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.