Memphis Mauls Mercer 66-14 To Open Season

It really couldn’t have gone any better. The weather was beautiful (ok, maybe it was a little warm), but it sure beats last year when Memphis got to play in the remnants of a hurricane to opener up their season.

So Tiger Lane and all of the surrounding tailgating lots were packed with Memphians anxious to see their team take the field for the 2018 season. The Tigers made their traditional Tiger Walk to a grand crowd as they made their way to the newly renovated locker rooms inside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

33,697 fans followed the team inside the gates of the stadium, then it was game time. And Mike Norvell and the 2018 Tigers did not disappoint. The Tigers went 93 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown on their first drive of the season. Brady White was an efficient 6-6 on the drive and returning touchdown leader Patrick Taylor punched it in from 5 yards out for the first score of the season.

After a Jackson Dillon hurry of the QB forced a Mercer punt, White found Damonte Coxie who made his way to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown. At this point, White was 9/9 for 104 yards with 8:32 left in the first quarter.

Then returning AAC Rookie of the Year and Freshmen All-American, TJ Carter, got his All-American campaign started early with the first pick-6 of his career, racing 34 yards to pay dirt after the interception. The 6th interception of Carter’s career was due in large part to linebacker Bryce Huff putting pressure on the Mercer QB.

Speaking of the Tigers defense, there weren’t a lot of stats to go around as they were barely on the field in the 1st half, forcing seven 3-and-outs on eight Mercer offensive possessions in the 1st half. Jackson Dillon and Curtis Akins both had 3 tackles. Austin Hall seemed to know what Mercer was running better than the Bears did. JJ Russell had 4 tackles and a sack. Huff is another guy who seemed to be all over the place, and overall the defense was flying all over the field and hitting hard and quick.

Coxie dropped a wide open would-be touchdown pass, but responded with a nice catch over the middle, before Darrell Henderson took it to house from 22 yards out to close out the 1st quarter. Patrick Taylor took a screen play 75 yards for a touchdown, the longest of his career. Henderson then hauled in a play-action pass over the top from White for a 62 yard TD to put the Tigers up 42-0.

Tight end Sean Dykes hauled in a 5-yard touchdown pass to cap off the Tigers’ longest scoring drive of the game, using 15 plays to go 70 yards in 6:10 of game clock. Just 3 minutes later, Kedarian Jones had a nifty snag to cap off a 73-yard drive that took the Tigers just 1:32 and gave Memphis a 56-0 lead at the half, tying a program record for most points in a half.

At halftime Brady White was 22-28 with 358 yards and 5 touchdowns, which tops previous career debuts by Paxton Lynch and Riley Ferguson. White’s touchdowns went to 5 different receivers and in a multitude of ways. He looked cool and calm in the pocket, but his mobility was also impressive. You have to think Mike Norvell wanted White to feel as confident as possible heading into next week’s matchup at conference rival Navy.

Other first half stats include 4 receptions for 79 yards for Damonte Coxie, and Pop Williams reeling in a team-high 6 receptions for 39 yards. Darrell Henderson had 9 rushes for 76 yards and a TD, with Taylor also getting 9 attempts and picking up 52 yards and a TD.

During the second half, it was time to get the young guys experience, as Norvell didn’t put his starters back on the field. Brady McBride was able to take his first snaps under center in a Memphis uniform and completed 6 of 10 passes for 70 yards to go along with 23 yards on the ground.

Thomas Pickens, the former MUS standout, got his first career interceptions. Punter Adam Williams got his first action in a Tiger Uniform when he punted one 38 yards and landed it on the Mercer 6. Sophomore Riley Patterson extended his streak of extra points made from last season, as he has now made 68 in a row. Patterson also connected on his only field goal attempt of the game from 21 yards out.

Memphis Track star, Calvin Austin III, a lighting fast receiver who is also on the track team, showed off his speed as he took a sweep 83 yards for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter to cap off the scoring for the game, as the Tigers won 66-14.

This is exactly what we wanted to see out of the Tigers, a great performance from the first units on both sides of the ball, with new QB Brady White looking comfortable at the helm of the offense. The defense lived up to the preseason hype with their pressure on the Mercer quarterbacks and speed when flocking to the ball, both in the air and on the ground.

But this was against an FCS team, and the true test of this 2018 Tigers team will be when they travel to Annapolis to take on the Navy Midshipmen next week in a game that projects to be crucial for the outcome of the AAC Western Division. The BarnBurner will have a game preview posted early next week.


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