President Shirley Raines and the search committee for a new head football coach at the University of Memphis have chosen Eastman & Beaudine Management Consultants to assist in identifying candidates to fill the position. Headquartered in Plano, Texas, Eastman & Beaudine was named "Top Executive Recruiting Firm in College Sports" by the Wall Street Journal, according to the firm's web site.
Among prominent placements the firm has made are the following:
• Scott Drew, Baylor (basketball)
• Mike Anderson, Missouri (basketball; now at Arkansas)
• Steve Alford, New Mexico (basketball)
• Cameron Dollar, Seattle University (basketball)
• Todd Graham, Tulsa (football; now at Pitt)
Having dropped 14 spots in the AP rankings, the Memphis Tigers have some climbing to do before the national media forgets the two games they lost in three days at the Maui Invitational. With the weather outside FedExForum far from tropical, the U of M began that climb against another Tiger squad that has long been an early-season punching bag.
Tied at 13 with nine minutes to play in the first half, the game tilted toward the home team over the next 13 minutes of play (bridging halftime) as Memphis went on a 27-6 run sparked by a pair of three-pointers from sophomore guard Chris Crawford. The U of M limited JSU to 19 first-half points on 28-percent shooting.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner altered his starting lineup for the first time in five games, replacing guard Charles Carmouche (for disciplinary reasons) with Crawford and center Tarik Black with Stan Simpson. With 14 points, Crawford was one of two Memphis players to reach double figures (Joe Jackson led all scorers with 15). Simpson scored seven points and pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.
Memphis lost the rebounding battle for the fourth time in five games, 36-29. Jenirro Bush — the preseason SWAC Player of the Year — led JSU with 11 points.
The U of M — now ranked 22nd in the country — improves to 3-2 and will next play Saturday night (again at FEF) when Austin Peay comes to town.
Some highlights from this afternoon’s press conference at the U of M’s Hardaway Hall of Fame:
Athletic Director R.C. Johnson:
“I can’t thank Larry Porter enough for the time he gave us, the energy he gave us. All anybody can do is give their all, and Larry did that. It didn’t work out, but it wasn’t because he didn’t give everything he had.”
“I’m announcing my retirement, effective at the end of our fiscal year. It’s been a great ride, but it’s time. I recently turned 70, and I’ve been an athletic director for 33 years. My dad never really thought I had a job. But it’s time. I’m running out of ties. I also don’t want my future to take away from what we’re trying to accomplish here. I don’t want any distractions.”
“Academically, we’re at an all-time high. Fund-raising, we’re setting new records year after year. Our Ambassador’s Club is being copied by schools all across the country. Facility-wise, we’re not done. We’re going to make that better.”
“This is not my farewell address. I’ll be here for a while; we’ve got things to do.”
“A special thanks to my president [Shirley Raines]. We’ve been together ten years. That alone is remarkable in this industry.”
“To the athletic department, I say this: Whatever you do, class, dignity, and style.”
U of M president Dr. Shirley Raines:
“I’ve decided to use a search firm that specializes in athletics. We’re reviewing search firms right now and we’ll announce a firm as soon as possible. In addition, I’ve appointed a search committee to be chaired by Brad Martin, former chairman of the board of visitors, and Willie Gregory from the Nike Corporation.”
“The search committee will work with the search firm to narrow down the candidates and interview the finalists. The time line is to complete the search as soon as possible, but to allow the search firm time to vet the candidates, especially the finalists.”
“Since R.C. has announced his retirement at or near the end of the fiscal year, we will begin the process for the search [for a new athletic director] in the spring semester. We’ll use much the same process as for the coach search, with a search firm and an appointed search committee.”
“If the search committee seeks R.C.’s advice, he will provide any information they seek. Most importantly, he will work to make a smooth transition for the new coach and, eventually, the new athletic director.”
Are there terms released on Coach Porter’s buyout?
Raines: “Not at this time. The university will honor its contractual arrangement. That’s a question for legal counsel.”
How committed is the university to going after a new coach who will galvanize the whole community? This could be a big dollar figure.
Raines: “I’m not going to give you a dollar figure, but we are committed to getting the best possible coach for this community. We will hire a search firm to find the next head coach to do what needs to get done, in terms of recruiting and winning.”
What will a new head coach get in terms of resources that past coaches may not have had?
Raines: “Our coaches gave gotten a great deal of resources over the last few years. We’ve added to the travel budget for recruitment purposes. We’ve added to facilities, and there are more additions to the football facilities. The best recruitment is having fans, alumni, and a city that cares about football. We want to communicate that as much as possible.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges for the next coach of the football team?
Raines: “Obviously recruiting. And getting the interest of fans back to football. That’s what we need to accomplish.”
If a coaching candidate has an issue with not knowing who his athletic director will be, how do you address that?
Raines: “We’ll have an orientation and transition period with our present A.D. When we select the new A.D. in the spring, [the new coach] will have some input like the rest of the people in this room. Not to select the new A.D., but certainly input.”
How does the coaching change impact current recruiting for the football program?
Johnson: “There’s always a question about holding onto your commitments. But that’s the case with every sport until they actually sign, regardless [of the coaching situation].”
When exactly did you decide to make the coaching change?
Johnson: “I talked to a lot of the people in this room, to get their opinions. It’s never a vote, but it’s always a discussion. I want to hear from the administration, the donors, the fan base.”
Did social media [and negative commentary] play a role in your decision?
Johnson: “No. You gotta do what you gotta do. There’s never a good time [to retire]. If it wasn’t now, it would be later, and there would be something else going on.”
If there was any debate on whether or not the U of M should retain football coach Larry Porter, it went something like this:
• KEEP HIM — There’s a standard thought among college administrators, boosters, casual fans, and even media types when a new coach is hired to rebuild a struggling football program: “You gotta give him three or four years.” Turning around a football program goes beyond a single prize recruit, or a single prize recruiting class. Even with Porter’s reputation as a recruiting star during his days as an assistant at LSU, the Tigers had reached a depth that will require two or three solid recruiting classes and, importantly, the seasoning of those classes before it will show on the scoreboard on fall Saturdays. So why the panic after just two years?
This year’s seniors and juniors — those who didn’t transfer to the U of M — were all recruited by Tommy West. A talent divide on both sides of the ball hamstrung Porter, but it’s not entirely of his doing. Six of 11 defensive starters in the home finale against Marshall were West recruits. (Somewhat tellingly, only three of the offensive starters that night preceded Porter.) The second-year coach did what he could to get his players on the field, most obviously with freshman quarterback Taylor Reed. He’s started freshmen at receiver (Kevin Wright), offensive tackle (Al Bond), and cornerback (Bobby McCain). Perhaps these will be the stars of a competitive Tiger team in 2012 and 2013. Are they to be coached by someone who didn’t recruit them?
Once a Memphis team is built around three or four Larry Porter recruiting classes, he could be fairly judged on the team’s performance and progress. But that requires a bit more patience, however uncomfortable for a slump-shouldered fan base.
• DUMP HIM — About that fan base. Let’s forget that fewer than 3,000 fans showed up to watch the Tigers play Marshall in their home finale on November 17th. It’s been a rotten season (again), it was a cold night, and the game was on television (for those prepared to endure another loss, but in the warmth of their living room). The most damaging figure from that last home game of Larry Porter’s second season was 15,105, the number of tickets sold. For a team playing in a stadium that will seat as many as 60,000, one that has seen crowds that average more than 30,000 as recently as 2006, the ticket sales for that UAB game were pitiful. Consider that 16,294 tickets were sold to see the Tiger basketball team two days earlier. For a game played in the middle of the day . . . on a Tuesday! There are Tiger sports fans more inclined to skip work and watch the basketball team than to pay to watch the football team when off the clock. It’s an ugly contrast.
Those ticket-buyers who skipped the UAB contest missed a good game, one of the few Memphis played competitively into the fourth quarter under Porter. With last weekend’s drubbing by Southern Miss, the Tigers lost 14 games by at least 20 points in Porter’s two seasons at the helm. The defense gave up more than 40 points 13 times. The offense scored fewer than 20 points 17 times. These are grotesque numbers to football fans, and really the only ones that matter. If the Tigers’ final record of 2-10 is considered progress on Porter’s 1-11 inaugural campaign, were Memphis fans prepared for 3-9 next fall?
If there was any debate, it was one-sided. Within hours of the season-ending loss in Hattiesburg (if not before), Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson had seen enough. In a release Sunday morning, Johnson said, “The expectations for the 2011 season were to see marked improvement in the team. Now that the season has been completed, I do not feel that we have seen enough improvement for the future to justify keeping this football staff in place for another year.”
So the search begins (again) for a coach to build a weak-sister football program into one that might attract the eyes of a BCS league. If there’s a bigger challenge for a college football coach in America, find it. The challenge for the U of M administration, of course, is convincing a coach — he’s somewhere out there — that taking the Tiger job is a step up the career ladder. Not since Fred Pancoast departed after the 1974 season has a Memphis football coach left with a winning record.
Is Houston Nutt the guy? Having left Arkansas and Ole Miss, it would seem Nutt would be taking another step down the ladder of Mid-South football prestige by taking the U of M job. Mike Leach? His record at Texas Tech is remarkable (10 straight winning seasons in the middle of Longhorn country), but if he’s Candidate A, why hasn’t he been coaching the last two seasons? In the December issue of Memphis magazine, my colleague John Branston advocates for Arkansas State coach Hugh Freeze. If there was one game during the brief Porter era that established where exactly the Tiger program sits, it was the 47-3 evisceration at the hands of ASU a little over two months ago. Freeze probably has a handle on the Memphis weaknesses.
At a press conference today, Johnson is expected to announce his imminent retirement. Which begs the question: Who will be in charge of hiring Porter’s successor? (The new football coach may turn out to be merely the second most important hire by the athletic department over the next year.) President Shirley Raines will obviously play a big role. There are local powers with various proximity to the football program that have an interest in seeing the program become what a still-loyal fan base believes it can. One told me Sunday, “The University of Memphis fan base is a very good one — underestimated and underappreciated. I have been surprised how resilient and loyal the fans have been in spite of the lack of commitment and poor decisions over the years.”
Firing a rebuilding coach after just two years all but wipes out any player development under that coach. A disturbing thought until you consider those players were “developing” by losing 21 of 24 football games. The first words to greet Larry Porter’s successor should be, “Welcome aboard.” The next words: “Take a deep breath.”
Memphis Tiger football coach Larry Porter has been dismissed a day after his second season ended with a 44-7 thrashing at Southern Miss. Memphis finished the 2011 campaign with a record of 2-10. Combined with his first-year mark of 1-11, Porter leaves the program with a record of 3-21. Over the last two seasons, Memphis lost 14 games by at least 20 points and won only one game in Conference USA play.
Hired almost exactly two years ago, Porter took his first head-coaching job with a reputation as one of the country's finest recruiters. He was a member of Les Miles' staff at LSU when the Bayou Bengals won the 2007 BCS national championship. He was also a U of M alum, having played tailback for the Tigers from 1990 to 1993. (Porter's 2,194 rushing yards rank seventh in Memphis history.)
But Porter's approach and style never seemed to take hold. On the field, Memphis was near the bottom of the national rankings for both offense and defense. There was never a signature win, the victories coming against lesser competition: Middle Tennessee, Austin Peay, and Tulane. And Porter's rigid control of access to his program bristled many. During his first season, assistant coaches and freshman players weren't allowed to speak to media.
“We want to thank Coach Porter for his efforts as our football coach but believe that it is in the best interest of our program to make a change at this point,” said Tiger athletic director R.C. Johnson in a statement. “We were proud to have Larry Porter, one of our former football lettermen, as our head coach and wish him nothing but the best in his future athletic endeavors. The expectations for the 2011 season were to see marked improvement in the team. Now that the season has been completed, I do not feel that we have seen enough improvement for the future to justify keeping this football staff in place for another year.”
The university has scheduled a press conference for Monday at noon. At a time when conference affiliation is the topic of the day for most Tiger fans, Priority One becomes replacing the face of the program that will make or break the U of M chances for attracting a BCS league.
If Larry Porter returns to command the Memphis football program a third season, it will be very much despite the way his second season as coach ended. Playing in conditions as dark and gloomy as the collective mood of the Tiger fan base, Memphis was beaten by halftime and lost its third straight Black-and-Blue Game to longtime rival Southern Miss. (Now 10-2, the Golden Eagles advance to next Saturday’s Conference USA championship game, where they’ll face the 12-0 Houston Cougars.)
The Tigers took the field without their starting quarterback. (Andy Summerlin replaced Taylor Reed, who broke a leg in the Marshall game on November 17th.) Already without tailback Jerrell Rhodes, the Tigers lost leading rusher Billy Foster to a lower-leg injury in the first half. Southern Miss outgained the U of M 386 yards to 55, and outscored the Tigers 34-0 over the game’s first 30 minutes.
The Tigers scored their lone touchdown in the fourth quarter when safety Mitch Huelsing recovered a Southern Miss fumble in the end zone. Summerling completed 21 of 44 passes for 174 yards. He had two interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Golden Eagles, one of them the length of the field by Kendrick Presley.
Let the debates over Porter’s job status begin. With only three wins over his two years at the helm, Memphis has endured its worst two-season stretch since Rex Dockery’s first two years as head coach in 1981 and 1982. (Dockery went 2-20 over his first two seasons before going 6-4-1 in 1983.) Going back to the 2-10 campaign of 2009 (Tommy West’s last as Tiger coach), the program has only five wins in three seasons.
Looking for progress inside the numbers? Last season, Memphis averaged 14.4 points per game in going 1-11. This year: 16.3 points (2-10). Last season, the Tigers gave up 39.8 points per game. This year: 35.1.
NOTE: In a season of turn-your-head-away statistics, senior wide receiver Tannar Rehrer put up a figure to be remembered. In grabbing seven passes this afternoon, Rehrer became just the second Tiger with 70 receptions in a single season. With an even 70, his total is second only to the 74 catches by Isaac Bruce in 1993.
LAST WEEK: 5-1
Houston at Tulsa (both teams 7-0 in C-USA play)
UTEP at UCF
East Carolina at Marshall
Memphis at Southern Miss
Rice at SMU
Tulane at Hawaii
UAB at Florida Atlantic
One of the biggest wins in Tiger basketball history came on March 20, 1983, when sophomore Keith Lee led Memphis to a victory over Patrick Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA tournament. (It was the only season in Ewing's four-year college career that his team didn't reach the championship game.) Since that win, though, the on-again, off-again series between these two programs has been severely one-sided.
When Antonio Barton's desperation three-point attempt fell short at the end of overtime this afternoon in Maui, it marked the ninth Tiger loss in ten games against the Hoyas. (Making matters worse, the only Tiger win came during the 2007-08 season. So it's been wiped off the books as part of the NCAA's punishment for the Derrick Rose scandal.) Having played three games — and a total of three overtimes — in three days at the Maui Invitational, the 8th-ranked Tigers will return to the mainland with a 2-2 record, their ranking certain to drop several slots when the polls are updated Monday.
After taking a 9-2 lead to start the game, Memphis endured a 19-2 run by the Hoyas and trailed 47-42 at halftime. The second half included nine lead changes and ended with the teams tied at 78. Georgetown's Greg Whittington tipped in a miss by Henry Sims to tie the game with 15 seconds left and the Tigers called timeout with just over 10 seconds to play. But Memphis settled for a 26-foot heave by freshman Adonis Thomas as time expired, his miss forcing the extra session.
With the Tigers leading 86-85 and just under a minute to play, the Hoyas' Jason Clark delivered a dagger from three-point range to give Georgetown an 88-86 lead, one they wouldn't surrender. Clark led all scorers with 26 points while Sims added 24 and nine rebounds. Will Barton led the Tigers with 22 points, followed by Joe Jackson with 20 and Tarik Black with 12. (Black fouled out for the second straight game and has battled foul trouble in all four of the Tigers' games this season.) For the first time this season, Memphis grabbed more rebounds than its opponent, if only by a narrow margin (37-35).
The Tigers (2-2) will return to the floor next Monday night at FedExForum when they host Jackson State. As for the lopsided rivalry with Georgetown, we'll see the next chapter in almost precisely a month. Memphis travels to D.C. for a rematch on December 22nd.
• A big lead blown late in the game tends to hurt a team far more than a 40-point blowout. So how do the Tigers’ last two losses — having led UAB by 18 and Marshall by 12 in the fourth quarter — reflect on second-year coach Larry Porter? One argument would hold that these are the worst of his 20 losses to date. Coaching decisions have a larger impact on tight games than they do on blowouts (the Tigers have suffered 13 losses by at least 20 points under Porter). Had Memphis been able to run the ball late against UAB, the outcome may have been different. Had the Tigers found a way to stop the run late against Marshall, the outcome may have been different. Were there adjustments that could have been made?
On the other hand, the Tigers have led their last two games in the fourth quarter. (I was astonished to look at this season’s box scores and see that the U of M has led six games at halftime. Wouldn’t have guessed it.) The Tigers have played competitive football in four of their last five games. (They led East Carolina at halftime in a game they lost by 18.) Perhaps this is progress for a struggling program desperate for improvement. Hard to measure when the losing continues unabated.
• Looking for a picture of just how young this year’s team is? Pull out the tape of last week’s Marshall game. Freshman quarterback Taylor Reed started his ninth game of the season. Freshman Bobby McCain started his eighth game at cornerback. Freshman Al Bond started his sixth game at right tackle. Two freshmen — Kevin Wright and Reggie Travis — caught passes on the Tigers’ first-quarter scoring drive. (Wright caught eight passes for 83 yards.) Freshman Kendrick Golden picked up a blocked punt and scored the Tigers’ second touchdown. Freshman Charles Harris blocked another Marshall punt. Give Porter credit for this: He’s fighting with his players, his recruits, regardless of seniority.
• Every Memphis regular season should end with the Black-and-Blue Game. The Tigers’ annual tilt with Southern Miss — played every season but one (1980) since 1952 — is the closest thing we have to an Egg Bowl, Iron Bowl, or Civil War. The Golden Eagles have won the last two meetings after Memphis had taken four of five. Southern Miss leads the alltime series, 39-21-1. Alas, the programs have taken opposite directions in 2011. Even with their shocking loss to UAB last week, Southern Miss is on its way to the Conference USA championship game with a record of 9-2. The Tigers will again finish last in C-USA’s East Division, entering Saturday’s finale with a record of 2-9. This is the kind of rivalry, though, where you’d like to think records can be tossed out of the equation. If Larry Porter is fighting for a third season at the helm, an upset in Hattiesburg would jump off his resume.
The Tigers and Tennessee have played some tight games on the hardwood over the years, but not until this afternoon in Maui had the teams gone to overtime. And for good measure, they played two OT sessions.
Sophomore Antonio Barton drained a jumper with 1:14 to play in the second overtime for the final points in the 99-97 victory. After playing a marginal role in the Tigers' first two games of the season, the younger Barton brother hit 8 of 11 shots (including four of five from three-point range) and scored 21 points to help beat UT. Will made it a family affair with a team-leading 25 points of his own and nine rebounds.
Jeronne Maymon led Tennessee with 32 points, hitting 16 of 17 from the free-throw line and a layup with 29 seconds left in regulation to force the first overtime. Maymon also pulled down 20 rebounds.
The 8th-ranked Tigers were far less dependent on the three-point shot than they were in yesterday's loss to Michigan, taking only nine of 70 shots from behind the arc (they made six). For the game, they shot 51 percent while holding the Vols to 40 percent. Memphis was again outrebounded, though, 47-31. The Tigers' two biggest interior players — Tarik Black and Stan Simpson — each fouled out of the game. (They combined for 12 points and four rebounds.)
Memphis freshman Adonis Thomas hit seven of 10 shots from the field and scored 19 points.
The Tigers (2-1) will finish their three-game run in Maui tomorrow when they play the winner of the Georgetown-Chaminade game at 4 p.m. (central time).
If you happened to miss today's slugfest, mark your calendar for January 4th. The Tigers and Volunteers will play a rematch at FedExForum.
The 10th-ranked Tigers took it on the chin this afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational, falling to 17th-ranked Michigan. The U of M took a 27-25 lead behind three straight field goals by Charles Carmouche in the first half, but was outscored 12-4 over the last six minutes and trailed 37-31 at the break. (The Tigers missed 11 of 13 shots from three-point range over the game's first 20 minutes and finished the game 4-for-21 from the arc.)
The Wolverines stretched the lead to 14 points in the second half, as the Tigers continued to struggle from the field (33 percent for the game). After being outrebounded in their opener against Belmont (42-29), Memphis lost the battle of the boards today, 33-20. Starting center Tarik Black picked up two early fouls (as he did against Belmont) and saw his playing time limited.
Will Barton and Joe Jackson combined to shoot 2-for-12 in the first half and 6-for-23 for the game. Charles Carmouche led the Tigers with 14 points and was the only Memphis player in double figures. Tim Hardaway Jr. paced the Wolverines with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Michigan shot 54 percent from the field.
Now 1-1, Memphis will face the loser of today's Duke-Tennessee game on Tuesday at 1 p.m. (central time). Michigan will face the winner in the semifinals.
It's the heaviest picture in college sports: the crestfallen senior who realizes she's played her final game. Memphis goaltender Elise Kuhar-Pitters — owner of more shutouts than any Memphis soccer player in history — sat in front of the goal she'd protected so well for four seasons. Ten minutes after time had expired in the Tigers' 2-0 loss to Louisville at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex, there Kuhar-Pitters sat, comforted by coaches and teammates, but crestfallen just the same. A great career ended.
Memphis entered their second-round match with a sparkling 22-0-1 record, one of two remaining undefeated teams in the tournament (the other being Stanford). But the Tigers were unable to find the Louisville net on a cold, blustery night that put a premium on sharp passes and protecting bad bounces.
There's considerable irony to the Cardinals' decisive goal being scored on just that: a bad bounce. In the game's 68th minute, Kuhar-Pitters misplayed a high lob that managed to get over her head for an easy tap-in header by Cardinal forward Kim Sharo. Certainly one of the softest goals allowed in her stellar career. Seven minutes later, Louisville again connected with a header, this one a brilliant dive inside the far post by Zakiya McIntosh on a low cross. It marked only the third time in 24 games that Memphis allowed multiple goals this season.
The Tigers outshot Louisville, 14-12.
Another great career cut short tonight was that of sweeper Lizzy Simonin. Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year and a player Tiger coach Brooks Monaghan calls the finest captain he's ever coached, Simonin pulled her jersey up to her face as the final buzzer sounded. The jersey featured the same number 21 Larry Finch made so famous as a Tiger basketball star nearly two generations ago. Just like Finch, Simonin's career ended with the sudden heartbreak tournament play brings every team but one. For several minutes, Simonin bent over, away from her teammates and the celebrating Cardinals. Absorbing and rationalizing how something so great could turn so sour. So fast. Crestfallen.
Big plays and turnovers decide football games.
Tonight at the Liberty Bowl, Memphis scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and a defensive strip of Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato. The Tigers forced five turnovers and did not commit a single one themselves.
A script for victory, right?
Well, the Tigers’ leading rusher tonight was their punter. And they botched two point-after attempts. If you’ve followed the 2011 Memphis Tigers at all, you know two points erased from the scoreboard means one thing: a one-point loss. Final score: Marshall 23, Memphis 22.
“We played well in spurts,” said coach Larry Porter after the game. “The resolve of this team is something, but the inability to finish is frustrating. We just didn’t make the plays.”
For the second time in six days, Memphis let a fourth-quarter lead greater than 10 points evaporate. As deflating as last Saturday’s 41-35 loss to UAB was, Porter’s squad earned some credit for showing up on a cold night in a near-empty stadium, and fighting until the final play. (A fourth-down pass to freshman Kevin Wright fell incomplete on a play many of the few remaining fans considered pass-interference against the Herd defender.)
“It wasn’t about taking our foot off the gas,” emphasized Porter. “We’re not about that. We talked about playing a full game. We just didn’t make the plays in the fourth quarter.”
Just 77 seconds into the game, Marshall receiver Antavious Wilson took a pass at the Memphis 20-yard-line — with no Tiger defender within 20 yards of him — and pranced in for a 44-yard touchdown. It appeared the rout was on once again for a Memphis team that had given up 35.4 points per game.
But freshman quarterback Taylor Reed led an impressive 10-play drive that included completions to freshmen Wright and Reggie Travis before Billy Smith ran the ball into the end zone from a yard out.
The score remained tied at 7 until 19 seconds into the second quarter, when yet another freshman — Kendrick Golden — picked up a blocked Marshall punt and ran it 36 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. (The ensuing point-after attempt by Paulo Henriques was blocked.)
In a game of strange plays, Tom Hornsey’s punt less than two minutes into the second half was the stuff of Charlie Brown. Marshall’s Derek Mitchell broke through the Tiger line to block the kick, but Hornsey himself managed to recover the twice-stricken football from the turf. Only after being urged by astonished teammates did Hornsey take off for the sideline, pigskin in hand. His 27-yard scamper gave the ball back to the Memphis offense at the Memphis 49-yard-line. Alas, three plays later, Hornsey got to test his kicking leg again and let it sail.
With the Tigers up 16-10 and almost four minutes gone in the fourth quarter, Memphis defensive tackle Tommy Walker wrapped up Cato, allowing defensive end Frank Trotter to strip the ball and dash 18 yards to the end zone for a lead that could have been decisive. But the snap on the point-after was fumbled. And the ensuing kickoff was returned 65 yards by the Herd’s Andre Booker. Ten seconds later, Tron Martinez ran the ball in from 21 yards to cut the Tiger lead to 22-17.
Having replaced Reed early in the third quarter (Reed suffered a lower-leg injury), Andy Summerlin completed 11 passes, but not enough to sustain drives in the fourth quarter. With 6:10 to play, Marshall’s Travon Van ran through the Tiger defense for 19 yards and what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
The Tigers recovered a Marshall fumble with less than two minutes to play and had the ball, first down, at the Herd 46-yard-line. Summerlin tossed a ball over the middle to Tannar Rehrer — who earlier in the game caught his 60th pass of the season — only to see the ball slip through Rehrer’s fingers near the 20-yard-line. On the next and final play, the attempt to Wright fell incomplete.
“They lined up and really got after us,” said Porter. “We gave up two or three big plays, and that was the difference. It’s gonna hurt to watch this film tomorrow. We had the opportunity to take control of the game and we didn’t do it.” Now 2-9, the Tigers finish their season with the Black-and-Blue Game at Southern Miss on November 26th.
LAST WEEK: 4-3
Marshall at Memphis
Southern Miss at UAB
UCF at East Carolina
SMU at Houston
Tulane at Rice
Tulsa at UTEP
• A team has to cooperate on both sides of the ball to allow the kind of comeback UAB pulled off in the fourth quarter last Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. On offense, Tiger quarterback Taylor Reed threw six consecutive incomplete passes, which both stalled Memphis drives and killed the clock. Three-and-out on the ground (clock running) is one thing. But three-and-out with the clock not moving is kindling for a comeback flame.
On defense, the Tigers simply could not stop Blazer quarterback Jonathan Perry. Even when conditions were favorable. On third-and-ten from the Memphis 37-yard-line with 2:50 to play, Perry had time to look downfield and complete a 12-yard pass to keep UAB’s game-winning drive alive. A stop there and UAB is forced to risk fourth-and-long or attempt a field goal beyond 50 yards to take the lead. Coach Larry Porter emphasized that everybody deserved blame for the Tiger collapse, and he’s right.
• Football on Thursday night will never feel normal, but the Tigers have actually played 30 games in advance of the weekend (they’re 13-15-2). These midweek games cause flashbacks to the Tuesday-night game in October 2009 (against East Carolina) when it seemed there were more players and game-day officials in the Liberty Bowl than fans. Memphis entered that game with a record of 2-5 and was beaten up, 38-19, in front of an ESPN2 audience. The weather was wet and dreary, but not atypical for fall in the Mid-South. The Tigers lost their last four games that season, by which time coach Tommy West had already been fired. Gotta wonder if a 2-8 team can rally after only four days to recover from a late-game collapse. We’ll know the strength of this team’s backbone by the end of the first quarter.
• Thursday night’s football game will be the third-most significant University of Memphis sporting event this week (and quite possibly the fourth-most). The 10th-ranked men’s basketball team opened its season yesterday with a 97-81 win over Belmont. FedExForum packed 16,294 people into the stands for a Tuesday game that tipped off before lunch. This Friday, the 5th-ranked women’s soccer team hosts a second-round match in the NCAA tournament against none other than the Louisville Cardinals. (Should the Lady Tigers win, they’ll host a third-round match Sunday afternoon.) The week makes for a sad commentary on the reality of major-conference realignment. Any league in the country would be improved with the addition of a basketball program like Josh Pastner’s or a soccer program like Brooks Monaghan’s. But it just doesn’t matter. No sport generates revenue (potentially) like football. Rooting for Memphis to gain a dance card to the Big East these days is like rooting for the girl with “a nice personality” to be named Prom Queen.