Tigers Stumble Late, Blow Lead In Loss To Navy


Memphis held a 21-9 lead over the Naval Academy when they took control for their first possession of the 4th quarter. The prior possession for the Tigers offense was a 1-play drive thanks to Darrell Henderson’s 59-yard touchdown run late in the 3rd, which was followed by a 3-and-out by the Navy offense.

Memphis threw a screen pass to receiver Damonte Coxie, the Tigers top receiver who finished with 5 catches for a measly 38 yards,  on 1st down for a 3-yard gain. Then, Mike Norvell went to the Wildcat formation for the first time in the game, with Patrick Taylor handling the direct snap and taking it straight up the middle, fumbling after a gain of 11 with Navy recovering on the Memphis 27.

Let me take this time to let you know that prior to this Memphis possession, Darrell Henderson had carried the ball 9 times for 189 yards and 3 touchdowns. The drive prior to his 59-yard TD run, Memphis went 3-and-out on 3 straight passing attempts. BUT, on the drive prior to that, on second down after an incompletion, Henderson took a handoff from Brady White 78 yards for a score. He was averaging 21 yards per carry yet Memphis decided to throw a pass and turn to the Wildcat package.

After taking over at the Memphis 27, Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry had a magnificent run for a touchdown to bring the Midshipmen within a score, 16-21. On the ensuing Memphis possession, Henderson was stuffed twice at the line of scrimmage and Brady White’s pass for Pop Williams was incomplete, but he would have been short of the first down marker by several yards even if he had caught it. In my opinion, this was the play-calling that should have taken place on the prior drive, rather than the pass and Wildcat formation, in an effort to not only ride the hot hand of Henderson but to also run some time off the clock.

After a 40-yard punt from Adam Williams, Navy took over at their own 44 with 9:28 remaining in the game. Navy proceeded to run the ball 12 times in a row, including 5 straight from Perry to begin the drive, before quarterback-turned-receiver Zach Abey lined up under center to punch it in from 3 yards out on his signature “follow” play. The same play was stuffed on the 2-pt conversion, leaving Navy with a 22-21 lead with 2:37 left to play.

After a squib kick, Memphis started from their own 32 with two timeouts, 2:33 remaining and immediately got a Delay of Game Penalty. Henderson then took a dumpoff pass 18 yards for a first down before taking the following handoff 15 yards and into Navy territory. Henderson then carried for 6 yards to the Navy 34 setting up 2nd and short for the Tigers with 1:55 remaining on the game clock.

The Tigers offense then dials up a deep shot to tight end Sean Dykes, which was overthrown by White, stopping the clock at 1:39. The 3rd down and 4 play was an under thrown sideline route intended for Pop Williams. Mike Norvell then used his 2nd timeout of the half, and on 4th and 4 Brady White stepped up in the pocket, appeared to have the first down by way of his legs, but was tripped up for a sack by senior defensive end Anthony Villalobos to effectively end the game.

When talking to the media after the game in this video on The Commercial Appeal, Mike Norvell noted that some of the play-calling in the 4th quarter was “Something I’d like to have back right now.”

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In a game played in extremely soggy conditions and heavy rain throughout most of the afternoon, Memphis began with a fumble by Pop Williams on the opening possession, as he was looking to take a bubble screen up field when Navy defender (and Memphian) safety Sean Williams put his helmet on the football poking it free.

With Navy taking over at the Memphis 32, the Tigers defense was able to come up with a huge red-zone stand to limit Navy to just a field goal following the turnover. Austin Hall had a big tackle-for-loss on 2nd and goal, before O’Bryan Goodson stuffed the run on 3rd town. Hall finished the game with 7 tackles (6 solo) and 3 TFLs.

After the teams traded punts, Memphis appeared to be moving the ball down the field following a 14-yard completion from White to freshman Kenny Gainwell on 3rd and 13. White then hit Dykes in Navy territory for a 13-yard gain but Midshipman defender Elan Nash forced a fumble and linebacker Hudson Sullivan pounced on the loose ball.

After the teams traded punts yet again, the Memphis offense showed some life, as White completed 2 passes each to Coxie and Williams, before once again finding Gainwell for a first down on 3rd and 9. Henderson punched it in from 2 yards out behind great blocking from Roger Joseph and the rest of the offensive line, as Henderson appeared stuck but no defenders got near him as he easily bounced it outside.

Navy responded by marching 75 yards in just 3:54, highlighted by a reverse-option pass from Abey to Perry for 17 yards that was followed by a Facemask Penalty on defensive back Tito Windham. Perry then scored from 7 yards out, but the snap was botched on the PAT, making it 9-7 Navy with just 7 seconds left in the half.

After a squib quick, Memphis ran a fake kneel down play, which saw Henderson pick up 21 yards and left a second on the clock. However, White’s Hail Mary attempt from the 50-yard line came up 6 yards short of the end zone for an interception.

The teams traded 3-and-outs to begin the second half, before Henderson broke his 78-yard TD run.

Punts were once again traded by the teams before Memphis linebacker JJ Russell forced a fumble from backup Navy QB, Garrett Lewis, who was in the game as Perry was attempting to catch his breath from several big hits from the Memphis defense throughout the afternoon. Starting Safety Tyrez Lindsey scooped the ball up with one knee on the ground, before Henderson made his 58-yard housecall giving the Tigers their 21-9 lead, to set the stage for the meltdown.


Memphis should have won this game, despite trailing in the turnover battle 4-1. I firmly believe that had we continued to feed Henderson on the final drive, Navy would not have been able to stop him.

Memphis must protect the ball, 3 turnovers from offensive guys who are a big part of what the unit wants to do this season (Taylor, Dykes, Williams) simply cannot cough up the ball (all after gaining 1st downs!) and expect to win.

The Memphis defense was great and Defensive Coordinator Chris Ball should be commended for once again having his group ready for the challenge. Even with 2 of the 3 turnovers leaving the Tigers defense with their backs against the wall, they managed to give up just 10 points off turnovers, with both of those drives starting inside the Memphis 40.

Linebackers Tim Hart and Curtis Akins led the defense with 11 and 10 tackles respectively with safeties Lindsey and Josh Perry contributing 9 and 8 each. TJ Carter had 6 tackles as did Russell and lineman JoJo Dorceus who made his presence felt throughout the game.

Either the weather was too bad for Norvell to trust Brady White to test this Navy secondary, that had been absolutely torched and carved up by Hawaii last week or White’s arm strength is a bigger weakness than I have been led to believe. I can only recall 1 deep shot throughout the game, the incompletion to Dykes on the final drive.

Even without the ability to test the Navy secondary, Memphis still should have won this game by continuing to feed Henderson, who finished with 212 yards to go with 3 touchdowns on 13 carries, averaging 16.3 YPC.

Tight end Joey Magnifico had 0 receptions in this game and that just doesn’t seem like a good recipe for winning to me when he has been one of the most consistent receivers on this team, especially on 3rd downs.

Quick Hits

Memphis averaged 11.8 yards per carry on 13 1st-down rushing attempts, compared to 7.5 yards per completion on 1st down passing attempts in which White was 6-11.

Memphis had 0 rushing attempts on 3rd down; however, they only had two 3rd downs that fell into the 3rd-and-short (1-4 yards) category.

Memphis faced an average 3rd-down “to-go” distance of 8.1 yards and converted just 40% of their attempts.

On their three 4th quarter possessions, the Memphis offense held the ball for a total of 3:26 and gained just 47 yards with 2 first downs. Brady White was 3-11 on his final 11 attempts after starting 12-14. He finished with just 145 passing yards.

With Georgia State and South Alabama upcoming for the Tigers, you’d like to see Memphis be able to get Tony Pollard and Sam Craft healthy, as well as taking a decent look at what backup QB Brady McBride has to offer.

This one hurts, especially since this Navy team is not nearly as talented as those of years past, but the season is far from over and Memphis can still compete for the AAC West Division title and a spot in the AAC Championship Game.


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[Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports]


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