NEW ORLEANS – An impromptu halftime talk by the University of Memphis’ best defensive player stirred the Tigers to a determined second-half performance that fell short of erasing a 35-0 deficit that largely was self-inflicted.
Quindell Johnson, Memphis’ senior cornerback, is from New Orleans. With the Tigers in the visitors’ locker room reeling against the Tulane Green Wave in Yulman Stadium, Johnson addressed the misery.
“Quindell got us up and he spoke to us motivationally,” said Seth Henigan, the Tigers’ starting quarterback. “I took it personal with him being a senior. I play for guys like that. He told us we were capable.”
The Tigers (4-4, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) “won” the second half 28 to 3 against Tulane (7-1, 4-0), which was ranked No. 25 entering the game. They scored 21 unanswered points after the break but could get no closer than the final 10-point deficit. Trailing 38-28 after scoring a touchdown with 4:23 remaining, Memphis’ try for possession via an onside kick failed when Tulane batted the football out of bounds.
Lamenting the first half, Henigan said, “We just couldn’t get anything going. We have the players. We are confident in ourselves, but we weren’t putting it into action. We played hard in the second half.”
Johnson led the Memphis defense with 11 solo tackles (more than twice the next total), adding two assists. It was a return to play for Johnson, who missed last week’s game against East Carolina with an undisclosed injury.
“It felt great to be back with the guys. We did not get the result we wanted,” said the All-AAC Johnson.
“We have the pieces. We start fast and finish slow. Today we started slow and finished fast. If we could put that together – offense, defense, and special teams – it is crazy how good we could be. We have the talent, and we have the players. I think for this bye week our biggest challenge is to put it all together and fight it out.”
Memphis will look to get things together by the time they host the University of Central Florida Knights in the Tigers’ homecoming game on November 5.
“We have to find the things that we struggled with,” said Johnson. “We have to figure out a way to fix it. We have to continue to fight. If we execute and do our jobs, that would be the biggest thing for us. We have to minimize our mistakes.”
For the Tigers, it was the consecutive conference loss. Tulane opened the game with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. The Tigers then started hurting themselves with self-inflicted mistakes. First, they allowed a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown. Next, Eddie Lewis fumbled a point on the 10-yard line. And as the end of the half neared, the Green Wave drove 53 yards for a score following an interception by Henigan.
The Tigers’ second-half spurt featured a Henigan touchdown to Koby Drake, his first touchdown of the season. Henigan then connected with Lewis for a score. After the Memphis defense stopped Tulane on the Green Wave 34-yard line on fourth and one, the Tigers capitalized on Brandon Thomas’ two-yard touchdown.
Henigan had 312 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 42 yards. Lewis was the leading receiver, with 94 yards, three receptions, and two touchdowns
The last time the Tigers were down by 35 points at the half was on October 9, 2010 at Louisville. Memphis lost that game 58-0.
“We have yet to put together four quarters of football in any game,” Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield. “We have got to find a way to improve and get better.’
Silverfield noted that the Tigers bounced back from other losses this season and showed resolve in the second half against the Green Wave.
“In the first half, we didn’t do what we had to do. They showed what they can do in the second half. They showed they care and believe. We have to … find a way to execute better. Every guy in that locker room knows what it takes. We will find a way to improve as a program….
“There is no magical formula. (We) will continue to prepare and we will continue to plan the right way. We are going to need everyone on board. There is no quit in this team.”