Memphis Fumbles Chance at Road Win

Memphis had a chance to win their first conference road game of the season, but the Tigers offense got off to a horrid start and couldn’t score enough to come back vs Temple. The Owls now have 2 victories over teams ranked in the Top 25, while Memphis falls to 5-1 and 1-1 in the AAC. 

The Memphis offense opened the game with 5 possessions that ended like this: punt, interception, fumble, fumble, punt.  Temple began by scoring a touchdown on their initial drive, followed by 3 straight possessions that ended in field goals that came off of Memphis’ turnovers.

So there wasn’t a whole lot of prettiness to the game for the majority of the first half. The Memphis offense couldn’t move the ball, while the Tigers defense continuously bent but didn’t break. Memphis was extremely lucky to be down just 16-0 after 3 consecutive turnovers. So as one would expect, Memphis began to claw their way back into the game.

As the Owls were driving midway through the second quarter with an opportunity to put the Tigers away, Temple QB Anthony Russo and RB Re Davis couldn’t decide who was going to take the football, resulting in Jojo Dorceous pouncing on the fumble.

This gave the Tigers some life. Four plays and 67  yards later, Memphis was on the board following a Brady White to Damonte Coxie 14-yard touchdown pass on a play fake to Kenneth Gainwell. You can see all 4 plays in the video play, including a big gain to Joey Magnifico on first down and an impressive spin move by Gainwell.

Anthony Russo and the Temple offense responded immediately with a 75-yard drive that took 3 minutes and 39 seconds of game time before Russo found Isaiah Wright for the 12-yard TD pass, following a holding penalty on TJ Carter. Temple regained control of the matchup with a 22-7 lead with 2:21 remaining in the first half.

Russo finished the game going 20-33 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. His favorite targets were Wright and Brandon Mack, who finished with 9 and 6 receptions, respectively. Mack hauled in 125 yards and a touchdown, as he just appeared to be too big for the Memphis defensive backs to stop. It reminded some of the Liberty Bowl game against Iowa State when their receivers just seemed to overpower us.

The Tigers offense had gained some confidence though, and Brady White went 4-6 on a 7-play, 75 yard drive that was capped off by a 25-yard scamper from the redshirt freshman Gainwell who continues to impress Tiger fans. At one point, Gainwell was set to become the first player in Tiger history to record over 100 yards in both receiving and rushing, but a late pass brought him  down to just 98 yards receiving. The freshman phenom finished with 106 yards on the ground for his 4th consecutive 100-yard game.  

The Tigers defense was able to halt Temple’s second half opening drive at midfield, forcing a punt that pinned the Tigers at their own 5-yard line.

White was able to go 4-4 on the 95 yard drive that was highlighted by Kylan Watkins 23-yard touchdown run. Gainwell accounted for 45 yards on the drive in various ways, before Watkins allowed him to get a breather while pulling the Tigers within just 2, trailing 21-23.

Memphis held Temple to a 3-and-out on the ensuing possession, which was followed by Temple’s defense rising to the occasion and stopping Gainwell on 4th and short, forcing a turnover on downs. Temple then inserted their running quarterback, Todd Centeio who completed a pass that went for 30 yards on 4th and 2. On the ensuing play, TJ Carter never quit on the play which happened to be a WR pass that came back to Centeio, who bobbled the ball before Carter ripped it out of his hands. This was Temple’s second turnover of the day and appeared to be just what the Tigers needed to finally get over the hump.

After picking up 3 consecutive first downs to close out the 3rd quarter, Memphis appeared to have its mojo back. However, on the first play of the 4th quarter, White tucked the ball for a minimal gain, but on his way to the ground via a dive White lost the ball and Amir Tyler recovered for the Owls.

This was the 4th turnover of the day that involved White. One was an awful interception, one appeared to be miscommunication amongst White and freshman running back Rodrigues Clark, and the other 2 were White fumbles.

Despite all of the negatives, White went 28-43 on his passing attempts for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns. Coxie finished with 8 catches for 92 yards, and Magnifico hauled in 6 passes for 87 yards while Kedarian Jones added 75 yards of his own.

Following White’s 3rd fumble, Russo connected with Mack 2 times on a 5-play drive, that went 55 yards and lasted for 1:55. The result was a 12-yard touchdown to Mack and Temple regaining control of the game with a 2 possession lead at 30-21.

Resilient as they are, White connected with Coxie and Magnifico to move the Tigers swiftly down the field while Gainwell and Jones picked up much needed chunks of yardage on the ground. With 9:52 left to play, White found sophomore tight end Tyce Daniel from 3 yards out for his first career touchdown in a Memphis uniform.

Temple subsequently moved the ball downfield in methodic fashion, converting two 3rd downs, before Austin Hall was able to come up with the biggest stop of the day. Re Davis tried to pick up the necessary 2 yards on 4th and short, but Hall got his paw on Davis and wouldn’t let go, slinging him down short of the first down marker.

At this point, Tiger Nation has bought back in. We can feel the comeback in our coffee and alcohol fueled, Saturday afternoon bloodstreams. This was Brady White’s opportunity to lead the Tigers to a tough road victory after a start that was akin to a flaming bag of poop. He called the shit, poop!

Gainwell gained 5 yards. Then Brady hit Magnifico for 7 yards and a “Move the chains, mane!”

White then hit Jones for 11-yards, move the chains again.

Gainwell then gained 3 yards on the ground in 2 plays, before losing 2 yards on a reception on 3rd down and 7. Playcalling that will surely be questioned throughout the week, but Norvell appeared content to try to run the clock down and leave Temple with as little time as possible after the Tigers were to score.

But here’s the problem, you have to make sure you score. Putting your quarterback who has struggled throughout the game in a 4th down and 7 with the game on the line isn’t exactly an ideal situation. However, Brady White heroically fended off a defender, something he seemingly never does, and tossed a prayer up to Joey Magnifico who stretched out and hauled it in for the first down. Just look at the replay:

But nope. Upon review, officials from the AAC decided this was not a catch. Without any video evidence to overturn the call on the field, a completed catch, being shown to the viewers at home. The ESPN announcers, being good company men, fed viewers some nonsense about Temple playing in an NFL stadium that had double-secret cameras that saw the ball hit the ground. To be fair, the ball did bounce during the catch, but it appears to bounce off Magnifico’s shoulder pad rather than the ground.

Yet again Memphis fans are left cussing the referees and the American Athletic Conference.

No, this game should not have came down to one call. But anytime a game does, it sure seems to go against the Tigers when AAC referees are involved more times than not. Memphis falls to 5-1, and 1-1 in conference play. The dream of a NY6 bowl, which was always a long shot is now over but the opportunity to win a conference championship remains very much in tact.

Despite a few big plays, the Tigers defense did just about everything you could have asked of them considering the circumstances they were put in. They were tremendous and Sanchez Blake once again led the way with 12 tackles. The Tigers pass rush was never able to get going against the Temple offensive line, and finished without a sack and just 2 hits on the quarterback.

Here’s to the Tigers continuing to be resilient and the fans continuing to support the team as basketball season approaches. Go Tigers.

-Mason

[Top Image: Chris Szagola/AP}

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