Want to see a receiver put a team on his back en route to a history-making performance in a game most professional and casual observers doubted the team could win?
Roll the tape of the University of Memphis’ 31-29 win over the Mississippi State University’s Bulldogs of the powerhouse SEC and watch Calvin Austin III.
Big games have big meanings and there was a who’s-who list in attendance at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium for the Saturday night game.
Memphis did not disappoint, gutting out a come-from-behind win. The defense got things started with a scoop and score of 49 yards by Sanchez Blake. The Memphis offense did not run a play until six minutes into the first quarter.
Unable to get any traction in the first half (89 total yards), the offense came to life in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points.
Austin scored two touchdowns (21 and 25 yards). And, with 5:36 left in the game, he picked up a punt that was touched by the Bulldogs and ran 94 yards for a touchdown. He had 9 receptions for 105 yards and accounted for 212 all-purpose yards.
The punt return was the longest for a Memphis touchdown since 1975.
The Bulldogs scored a quick touchdown with 3:03 left in the game (28-23). Memphis recovered the ensuing onside kick at the 38-yard line.
Joe Doyle kicked a 51-yard field goal for the Tigers, making the score 31-23. Then, with 2:02 left in the game, the Bulldogs went on a two-play 65-yard touchdown drive, pushing the score to 31-29 with 1:32 left. The defense next stepped up to again stop a two-point conversion.
Fifth-year linebacker JJ Russell recorded a game-high and personal-best 14 tackles (10 solo), with one tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Memphis held the Bulldogs to 49 rushing yards, the first time the Tigers defense has held an opponent under 50 rushing yards in three seasons.
Memphis’ win was the first in the all-time series since a 45-35 win in Starkville in 1993 and first in Memphis since 1988.
Memphis will stay home to play the University of San Antonio Texas at 2:30 CT on Saturday, with the game on ESPNU.
Memphis Coach Ryan Silverfield:
“Our team has grit and fight. I talked to them all week about playing for 60 minutes. That is what it came down to. I knew the energy and effort would be there. So many of our guys stepped up in different ways. It was awesome to have a full stadium again.”
On the Austin punt return: “Coach (Charles) Bankins goes over every type of scenario. Credit to Calvin. I can’t say I was saying pick up the ball. Calvin is as intelligent and determined a young man as they come. He understood and saw what happened. When you have smart young men that are really fast, that is a great combination.”
On his team’s composure: “There is no panic in our locker room. After the opening drive to start the second half, it was not beautiful, but an 18-year-old quarterback that throws an interception and goes to make the tackle. Afterwards he says, ‘I got this.’ Not a single player was hanging their head.”
Calvin Austin III:
On the punt return: “I was very aware. Me and my dad always talked about that play. I have always watched football and knew that rule. Coach Bankins emphasizes it a lot. As soon as I saw the player try to catch it and drop it, I was looking to see if someone was going to hand it to the official. We are taught the play ends when the ball is in the official’s hand.”
On the win: “Going into this game, we were seen as an underdog. They were saying beating Mississippi State would be a big win. While it is a big win, we don’t look at it like that. They are just another team on our schedule.”
On what he said to quarterback Seth Henigan after the interception: “I did not have to say too much because Seth is a fighter. As long as you have someone who is willing to fight and has heart, they are always going to be in it. I told him anytime you get into any trouble, ‘I got you.’”