• At halftime of last Saturday’s game against Rice, Tiger coach Justin Fuente must have paced the home team’s locker room wondering what he’d done to deserve this. Despite giving up only a field goal to the Owl offense, Memphis found itself down 10 points (the result of a fumble being returned for a touchdown on the Tiger offense’s opening play). The U of M had not scored a single point against a team that had allowed an average of 43.6 entering the game. Making matters worse, a cold rain (and lightning storm) had emptied the stadium and forced the second weather delay in the new coach’s first three home games.
But fortune finally turned. Thanks to a second-half shutout by the Memphis defense and a pair of short touchdown passes (from two different quarterbacks), the Tigers earned Fuente his first win as a head coach. The beautiful irony, of course, is that the defense was the star of the former offensive coordinator’s first victory. Check out these numbers:
• The Tigers had given up at least 25 first downs in each of their first four games. They allowed Rice 12.
• The Tigers had yielded 5.8 yards per play entering the Rice game. They allowed the Owls 3.8.
• The last time a Memphis team won a game when scoring as few as 14 points? November 13, 1999 (a 14-10 win over Army).
It’s a shame more fans weren’t on hand to celebrate with the players (and marching band) after the win. But Fuente will take it, for now. As he said during his postgame remarks, “[The players] need to enjoy this and represent the university. Then show up tomorrow and get back to work.”
• Hold on to your seat cushion, but the Tigers are tied for first place in Conference USA’s East Division. (Memphis and UCF are both 1-0 in league play.) Only once has the U of M started 2-0 in league play, and they finished 2-3 in C-USA’s inaugural season of 1996. But let’s play some fantasy football and consider an upset this Saturday at East Carolina. Presuming UCF beats Southern Miss in Orlando (the Golden Eagles are 0-5), the Knights would visit the Liberty Bowl on October 20th for what could legitimately be called a C-USA showdown.
• About those Pirates. East Carolina has three lopsided losses on its record (to mighty South Carolina, North Carolina, and UCF). The Pirates have beaten Appalachian State, Southern Miss, and UTEP (now 1-5). So it’s hard to measure the strength this year of what has been a traditional C-USA standard-bearer. ECU is averaging 348.5 yards on offense (compared with the Tigers’ 289.6). Defensively, ECU is allowing 409.8 yards per game (compared with the Tigers’ 434.2).
The series hasn’t been good to the Tigers. ECU has prevailed in the last six meetings, with no win coming by less than two touchdowns. Consider East Carolina’s football program Reason No. 842 the U of M will be happy to bid C-USA farewell.