• 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.