On a cold but good day to play footbal,l the Memphis Tigers hosted the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes.
The Tigers were one win away from being bowl-eligible. And they were not going to let Tulsa get in their way, defeating Tulsa 47-21 in front of 27,905 diehard fans at the Liberty Bowl.
The Tigers used a balanced attack – 183 rushing yards and 148 passing yards – against the Golden Hurricanes. It was Tigers star RB Darrell Henderson on the ground and QB Brady White by air. Henderson entered the day as the nation’s second-leading rusher, only 80 yards behind the leader. Against Tulsa, Henderson rushed for 110 yards in the first half.
White passed for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. White could have had a few additional yards, but a couple of catchable passes were dropped. Damonte Coxie was White’s favorite target. Coxie had five catches for 82 yards in the half.
The defense has received a fair amount of criticism this season, but put in one of their best halves of football against Tulsa. The defense had seven tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks. Johnathan Wilson had two of the sacks and was a major factor in the half.
“You had 11 guys on defense that played as one,” said Tigers Head Football Coach Mike Norvell. “They came in with the mentality of stopping the run. I was proud of the physicality and effort of the relentless pursuit. I like the game plan that coach Ball came up with.”
Jackson Dillon had his first sack of the season and he was glad he got it. He felt he should have had more.
“We put in a new package and it allowed us to rush better off the edges,” Dillon said, on getting more pressure on the run. “In our lighting package things just opened up for us. It felt good to finally get a sack.”
In the second half, the Tigers did not let up any on offense. They kept the Golden Hurricanes off-balance in all phases of the game and Tulsa never threatened.
White finished the game with 14 completions 184 yards and two touchdowns. White did not have an interception and has had only three on the year. Henderson finished the game with 166 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Henderson gives all the credit to his teammates on his success this season. He said has not concerned himself about being near the top of the nation in rushing yards. He is only the second person in the history of the Tigers’ program to rush for over 3,000 career yards.
“The coaches put me in a position to get those games,” Henderson said, of his consistency. “The offensive line is busting their tails each and every play to get me the holes I need and the receivers are blocking downfield.”
Henderson trails only DeAngelo Williams in Tigers rushing. Williams has more than 6,000 career rushing yards. Henderson has 40 career touchdowns. He is now tied with Anthony Miller with the most touchdowns in Tigers’ history.
The Tigers finished the game with 499 total yards. The Tulsa defense had allowed only two opponents to score more than 30 points this season. The 47 points given up by Tulsa was the most this season.
John “Pop” Williams had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. That was the first punt return for Williams in his career and the first for the Tigers since 2015 when Roderick Procter returned one for a touchdown.
The team received a 15-yard penalty after the Williams touchdown. All of the team went to meet Williams after he scored the touchdown including Mike Norvell.
When asked why the team was so happy for Williams when he scored that touchdown Henderson said, “He works so hard each and every day at practice to get those returns. For him to finally get one was huge.”
The Tigers will have a short week to prepare for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
If the Tigers are selected for the Birmingham Bowl, they will most likely lay a team from the Southeastern Conference. This is the fifth consecutive year that the Tigers will have made a ppostseasonbowl appearance.
“We want that to be the minimum standard, when you come to become a part of this team,” Norvell said. “I like were we are right now.”