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Weather or not, Tigers outplayed by Mississippi State

Terry Davis

Don’t bother with the excuses or any tricky wordplay. The University of Memphis’ 49-23 drubbing by Mississippi State’s Bulldogs amounted to “a total lack of execution on offense, defense and special teams.”

That’s straight from head coach Ryan Silverfield.

“Not our best efforts,” said Silverfield on Memphis’ dud season opener in Starkville, Miss. “There are no excuses or explanations. We had some bright spots, but offensively we couldn’t really get anything going, especially in the first half.  We’ve got to do a better job putting our guys in positions to make plays.”

Throwing himself under the first-loss bus, Silverfield said, “It starts with me. Defensively, we gotta find a way to make stops. We gotta secure tackles better.”

The Tigers, who only made one first down in the first half (and that thanks to a penalty), need to get seriously better in a week. Memphis (0-1) will stay on the road, traveling to Annapolis, Maryland to face Navy on Saturday (Sept. 10) at 2:30 p.m. CDT. The CBS Sports Network will televise the Tigers’ effort.

The loss to the SEC’s Bulldogs continued a troubling pattern of losing on the road for Memphis, prompting Silverfield to say he has to do something differently.

“Our meetings this week were fantastic. Our guys were dialed in. They believed in the game plan. I don’t know what it is. I wish I knew. We are missing something,” he said. “Missed passes, lack of execution and missed tackles are all part of that recipe that led to not a great game.”

Memphis mustered only 29 total yards in the first half as the Bulldogs scored a touchdown on four of their five possessions. The only Mississippi State drive that did not result in a first-half score was stopped on an interception by Quindell Johnson and led to the Tiger’s only points (3) before halftime.

A 2-hour, 16-minute weather delay added to the misery.

“It was calm,” said Johnson, describing the Tigers’ mood during the forced break in the action. “This is probably the first time this has happened to most players on this team. It was calm; you could be too anxious. We just had to be ready when we had to go back out.”

Will Rodgers led the Bulldogs, completing 38 of 49 passes for 450 yards and 5 touchdowns. He completed passes to 11 different receivers, showing a fondness for passes to running backs on flare routes out of the backfield. Rara Thomas caught 5 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Rufus Thomas, Caleb Ducking, Jaden Walley and Justin Robinson all scored touchdowns on passes from Rodgers. Jo’quavious Marks scored two touchdowns on the ground and finished with 36 rushing yards. The Bulldogs had 547 total yards, with Dillon Johnson leading the rushing attack with 67 yards on 14 carries.

Down 28-3 at the half, Silverfield, who expressed confidence in the Tigers’ talent, said he told them to “take a deep breath. …

“I never doubt the fight in our guys. One game will not define us. I am very disappointed, but I know what is ahead. We have to find a way to execute better.”

While the defense played better in the second half, Silverfield said, “I am not into moral victories. What was important was seeing it in the guys’ eyes. These young men continue to fight and believe and realize that we are on the right track.”

Said Johnson: “It (the second half) felt better. We started late. I wished we had started earlier. We (weren’t) worrying about the score. We just kept competing.”

Memphis scored three touchdowns after the break. Quarterback Seth Henigan threw for one, finishing with 165 passing yards. He also rushed for a touchdown. Transfer running back Jevyon Ducker romped 50 yards for a score and finished with 63 rushing yards to lead the Tigers.

Noting that the rain delay “messed with our mojo,’ Henigan was forthright: “No excuses; champions will play.”

And he wasn’t buying the road-troubles narrative. “Last year is last year and this is a new team.”

So, Henigan and the “new team” next will play Navy (0-1) at Jack Stephens Field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“New scenery and it is still a football field,” said Henigan. “A different crowd will be at every different road game. At the end of the day, it is still 120 yards (with) eleven players on either side. We just have to execute as an offense. We have to have tunnel vision and block out all noise. Just do your own job.”

With the hostile environment a given, Johnson said, “We go out with the mindset to stick together. I don’t know why we come out with the slow start. It happens.  We are going to try to change that.”

A victory also would mean an important American Athletic Conference win for the Tigers.

“This is a big game for us,” said Johnson. “We want to go up there and get a road win and worry about the team we need to be. Losing hurts!”

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