Tigers overcome slow start to get dominant 45-27 win over the Houston Cougars

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HOUSTON, Texas — The Houston Cougars scheduled the Memphis Tigers as their homecoming opponent.  It’s the second consecutive road game that the Tigers have been a part of another team’s homecoming activities. The Tigers ruined Houston’s homecoming 45-27.

Terry Davis

With the win over Houston,  the Tigers move into a three-way tie with Navy and SMU with a 5-1 AAC record. The Tigers hold the tiebreaker over both teams because they have defeated both teams earlier this season. Ane with just two games left in the regular season, Memphis is in complete control of winning their third straight American Western Conference Divisional Championship.

Starting out, it didn’t look too good for the Tigers. The Tiger defense allowed the Cougars to move the football down the field for two touchdowns. The first was a 53-yard touchdown reception by Marquez Stevenson from Clayton Tune (7-0). The second was caused by some bad tackling and quarterback Tune broke off a 68-yard touchdown.

“The first two drives we gave up a couple of big plays.  We missed a few tackles.  We have to be able to get guys on the ground,” said Tigers head coach Mike Norvell. “Those are the things we have to continue to improve upon.  All in all our defense played a really well.  I just love this team and love Memphis.”

The defense woke up after allowing two 50-plus yard plays. The offense of the Tigers answered Houston’s opening touchdown drive with a 61-yard drive that was capped off with a 6-yard touchdown reception from Brady White to Cameron Wilson.

White’s only mistake of the day was an interception that went off the hands of Damonte Coxie and into the hands of Zamar Kirven on the 29, but the Tiger defense held the Cougars to a field goal on the drive.

The Tigers’ defense finally had a respectable game after giving up over 500 yards the last two games, allowing just 256 total yards. The defense created three sacks, including two by Thomas Pickens. One of Pickens’ forced fumbles led to a Tiger touchdown.

After taking the early emotional charge from the Cougars, Memphis took over the game.  The offensive line gave White as much time as he needed. White finished the game with 341 passing yards.  He also had five touchdown passes Coxie (23 and 28 yards), Calvin Austin III (16 yards), Antonio Gibson (6 yards) and Wilson (6 yards).  White also had a 14-yard rushing touchdown.

White has had five 300-yard passing games this season. He only had two coming into the season. White has come a long way this season after hearing some boos in early in the season.  White has been recognized by the Conference and various lists this season.

“I am really connecting with my teammates,” White said after the game. “We are just feeding off of each other. I am blessed to be here.”

Calvin Austin III had another solid performance for the Tigers.  Austin had 81 receiving yards and a touchdown.  Austin entered the season on a partial track scholarship with Memphis.  After the game, Mike Norvell announced to the team that going forward Austin would be a full football scholarship.  The locker room erupted with the news.

Memphis has a great history of walk-ons making an impact on the team.  Chicago Bear wide receiver Anthony Miller was a former walk-on as was Austin Hall and Joey Magnifico.

“Honestly it was a surreal moment,” Austin said after getting the news on getting the scholarship “That is my family. To see how the guys reacted to the news.”

Austin did not cry when he heard the news, but he said he probably will when he calls his parents.

“I am so proud of him.  We have really seen him mature as a football player,” Norvell said. “That is a compliment to him. He has had to go up and make some really big plays. I am excited for him.”

The game was also a “homecoming” of sorts for Patrick Taylor Jr. Taylor started the season as the lead running back but was injured in the Ole Miss game. Against Houston, Taylor rushed for 15 yards on five attempts.

“He did some really good things for us,” Norvell said of Taylor. “On the touchdown play, he had one of the best blitz pickups ever. That allow Brady to make the touchdown pass.”

Next: The Tigers (9-1) play a reeling South Florida Bulls team on Saturday. USF Cincinnati all it wanted this week, and Cincinnati needed a game-winning field goal to get the 17-14 win over USF and stay a game ahead of Temple in the Eastern Division. Time and broadcast for MEM vs USF will be released later.