Along with being mad at themselves while trying not to worry too much, the University of Memphis Tigers now are facing the sobering reality of needing to “look in the mirror and say how we can improve.”
That is the state of play after the Tigers (3-1) squandered a 21-0 first-quarter lead and made enough mistakes to seemingly hand the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) Roadrunners a 31-28 victory at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
“Today was not our best day. It was not our best effort, execution in any phase,” said Tigers head coach Ryan Silverfield.
“We are really disappointed. … . I told our guys in the locker room they should be mad, they should be pissed and sad. The only thing we can do is look in the mirror and say how we can improve.”
After an emotional win the week before over the SEC’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, many wondered if Memphis would suffer a letdown against the Roadrunners. Each team entered the game undefeated with a win over a power five school.
Three plays stick out: A fumble by Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan, a fumble by running back Brandon Thomas as the Tigers were driving for a score and a penalty-forfeited completion from Henigan to Gabe Rodgers that would have put the football at the two-yard line.
“Some untimely turnovers absolutely killed us,” said Silverfield. “The two turnovers in the second quarter, you can’t put your defense in that position. … We can’t continue to play behind the sticks.”
Tight end Sean Dykes had a career-high 167 receiving yards on six catches to lead Memphis.
“I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit,” said Dykes. “We thought we had the game won. That wasn’t the case. I take responsibility. I saw the offense get lax. We have got to do a better job of staying on the gas.”
For Dykes, a fifth-year senior, encouraging his younger teammates after such a loss comes with the territory.
“You have got to keep supporting and bringing them along. Everybody makes mistakes,” said Dykes. “You can’t blame that game on one or two people. It was a team effort.”
Memphis linebacker JJ Russell had a career-high 18 tackles, including 11 solo, to lead the Tigers. His 18 stops tied for the tenth most in program history.
“As you can expect, a lot of guys are really upset about the loss. Every player needs to ask themselves, ‘Did I put in the necessary work this week?’ Losses are terrible, but there is a lot you can take away from a loss,” said Russell.
Among the takeaways, according to Russell, is “You have to prepare better. We have to hone in on the grind aspect of this. UTSA is a good team. We can’t just expect to win. We have to win during the week. …
“We were coming in on a 3-0 high and everybody is up and happy to be winning. Then bam, you lose. You get smacked in the face.”
UTSA “had more energy than us coming into that second half,” Russell said. “I have got to do a better job. I take responsibility for not getting my defense riled up. I saw the energy lagging and I have to do a better job.”
Henigan, the Tigers’ true freshman quarterback, completed 15-of-25 passes for 329 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown to wide receiver Calvin Austin III, who recorded six receptions for 142 yards.
After the disappointing outcome, Henigan was asked what post-game message he got from some of the veterans on the team.
Said Henigan: “(That) it is going to happen again in my career and to keep my head up. Look toward the future and keep on going. Don’t worry too much about what happened today.”
* Memphis linebacker Xavier “Zay” Cullens posted personal-best numbers with 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
* Defensive back Rodney Owens made a career-high 13 stops and was in on one tackle for a loss.
* The Memphis defense recorded a touchdown for the second consecutive week, this time scoring when a snap went over the head of UTSA quarterback Frank Harris.
* With the Tigers up 28 to 14, the Roadrunners went on a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
* The loss ended the Tigers 17-game home winning streak and 22 consecutive wins at home to non-conference opponents.
* The Tigers will head into conference play on Saturday (October 2), traveling to Philadelphia to play Temple (2-2) at 11 a.m. CT. The game can be seen on ESPNU.