MONROE, La. – The Memphis Tigers faced the most explosive offense test so far this year when they traveled to play the University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks. The Tigers had to hold off a hard charge by the Warhawks, and with some offensive fireworks of their own, stayed undefeated with a 52-33 win.
“I am really proud of our guys coming on the road,” said head coach Mike Norvell. “We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fight. This is one of the most experienced teams we have faced this season. Our guys did a good job throughout the game. We finished in the fourth quarter. We let it get a lot closer than I would like for it to be.”
The Tigers’ defense surrendered the most offensive yards this season, allowing a whopping 575 total yards. Memphis came into the game with the No. 1-ranked passing defense in the country, allowing only 103 yards per game. But against the Warhawks, they gave up 319 passing yards – more than three times their average.
It didn’t get better on the running defense either. Up until now, the Tiger defense had only allowed one rusher to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. UL-Monroe had two rushers to go over the 100-yard mark – John Johnson (119) and Caleb Evans (112). Evans also passed for 286 yards completing 23 passes on 44 attempts.
The defense got some redemption late in the fourth quarter. After Tiger QB Brady White threw an interception, the Tigers held the Warhawks scoreless on a very short field. Le’Andre Thomas sealed the win when he picked off a pass from Evans and went 33 yards for a touchdown with 6:07 in the game.
Offensively, Memphis relied on a record-breaking game by redshirt freshman Kenny Gainwell and a very solid passing game from White. Gainwell’s 209-yard game broke the freshmen record for most rushing yards in a game, a record previously held by former Tigers’ head coach Larry Porter (202).
However, Gainwell was limited in practice and Kylan Watkins got the start at running back. The Tigers anticipated being able to run the ball, with the Warhawks allowing nearly 200 rushing yards per game. Watkins rushed for 48 yards and scored on a 14-yard touchdown.
Gainwell only carried the football 14 times, but still scored two rushing touchdowns. He also had three pass receptions for 42 yards. A third Gainwell TD was called back because of a penalty away from the ball.
“The number of reps Kenny had this week were as many as my fingers and toes. He maximized them,” Norvell said. “He did a good job throughout the week studying and preparing. We got a chance to run him around yesterday. He looked like he was doing well. He wanted to play. He came out and made some explosive plays.”
White connected with three different receivers for touchdowns. He found his leading receiver Damonte Coxie for a five yard touchdown in the first quarter. He also found Kameron Wilson and Antonio Gibson.
“A good team responds to adversity. It wasn’t perfect,” White said. “It was a W on the board. We were able to capitalize in certain situations; in other situations, we did not perform our best. We have to go back and watch the film and clean those things up.”
The Tigers have struggled to put four good quarters of football together this season, but every game they have found a way to win. The Memphis Tigers now sit in the No. 20 position in the Amway/USA Today Top 25. They’ve also entered the Associated Press poll at No. 23.
The Tigers stay on the road, and traveling to play AAC rival Temple (4-1,1-0 American East). Kickoff is at 11 a.m. CT on Saturday, Oct. 12 and can be seen nationally on ESPN2.