rushing. The East Carolina game was the first since the opener in which the Memphis defense didn’t get a sack or interception.
• Last week’s announcement that Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference have formed an alliance comes across as a concession to me. Why would members of these two leagues form an alliance — with the hope of somehow gaining an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game — if not to create a “Plan B” for schools left out of the realignment of the current power conferences? The thought of a C-USA vs. MWC “championship game” calls to mind images of baseball’s Triple-A championship (a game between the Pacific Coast League champ and International League champ that is nothing more than a glorified — and sparsely attended — exhibition).
Considering the shaky ground the Big East is standing upon, and the league’s mentioning C-USA members UCF, SMU, and Houston (no Memphis) as possible new members, it appears the Big East train has left the station for the Tigers. To consider possibilities of joining the Big 12 at this juncture seems like a reach at best (however much geographic sense it might make). Tiger fans might start doing their homework on the likes of Wyoming, San Diego State, and New Mexico.
The Mountain West Conference has to be licking its chops. A day after the MWC and Conference USA announced an alliance with the hope of landing a future BCS bowl slot, two of C-USA’s bottom-feeders met at the Liberty Bowl to determine a degree of inferiority in C-USA’s East Division. The Tigers seem to have reserved exclusive rights on the cellar.
Ahead 10-7 at halftime, the Tigers gave up 28 points over the game’s next 20 minutes. After holding the Pirates to 14 rushing yards in the first half, Memphis gave up 143 on 18 carries in the second. Conversely, a reconstituted Tiger offensive line (four players started at new positions) was only able to open holes for 56 rushing yards on 29 carries. The new look didn’t help senior Skylar Jones in his first start at quarterback either. The Wake Forest transfer was sacked twice and left the game early in the fourth quarter with what appears to be a minor injury. (Regular starter Taylor Reed — nursing his own bruises — finished the game and threw a late touchdown pass to Tannar Rehrer.)
“We started strong,” said Memphis coach Larry Porter after the game. “We sustained it in the second quarter, but in the second half we just didn’t show up. I thought in all phases, we did some good things, but we just didn’t sustain it for 60 minutes. And it got out of hand.”
An early 10-0 lead for Memphis could well have been 14 points were it not for a bizarre reversal by the officiating crew in the first quarter. What appeared to be a 54-yard scoring pass from Jones to Curtis Johnson was taken off the scoreboard — after kicker Paulo Henriques converted the extra point — when Johnson was ruled down at the 4-yard-line. (Porter explained after the game that there had been a communication cross-up between the review officials and those on the field.) Despite having the ball, first-and-goal from the 4, the Tigers had to settle for an Henriques field goal.
Early in the third quarter, Jones threw a pass from deep in Tiger territory that was intercepted by ECU’s Emanuel Davis and returned 23 yards to the Tiger 9-yard-line. Two plays later, Torrance Hunt pranced into the end zone to give the Pirates a 14-10 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. “We didn’t generate enough offense to sustain any drives and balance their attack,” added Porter. East Carolina piled up 524 yards of offense — on 75 plays to the Tigers’ 59 — in beating Memphis for the sixth straight time. The Pirates improve to 2-4 while Memphis falls to 1-6.
Against a pair of C-USA defenses allowing more than 30 points per game, the Tigers have scored 6 and 17 the last two weeks, with only one offensive touchdown. (Defensive lineman Martin Ifedi scored the U of M’s first touchdown tonight on a fumble recovery.)
Asked how he stays positive, Porter suggested there’s too much season left for anything else. “We’ve got five games left,” he said. “We can’t succumb to the negativity around us. We’re going to stay positive as a team. I don’t think you guys are seeing clearly how these guys come out each week and fight and battle for victory. We’ve got to be able to sustain that commitment, that sacrifice, and accountability. I will continue to challenge them to finish the season in a way that allows us to gain some momentum.”
Added defensive lineman Johnnie Farms, “I’m a positive guy, and I try to keep everybody around me positive. If we can stay positive, we’ll get right back at it.”
The Tigers travel to New Orleans for a game with Tulane next Saturday and won’t play again at the Liberty Bowl until UAB comes to town November 12th.
LAST WEEK: 5-1
East Carolina at Memphis
Rice at Marshall
UCF at SMU
UTEP at Tulane
UAB at Tulsa
• Halfway through the 2011 season, the Tigers’ record is identical to this same point a year ago: 1-5. Has progress been made despite the win-loss stagnation? Last season, the win came over Middle Tennessee, a team from the Sun Belt Conference that would finish the season 6-7. This year’s victory came over Austin Peay, a second-tier program (from the Football Championship Subdivision) with a record now of 2-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Over the first six games in 2010, Memphis lost three games by more than 30 points. This season, the Tigers have suffered the same number of blowouts. As for points scored, a season ago Memphis had accumulated 78 and allowed 235. This year: 81 for, 220 against. If this is progress, it’s not so much baby steps as tiny-turtle steps.
• East Carolina will limp into the Liberty Bowl with a record of 1-4, reeling from a 56-3 drubbing at the hands of Houston last Saturday. They’ve suffered three defeats at the hands of BCS-conference foes: South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. Perhaps most damning, ironically, is the only win the Pirates have: a five-point squeaker in Greenville over lowly UAB. ECU has actually given up more points per game (37.4) than Memphis (36.7). Is this reason for hope Saturday?
Probably not. The Tigers have a dreadful track record of late against the Pirates. Memphis has lost the last five meetings between the schools by an average margin of 18 points. East Carolina has scored at least 30 points in all five of those losses. But ECU can’t run the ball this season (a C-USA low 69.0 yards per game). Perhaps the Tigers can fluster Pirate quarterback Dominique Davis (he’s thrown 10 interceptions). Perhaps the Memphis ground game will improve with Jerrell Rhodes back in the mix. Perhaps the cool air of an October night game . . . .
• Turnout for this Saturday’s game at the Liberty Bowl (kickoff at 6 p.m.) will be an interesting measuring stick for faith in Larry Porter’s program. Normally, after two weeks away a team can expect at least a mild increase in attendance, particularly for a game against a traditionally strong conference foe. Having drawn 18,808 (announced attendance against Austin Peay) and 16,748 (against SMU) over the last two games at the Liberty Bowl, the home team might reasonably expect a crowd of 20,000. But a week after the Tigers lost by 22 to woeful Rice? A friend in the press box recently compared my stubborn optimism (believe me, it’s thinning) to Charlie Brown taking aim at that football teed up so nicely by Lucy. How many Charlie Browns can one stadium hold?
He was the first Memphis Tiger to earn All-America honors from the AP (second team in 1964). He played for arguably the two best teams in Tiger history (8-1 in 1962 and 9-0-1 in 1963). He was the third selection (by the Oakland Raiders) in the 1965 American Football League draft. (The top pick was some guy named Namath.) He went on to play six seasons for the Raiders, three with the Los Angeles Rams and one with the Green Bay Packers.
Today, the U of M announced that former offensive lineman Harry Schuh will become the fifth football player to have his jersey retired. The announcement will be made officially at Friday's Memphis Madness basketball event at FedExForum.
Schuh, who wore number 79 during his Tiger career, joins an exclusive club of Memphis football honorees: Dave Casinelli (a teammate of Schuh's), Charles Greenhill, Isaac Bruce, and DeAngelo Williams.
Conference USA's league office announced today that Tiger sophomore swingman Will Barton was named to the preseason all-conference team. As a freshman in 2010-11, the older of the Tigers' two Barton brothers led Memphis in scoring with 12.3 points per game and was second on the squad with 4.9 rebounds per game.
The rest of the preseason all-star team:
• Cameron Moore, forward, UAB (preseason Player of the Year)
• Keith Clanton, forward, UCF
• Arsalan Kazemi, forward, Rice
• DeAndre Kane, guard, Marshall
• Kendall Timmons, guard/forward, Tulane
Tarik Black and Joe Jackson — like Barton, sophomores for the Tigers — were named to the C-USA second-team. Senior Wesley Witherspoon — named to the preseason first-team a year ago — made neither team this year.
The Tigers will host Memphis Madness this Friday at FedExForum. Their first exhibition game will be on November 2nd (FEF, against LeMoyne-Owen) and the regular season opens on November 15th (FEF, against Belmont).
The descent continues. In a contest between two of the ten worst college football teams in America, Memphis was manhandled in Houston this afternoon by the Rice Owls. Down 14-3 at halftime, the Tigers fell hopelessly behind four minutes into the second half when Owl defensive lineman Jared Williams picked off a Taylor Reed pass — only Reed's second interception of the season — and returned it 47 yards for what would be an insurmountable lead for the visitors.
The Tigers intercepted a pair of Taylor McHargue passes in the first quarter — one by Terrence Thomas, another by Akeem Davis — but were unable to convert the turnovers into points. A 50-yard field goal by Paulo Henriques with 30 seconds to play in the opening quarter closed the Tigers within four points (7-3). They wouldn't be any closer the rest of the afternoon.
Memphis tailback Jerrell Rhodes returned to action after missing four games with a severe bone bruise. He carried the ball seven times for 29 yards. Wideout Marcus Rucker also returned for Memphis but caught only one pass for nine yards. Freshman quarterback Taylor Reed was ineffective, completing 15 of 30 passes for 100 yards and two interceptions. He was relieved in the second half by sophomore Andy Summerlin, who threw for 137 yards.
Rice entered the game ranked last in Conference USA defensively, allowing 549 yards per game. The Tigers gained 307. Rice outgained Memphis 180 yards to 70 on the ground.
Tannar Rehrer was the lone bright spot offensively for Memphis with 11 receptions for 89 yards.
The Tigers, now 1-5, will host East Carolina next Saturday at the Liberty Bowl, with kickoff set for 6 p.m.
It's the most deflating sports story of my 20 years in Memphis. Think about that. I've seen some dreadful Tiger football over the last two decades (and no, not just under Larry Porter). Saw this city teased with NFL football one season before a franchise skipped eastward to settle in Nashville (and reach the Super Bowl!). And the first two Grizzlies seasons made you wonder if finally being major league meant nothing beyond the punchlines going national.
But the stench of those struggles and disappointments don't linger. Not like the Derrick Rose Affair. A quick summary:
Playing with skills that would have made him NBA Rookie of the Year in 2007-08 (the only season he'd play college basketball), Rose led the Tigers to a 38-2 season and one Mario Chalmers heave away from the program's first national championship. A year later, though, an NCAA investigation concluded that Rose had enrolled at the U of M with SAT scores achieved by a proxy. Down comes the 2008 Final Four banner at FedExForum. Wiped from the record books are all of those record-setting 38 wins. Rose's coach, John Calipari, takes off for Kentucky and the most lucrative package for a college coach in the land.
Rose himself? Not only did he win the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year trophy, he had to make room in his case for the 2011 NBA MVP hardware. (Rose was named MVP after what would have been his senior season at the U of M. In hindsight, his playing any college basketball at all is laughable.)
And the stench lingers. The fact that three local attorneys — importantly, representing unnamed season-ticket holders enraged by the Rose Affair — managed to sue Calipari, Rose, and Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson for some of the damage done makes for a nice metaphor. Especially considering each of the three principles named in the suit has apparently agreed (as part of a settlement) to make payments to the school's scholarship fund. In sports, nothing says "I'm sorry" like a signed check. Hats off to the lawyers who made this happen: Martin Zummach, Frank Watson III, and William Burns.
But those checks also say "Go away." Calipari needs $232,000 — the amount of a returned bonus, according to The Commercial Appeal — like he needs an extra bottle of hair gel. Derrick Rose makes more than $5 million a year to play for the Bulls, a figure that will leap exponentially when his next contract is drawn up. Most uncomfortable, certainly, is the hit Johnson will take if he has to return his bonus for the vacated championship season (reportedly $70,000 after taxes). But Calipari was Johnson's hire. Rose was Calipari's recruit. Follow the authority, if not the money.
That banner will never hang at FedExForum. The thousands of Tiger fans who cheered what they considered a transcendent team will never get any "damages" from those responsible for the vacated season. (What a cruel word. Imagine something you hold dear . . . now consider it "vacated." Ouch.) Beyond unnamed season-ticket holders represented by determined lawyers, every last fan who cheered the 2007-08 Tigers deserves, at the least, an apology for sheer incompetence. (At best, Calipari and Johnson are guilty of incompetence in the Rose Affair. At worst, they're guilty of lying to their employers and fan base.) But the apology won't come. Only the stench of a lost, however memorable, season.
Memphis Madness is a week from tonight, the start of a new college basketball season, with the usual hope for big wins, star performances, and maybe a championship. And yes, the season will feel new, fresh even. But madness? With the Derrick Rose Affair — like that ugly stench — it lingers.
LAST WEEK: 6-3
East Carolina at Houston
Marshall at UCF
Memphis at Rice
Southern Miss at Navy
Syracuse at Tulane
Mississippi State at UAB
• It’s hard to measure the progress of a quarterback without a few wins in the mix. Still looking for his first victory over an FBS opponent, freshman Taylor Reed is still in the embryonic stage of his college career. But the 19-year-old from El Dorado, Arkansas, is showing promise in trying conditions. Let’s remember he was called into duty in the opener against Mississippi State after an ankle injury to starting quarterback Andy Summerlin. On top of that, the Tigers’ top running threat — Jerrell Rhodes — left the same game with an injury. On top of that — jeesh! — the U of M’s most experienced receiver, Marcus Rucker, has been on the sideline the last two games with his own injury. Here’s the ball, rookie. Win us some games.
Tiger coach Larry Porter puts a premium on decision-making with his quarterback. Less interested in seeing the spectacular, Porter wants his quarterback to avoid the disastrous. Over his five games behind center, Reed has thrown 158 passes and only one interception. The most promising stat from the Middle Tennessee game last week were the 23 first downs for the Tigers (a season high). Reed ran an offense that steadily gained yardage — even on the ground — and reached pay dirt four times (another season high). The return of A.J. Antonescu at center was a major booster, as Reed wasn’t sacked (a week after going down four times against SMU). As for Reed’s tools, the fourth-quarter touchdown pass he lofted to Keiwone Malone was as pretty a toss as we’ll see all season. This lefty may be a keeper.
• The Tigers rank 11th in Conference USA in total offense (297.2 yards per game). This week’s foe, Rice, ranks 9th (305.2). Memphis ranks 10th in total defense (524), two slots ahead of the Owls (549.8). The Tigers will welcome back Rhodes against a team that is last in C-USA against the run (272). Looking at the rest of the schedule, this is one of two games the Tigers could win that wouldn’t be considered a monumental upset. (The other is a home tilt against UAB on November 12th. The Blazers are actually averaging fewer points per game than the Tigers.) Porter needs to pull out every motivational trick he may have learned as an assistant at LSU and treat this game like a season-shifter. Win and the Tiger faithful have something positive to lean on entering a home game next week (against East Carolina). Lose, and we’re likely staring at a 1-8 record before UAB comes to town.
• In times of struggle, we have to count small blessings, even those that go unseen. One game that will go unseen in 2011 is Memphis vs. Houston. Led by record-breaking quarterback Case Keenum (no, he’s not a Heisman candidate; not as long as he’s playing in C-USA), the 5-0 Cougars are averaging 45.2 points and 610 yards per game. If Keenum were given an afternoon against the Tiger defense, there may not be a scoreboard operator in the country with fingers quick enough to tally the numbers. (Remember, Houston beat Memphis 56-17 a year ago . . . without Keenum.)