This was a game a long-suffering Memphis Tiger fan base had coming. After nine straight season-opening losses — and just three years after starting a season with a 59-14 loss — the Tigers took it all out on an undermanned Austin Peay program aiming to recover from a winless 2013 season. Playing under a steady drizzle, Memphis scored touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions to secure the game before halftime, five different Tigers reaching the end zone before the season was 30 minutes old.
The most disoriented man among the 27,361 fans at the Liberty Bowl had to be 2013 Ray Guy Award-winner Tom Hornsey, who didn't see the home team punt until the final play of the first half. The win was thorough by every measure, Memphis accumulating 545 yards of offense on 82 plays (compared with 146 on 50 for the Governors).
"We have a lot of things we can do better," warned a stolid Justin Fuente after the game. Said the Tiger coach, "There are a lot of things for us to coach off of. We were going to grade how we played, and at times we played well. I'm happy with the way the kids prepared."
The only negatives to report from the Tiger side of things were four fumbles (three of them recovered by Memphis players) and a leg injury that sent senior defensive end Martin Ifedi to the locker room with just under nine minutes to play in the third quarter (the Tigers led 49-0 at the time). The status of Ifedi's injury won't be known until Sunday at the earliest.
Memphis had not shut out an opponent since 2000 and hadn't scored 63 points since 1969. (The point total is fourth highest in the program's history, seven shy of the record: 70 against Tampa in 1949.) Sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 20 of 27 passes for 242 yards, passing for two touchdowns and running for two more. (Lynch was relieved by junior Jason Stewart midway through the third quarter. Senior tailback Brandon Hayes ran for 59 yards on 11 carries and scored on a three-yard dash in the first quarter. It was freshman Jarvis Cooper, though, who stole the spotlight with his running in the second half. The West Memphis product galloped 101 yards on eight carries and scored the Tigers' final touchdown with 5:53 left in the game.
Fuente mentioned a "delicate balance" his team aimed to maintain, executing an offensive game plan, allowing younger players to get playing time they might not get in a closer contest, but then not coming across as unprofessional to an opponent Fuente and his staff respect. (The Tiger staff knows a thing or two about rebuilding a program.) "You gotta take it as a whole, and see if the kids are taking what you're emphasizing," said Fuente.
No fewer than 26 Tiger defensive players were credited with at least an assisted tackle, suggesting the Memphis defense is as deep as it's been in years. One defensive starter not credited with a tackle was Bobby McCain, but the senior cornerback intercepted his first pass of the season and returned it 29 yards in the first quarter. "It was great putting a zero up there," he said after the game. "Felt really good for the defense. It looks good on the scoreboard, but there are still things we need to work on. Some things have to be corrected. It's gonna be fun watching the film, but we're going to make sure, starting tomorrow, we're game-ready for UCLA [next week]."
"We executed," added a smiling Hayes. "We didn't have a lot of penalties , and we were able to put up a lot of points. A good win. Our coaches told us not to be lackadaisical; don't look at the scoreboard. Do what you'd do in any other game. Hopefully this was a positive look for the fans." When asked about his understudy, Cooper, Hayes smiled even bigger: "Jarvis had a great game today."
The Tigers travel to Southern California next week to face UCLA, who beat Virginia earlier today. The Bruins are a consensus top-10 team. Memphis has not beaten a ranked opponent since upsetting Tennessee in November 1996.