The Memphis Tigers have seen their share of losses over the last three seasons, but none of a certain variety: the big lead blown late. We can now cross that off the list.
Over the first three quarters this afternoon at the Liberty Bowl, Memphis scored more points (35) than in any game in two years under head coach Larry Porter. The offensive outburst was good enough for an 18-point lead entering the fourth quarter against a UAB team that entered the contest with a record of 1-8 coming off a 56-13 thrashing last week against Houston.
Then the Tigers stopped playing.
Having given up 401 yards over the first three quarters, the Tiger defense allowed 200 in the fourth. Having gained 356 yards over the first three quarters, the Tiger offense compiled 28 in the fourth. The collapse reflected the performance of freshman quarterback Taylor Reed, who completed 15 of his first 18 passes, then threw six straight incompletions over a stretch when Memphis desperately needed to maintain possession — and keep the clock running — as momentum shifted dramatically toward the visitors’ sideline. (A sideline, it should be noted, that included Porter’s predecessor, Tommy West, now the Blazers’ defensive coordinator.)
UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry completed a pass on third-and-ten from the Tiger 37-yard-line with 2:50 to play and Memphis clinging to a 35-33 lead. Just over a minute later, Blazer tailback Greg Franklin ran in from 10 yards out to give UAB its first lead of the game. (Perry ran in virtually untouched for a two-point conversion.)
“This is certainly a painful loss,” said Porter after the game. “It’s hard to swallow. I felt like we had a good game plan, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t find a way to finish this game. I’m terribly disappointed in the way we played in the fourth quarter. When it counted most, we couldn’t find a way to make a big play, offensively or defensively. That was the story.”
On a day 16 Tiger seniors were honored before kickoff, tailback Billy Foster represented his class with distinction. He carried the ball 10 times for 87 yards and a touchdown while catching three passes for 79 more yards, including a 50-yard catch-and-run that set up his TD.
Playing in only his third game of the season, sophomore tailback Jerrell Rhodes gained 95 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns, one of them a 22-yard jaunt. The numbers only made Tiger fans wonder what might have been had Rhodes not injured his knee in the season opener against Mississippi State.
Perry starred in the Blazer comeback, finishing the game with 410 yards passing and four touchdowns (two of them in the fourth quarter). Jamarcus Nelson caught six of his passes for 133 yards and two scores. The victory is UAB’s third straight in the “Battle for the Bones” series.
Porter’s postgame press conference lasted less than eight minutes. You got the sense whatever questions might be asked would dangle before the beleaguered second-year coach. Having seen an 18-point lead evaporate in his home stadium over the course of 15 minutes, Porter’s answers would be attempts at what now seems like the impossible.
“You can’t give up as many points as we did in the fourth quarter,” said Porter. “They found a way to make plays, and we didn’t. Whether it was offense, defense, or special teams, it didn’t happen. Football is a game of adversity, and we’re going to need to fight through this. Everybody has to share responsibility for this loss.”
The Tigers now have only four days to prepare for their home finale, Thursday night against Marshall. The Thundering Herd (4-6) lost to Tulsa today, 59-17.