The Memphis Tigers returned to the Liberty Bowl Stadium for their only home game in October, still hurting from a controversial loss to the Temple Owls, 30-28. And they took it out on the Tulane Green Wave with a dominant 47-17 win before 30,000 fans.
Tulane demolished the Tigers last season in New Orleans 40-24. But not this year. Memphis played a very physical game against Tulane and the Green Wave did not respond well to the physicality.
Tulane’s game plan to stop breakout star RB Kenny Gainwell on the ground and make QB Brady White beat them with his arm. It worked early in the game. The Tigers had just 11 net rushing yards in the first quarter. White completed 8 out of 11 passes for 85 yards and threw two touchdowns (Gainwell and Calvin Austin III) in the first quarter. The Tigers ended the quarter with 13-3 advantage.
“We talked all week about our response. Last week did not go the way we wanted,” said Tigers head coach Mike Norvell. “We were in total control of how we prepared this week. I think our guys prepared at an extremely high level.”
It was the Tiger defense that locked down Tulane’s touted ground attack, giving up just 146 net rushing yards. The Green Wave came into the game averring nearly 200 yards rushing per game, but Memphis kept Tulane from getting any type of rhythm going.
Meanwhile, the Tigers scored touchdowns on every offensive possession of the first half, racing out to a 34-10 halftime lead.
Memphis won the turnover battle for the game, forcing three takeaways with no turnovers of their own. Austin Hall had an incredible one-handed interception. Thomas Pickens and Quindell Johnson had the other two interceptions.
Though Tulane contained Gainwell in the first quarter, he’d finish the day as a record setter: Gainwell’s 104 rushing yards and 203 receiving yards made him the first player to have such a game since 1997. He caught 9 passes, including two for touchdowns.
“I try to come to work every day and put my best out there,” Gainwell said of his performance. “Everything I do, I do it right. I am just blessed.”
Gainwell said he stays in contact with former Tiger (and current Dallas Cowboy) Tony Pollard. The two swap training tips and how to handle certain situations.
At quarterback, White had his second straight game with more than 300 passing yards. White completed 21 of 29 attempts for 358 yards, just five yards shy of his career high. Most importantly White did not have a turnover. White had been the center of lost fumbles over the last two games. White also threw touchdown passes to Austin (11 yards and 46 yards) and Joey Magnifico (3 yards).
“Like coach said, this is one of our most complete games played this season,” White said. “I was happy with my performance and I don’t care for individual performances. I was on the ball and just did my job and give guys opportunities to make plays.”
The Tigers have been so successful over the last several years that Mike Norvell did not congratulate his team for becoming bowl eligible. This is the sixth consecutive season the Tigers will be going bowling.
The Tigers might need to play angry for the rest of the season. If they can win their remaining five games, it likely means hosting the AAC championship game.
The Memphis vs Tulane game was billed the “Memphis vs. Errbody,” in light of the Temple loss. The Tigers wore their non-traditional 901 labeled helmets. The game fell just right in place after the loss most fans felts should have been a win.
“I grew up around here. When you come to Memphis you might not start off like that, but the culture changes you,” Magnifico said of the city pride. “By the time your time comes to an end, you will become a Memphian.
“I grew up being a Memphis fan my whole life,” he added. “It is incredible to see our program bounce back.”
Next up for the Tigers: Another road game in Tulsa on Saturday, October 26 at 6 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.