Tigers Beat Bruins in Barn Burner

MILLER SHINES BRIGHT

“I worked for everything I got, and I’m not going to let you just stop me from shining.” This is Memphis Tigers wide receiver, Anthony Miller‘s response to a question regarding his Tweet earlier in the week which read, “Walk-Ons vs the 5-stars,” and of all the former 4 and 5 star recruits playing in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, it was the former walk-on, Anthony Miller who shined the brightest. Miller finished with 9 receptions: one of them diving, some of them twisting his body to catch a pass just a bit behind him, including one where he had to make several defenders miss for a huge first down, and one where he catches it just shy of the end zone and fights his way in, going through 2 UCLA defenders for the score. Miller finished with 185 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, and drew praise from Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, former Ole Miss star and current Indianapolis Colt Donte Moncreif, and college football writers and fans nationwide, as he helped lead his hometown Memphis Tigers to 48-45 victory of #25 UCLA.

*Photo at the top belongs to Joe Murphy: @joemurphyphoto

*Tweet below from Tom Schad of the Commercial Appeal (Who is great, BTW)

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GOOD, BUT NOT GREAT

Heisman hopeful Josh Rosen led the unbeaten UCLA Bruins into Memphis and put on an absolute show in a game that will go down in Tiger Football history as one of the all-time greats. One of the top rated prospects in this year’s crop of quarterbacks expected to enter the NFL draft after the season, Rosen continuously put the ball in positions where only his receivers could catch it, on his way to 463 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.

However, Rosen was far from perfect. After the teams traded touchdowns to open the 2nd half, the Bruins again appeared to be marching towards the end zone, when Rosen was forced out of the pocket and tried to throw the ball back across the field and was intercepted by redshirt freshman linebacker Tim Hart who returned it 60 yards for a Tiger Touchdown to put the Tigers up 41-31 midway through the 3rd quarter. The next costly mistake, came with just over 6 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, with UCLA at the Memphis 19, Rosen saw linebacker Austin Hall coming straight at him with no blocker in position to stop him and lobbed a pass that was taken by freshman defensive back TJ Carter and returned 42 yards to the UCLA, setting the Tigers up to drain time off the clock. These 2 plays are exactly what the Tiger defense knew they would need to pull out a win.

HOW IT UNFOLDED

The game began with the Memphis defense keeping Rosen‘s offense from scoring a touchdown, something they had done on their previous 12 possessions, 7 from the Hawaii game last week before they gave way to the second string, and the final 5 drives from the 34-point comeback win over Texas A&M in Week 1.

Memphis, who started their first drive, along with 3 others inside their own 10, responded with an 80 yard run from Darrell Henderson on the first play from scrimmage that setup a play-action pass from quarterback Riley Ferguson to one of many local products who had an impact on this game for the Tigers, tight end Joey Magnifico. Magnifico went on to have a huge day for the Tigers, seemingly catching a first down pass every time Mike Norvell‘s offense needed him and finishing with 6 receptions for 83 yards and the TD.

The teams traded possessions before a Memphis kick-catch interference penalty allowed UCLA to start their drive at midfield, which lasted 5 plays and ended in a touchdown run by Jalen Starks for the last score of the first quarter.

A Riley Ferguson interception, that looked to be a byproduct of miscommunication as the ball bounced off an unsuspecting Tony Pollard into the hands of defensive back Adarius Pickett. But then Tigers defensive lineman Emmanuel Cooper forced and recovered a fumble on the very next play, before a Memphis punt led to a UCLA 33-yard field goal.

UCLA forced Memphis into another punt, before scoring in just 2 plays on a 50 yard pass from Rosen to tight end Jordan Wilson. Memphis then had a 5-play, 75 yard drive capped off in just under 2 minutes by a 47 yard touchdown reception on a screen play for sophomore running back Patrick Taylor who contributed another 45 yards on the ground.

3 punts ensued, before the Tigers, starting at their own 5 yard line, went 95 yards culminated by a 42 yard screen pass that was taken in for a touchdown by sophomore running back Tony Pollard, another Memphis product. UCLA responded with an 80 yard drive that saw Josh Rosen keep the ball on an option play and walk into the end zone with 1:22 left in the first half. But that was plenty of time for the Memphis offense, namely the duo of Ferguson and Miller. After a sack and a timeout by UCLA coach Jim Mora, Ferguson hit a diving Miller in the middle of the field for a 41 yard gain, and then found him again on the very next play for a 33 yard touchdown just before the half to make it 27-24 in favor of the Tigers.

Memphis opened the second half with a 10-play, 75 yard drive that was aided by 2 UCLA 15-yard penalties and ended with Ferguson finding Miller just in front of the goal line and Miller stretching the ball out just enough to break the plane for a touchdown. Rosen responded 2 plays later with a 65 yard touchdown pass to 5th year senior Darren Andrews, who finished with 175 receiving yards.

After a Memphis punt, defensive lineman Jonathan Wilson, who sat out the first half due to a targeting penalty, sacked Rosen to make it 3rd and 19. This is when Rosen tried to do too much, throwing across is body right into the hands of Tim Hart, yet another Memphis kid, who took it to the house to put the Tigers back up 10, 41-31.

Rosen and company responded with a drive that took just 1:23, before Rosen dropped an over the shoulder pass into Jordan Lasley‘s bread basket, bringing the score to 41-38. A Memphis fumble on a read-option mishap, gave UCLA the ball back in good field position, but the teams only traded punts with Memphis punter Nick Jacobs placing the football on the 1-yard line.

Rosen responded to being pinned deep in his own territory with a touchdown pass to tight end Austin Roberts, that capped off a 99 yard drive that took just 6 plays.

Memphis was aided by a targeting penalty and a personal foul, going 81 yards in 4 plays from scrimmage with the final play seeing Ferguson locate senior Phil Mayhue in the end zone, who extended his streak of games with at least 1 reception to 30.

UCLA drove quickly down the field and on 3rd and 10 from the Memphis 19, Austin Hall came unblocked on a blitz, forcing Rosen to rush a pass that seemed intended for Memphis defensive back, true freshman TJ Carter from Stratford High School out of Nashville. Memphis then converted on 4th and 2 on a pass to Miller, which saw him break free from 2 would-be tacklers and willing his way to a first down. On 4th and 5 from the 16 yard-line, Memphis lined up for a 33 yard field goal for freshman kicker Riley Patterson, who had missed an extra point earlier in the game. Instead, the holder flipped the ball back to Patterson who then tossed it into the end zone, but was picked off by Octavious Spencer.

Starting at his own 25, Rosen picked up consecutive first downs before an offensive pass interference penalty that saved a game sealing interception, put the Bruins in a 1st and 25 situation. After 2 incomplete passes, Rosen found Starks for a gain of 20 yards, bringing it to 4th and 5. Redshirt freshman Jacobi Francis, who was forced into extended playing time due to an injury to fellow defensive back Christian Slaughter, broke up a pass intended for Rosen’s favorite target, Darren Andrews. The victory formation ensued for the Tigers, as the picked up their 3rd win in as many years over a ranked team at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

The Tigers now must turn their focus to Southern Illinois, who will be in town next weekend, prior to heading back down to Orlando to play the rescheduled American Athletic Conference opener for both teams. But for now, they should celebrate winning one of the most exciting games in the history of Memphis football.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

  • Riley Ferguson finished 23-38 with 398 yards and a career high-tying 6 touchdowns. A truly impressive performance in what was essentially the Tigers first “real” game of the season, AKA not in a monsoon.
  • Emmanuel Cooper and defensive back Tito Windham seemed to be all over the field for the Tiger defense in the first half.
  • The timeout by Mora near the end of the first half, following a sack of Riley Ferguson, was disrespectful to a high-octane offense such as Memphis. I think this is why we saw Ferguson target Miller on the next two plays, going for 74 yards and a touchdown to close out the half instead of just running out the clock.
  • UCLA’s punter, Stefan Flintoft, was phenomenal, with the Tigers starting 4 drives inside their 20 and 3 inside the 10.
  • The Tigers punters struggled early on, and an extra point attempt was missed, but they seemed to improve as the game went on.
  • Memphis opened the game with several run plays and fans were grumbling about the passing yards, which seemed to be stuck on 4 yards the majority of the 1st half. A lot of these runs set up the scores on the screen plays that went big- the formation and pre-snap motion were the same as earlier run plays, but on the screens Ferguson faked the handoff before throwing the ball.
  • Jonathon Cook and Austin Hall led the defense with 9 tackles and a Tackle For Loss each.
  • TJ Carter had 7 tackles to go along with the big interception, and also had a pass breakup in the end zone just 2 plays before the pick.
  • Genard Avery, Curtis Akins, and Shaun Rupert all had 7 tackles.
  • Darrell Henderson finished with 105 yards on 14 carries, but most of those came on the 80 yard dash on the first play.
  • I mentioned in the game preview that I thought TJ Carter or Austin Hall would make a big play to swing the momentum of the game, turns out Hall provided the pressure and Carter was the benefactor who got the Interception. Lucky ass guess by me.

 

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