Lightening delayed the game for 57 minutes and an early 10-0 deficit made some a little edgy but the University of Memphis Tigers were not to be derailed in pursuit of the Western Division Title of the American Athletic Conference.
With 35,329 in attendance at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, the Tigers outscored the SMU Mustangs 66-45 to secure the division crown.
“I am so proud of our football team,” head coach Mike Norvell said. “Even … when you walked into the locker room during the delay, the mindset, the attitude … no distraction was going to affect this football team. We got a chance to hoist this trophy this week. It is a goal we started out with. We wanted to go undefeated in the Western Division. The journey is not done. We have just ensured ourselves another game.”
The Tigers will have their final home game of the season next week. They will host the East Carolina Pirates at 11 a.m. and the game can be seen on ESPNU. If the Tigers win and South Florida defeats Central Florida on Friday, the championship game will be played in Memphis. Otherwise, the game will be played December 2 in Orlando at 11 a.m. on ABC.
Star wide receiver Anthony Miller embraced the division-winning sensation. “It feels good. We have been working hard all season and it is paying off. People are seeing what the Memphis Tigers are all about. …
“I look up in the stands and see smiles on their faces. They are all piped up and turnt up. I can’t wait to play in a bowl again. … College football, you only get to play it one time. I’m just blessed to be in this position. We are going to bring it (the conference championship) home.”
Trailing 10-0 in the first quarter, the Tigers roared back with 24 unanswered points. Patrick Taylor, Miller and Darrell Henderson scored touchdowns and Riley Patterson added a field goal.
Henderson had a career night, rushing for two touchdowns – 70 yards and 52 yards. He finished with 147 yards on 10 carries.
In high school I ran a 4.27. Once I see a crack I know I am gone,” Henderson said. “The offensive line did a great job. They gave me big seams to run through.”
Taylor rushed for 112 yards on 18 carries and he also had two rushing touchdowns.
‘All of the credit goes to the guys up front,” Norvell said of the Tigers’ prowess on ground. “Our running backs did a great job. We challenged them last night in our final meeting. When you get to that second level you have got to make one player miss. If you can do that you will have the chance to have some big runs. It is a great day when you can run the football like that.”
The Tigers’ seven rushing touchdowns tied a school record, with Ferguson rushing for three scores. Ferguson’s 320 passing yards included two touchdowns. The Tigers’ balanced offensive attack garnered 333 yards on the ground and 331 through the air.
The Tigers scored a touchdown on five of their six drives in the second half and the scores were needed. The defense gave up the most points in a game since allowing the UCLA Bruins to score 45 in the second game.
The high points on defense featured Gernard Avery making 4 solo tackles and breaking up a pass. Josh Perry led the way for the defense with nine total tackles.
The Tigers’ seniors will be saluted during the pregame of next week’s final home game.
Miller on the Tigers’ national rankings: “We have never given it much thought. We just go out there, because we know we have to win every week. They are not going to have no choice but to recognize us and give us the respect we deserve.”
Norvell on the division title: “They (the players) will always be remembered. That trophy will always sit on our shelves. Their pictures will always be on our walls, but at the end of the day that was not our ultimate goal. We still have a lot in front of us. There is still so much to play for.”