After feisty first half, Memphis Tigers control Southern Jaguars in 55-24 win

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In football, you have to play the opponent on the field, not the name of the school you are playing. Which is to say, don’t get cocky playing an opponent you’re “supposed” to beat.

The Memphis Tigers hosted the Southern University Jaguars at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, the first-ever meeting between the two schools and the first time Memphis has ever played an HBCU. The Tigers handily defeated Southern 55-24 in front of an announced crowd of 34,487 – but not before Southern hit first.

The Jaguars got the Tigers’ attention on their very first drive going 75 yards in five plays to take an early 7-0 lead. Southern scored on a seven-yard run by Jamar Washington.

The Tigers responded with a field goal and a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown (17-7) and quickly changed the course of the game. Southern would answer with a 75-yard drive that ended with a TD pass from LaDarius Skelton to Jeremias Houston to make it a 17-14 game.

But in his first start, Kenny Gainwell rumbled 46 yards for a Tiger touchdown (24-14). Each team would add a field (27-17) before the half to keep the margin at ten points.

In the second half, the Tiger defense took over. Southern’s starting QB didn’t start the second half because of cramps, and just like their quarterback, the Jags couldn’t get anything going. The Tiger defense allowed just 15 total yards in the second half after giving up 243 yards in the first half. This is the second consecutive game that the Tigers defense has allowed less than 50 yards in a half.

“I thought we had a great game plan. I thought we were very prepared. The big separation usually comes in the weight room and the training table,” said Southern head coach Dawson Odums. “You usually see it in the second half. It got away from us. We were not able to get anything going in the second half.”

The Tigers scored on a six-yard run by former Whitehaven RB Kylan Watkins, his first career Tiger touchdown.

Southern scored once more when DB Jordan Lewis forced a Brady White fumble and ran it back 77 yards for a touchdown. But that was the only thing the Jaguars could cheer about in the second half.

“I’m pleased with our guys coming out and getting it done,” said Tigers head coach Mike Norvell. “I’d like to see a little bit better job with energy, we had a couple guys that were out, forces some guys into some new roles and that had to play more. It was their first experience, and that’ll have to be something they build off of when it comes down to the mindset and the approach of how we take the field.”

Next up for the Tigers (2-0) will be their first road game of the year, a trip to Mobile Ala. to play the University of Southern Alabama Jaguars. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CT on Sept. 14 and can be seen on ESPNU. The Tigers defeated the Jaguars last season 52-35 at Liberty Bow Memorial Stadium.