Rock, chalk, cake walk.
There was irony in the Tigers' thorough man-handling of Kansas Saturday afternoon at the Liberty Bowl. The University of Memphis — along with virtually its entire fan base — continues to aspire admission into one of college football's elite "Power Five" conferences. One of those leagues, of course, is the Big 12, longtime home to KU. But the Jayhawk football team, let it be said, displays nothing that remotely suggests "power." Woody Allen would appreciate the blurred standard between the club of Big 12 schools and one that would boast Kansas football as a member.
Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson
connected with Anthony Miller
for an 84-yard touchdown along the left sideline just over four minutes into the game and the rout was on. Two Jake Elliott
field goals and a Doroland Dorceus
touchdown run of six yards made the score 19-0 two minutes into the second quarter. The Jayhawks' only highlight of the contest came on a 66-yard dash by Khalil Herbert with 12:28 to play before halftime. But the Tigers responded with two more touchdowns before the break, one a Ferguson-to-Phil Mayhue
timing route in the right corner of the end zone and then a 61-yard interception return by freshman defensive lineman Jonathan Wilson.
Among the Jayhawks' ten first-half possessions, they had four three-and-out "drives," three lost fumbles, and the Wilson interception. It was as ugly as football often is at basketball schools. But it counts in the win column and gives Memphis consecutive 2-0 starts for the first time since the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
"We were coming off a bye week, and we've practiced 38 times," said Tiger coach Mike Norvell
in opening his postgame press conference. "You can try and simulate the game, but you really can't get to that point until you kick it off. We talked a lot about starting fast. The defense did an incredible job; totally dominated. We got beaten on one unique play; they got us. Six take-aways. That's who we want to be as a football team. I was really pleased by the way the guys worked."
When asked if the Tiger offense had made progress since the opener two weeks ago, Norvell noted the larger impact of his running game. "We ran the ball better, and it showed up. There are still some things we have to correct. Our tempo is not where it needs to be, [not fast enough]. I don't think we protected as well as we can. We're playing a lot of young faces. It's probably where we should be [at this stage of the season]." Ferguson was sacked five times and Kansas had ten tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Tigers gained 205 yards on the ground (much of it after the game was decided as a clock-eating device) and 189 through the air. Freshman Patrick Taylor
led the running game with 88 yards on 13 carries. (Fellow freshman Darrell Henderson was sidelined with an illness.) Miller caught five passes for 93 yards.
Freshman linebacker Austin Hall
and junior safety Jonathan Cook
led the Memphis defense with eight tackles each, two of Hall's coming in the Jayhawk backfield. Senior defensive tackle Michael Edwards
recovered two Kansas fumbles. Norvell said he hopes his defense can achieve a form of swagger, that the combination of fundamentals, technique, and belief in the system could distinguish the group.
"I want these guys to push," said Norvell. "I want them to be the best they've ever been. You have to put guys in adverse situations. The game of football is so wonderful; you see the highs and the lows. How do you respond? Today it was the defense. The defense had to step up after some miscues by the offense."
Ferguson agreed with his coach, that there's work to do in achieving the offense's desired tempo. "We need to make sure we're getting the signals faster from the sideline," said the junior quarterback after completing 15 of his 24 passes. "That's mostly on me, making sure the linemen are down, getting us going. There were times the defense was tired. We could have gone faster."
The early connection with Miller sparked Ferguson, and he suggests there's more to come. "I just put it up where he could go get it," said Ferguson. "He made an unbelievable play. Since I've been here, Anthony and I have had a really good connection, going all the way back to spring. We've built on that. It's going to get even better."
The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl next Saturday night to host Bowling Green. The Falcons (1-2) lost to Middle Tennessee (at home) today, 41-21