After hosting a raucous College Gameday on Beale Street Saturday Morning, the (#24) Memphis Tigers won a thriller in the Liberty Bowl, 54-48 over (#15) SMU.
Yes, Memphis fans, yesterday was real.
College GameDay, ESPN’s long-running college football pre-game show, was actually hosted on Beale Street.
And you can bet your ass Memphis fans showed out. For those of us watching at home on television, the opening scene which was narrated by Rece Davis and featured thousands of Memphians clad in blue and gray, brought tears to the eyes of Tigers fans all across the nation. Watch for yourself, even if you’ve already seen it.
Memphis is ROCKING 🎸 pic.twitter.com/ih7PtpFn0s
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) November 2, 2019
Then GameDay got started and honestly, the show couldn’t have gone better. Memphis fans looked great packed into the confined area of Beale Street and every angle the camera turned brought more groups of Tigers fans celebrating this iconic moment for the team and City. Memphians love a good reason to party and what they did on Saturday morning cannot be praised enough.
The show featured Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies for a mini-segment that was of little substance. Mike Norvell joined the crew on set, Penny Hardaway was interviewed by Pat McAfee and continued to heap praise onto Norvell’s program deflecting questions about the basketball program as much as he could.
Tom Rinaldi, the legendary reporter known for his tear-jerking features had a special piece on the bond between Kenny Gainwell and his older brother, Curtis Jr. Gene Wojciechowski had a segment on the Liberty Bowl. Then Jerry “The King” Lawler rolled up to the set in his Batmobile.
Lawler’s actual segment was rather uneventful for what Memphis fans are used to seeing of The King’s appearances at Memphis sporting events. Analyst Desmond Howard chose the Tigers to win, as did Lawler and Chris Fallica, and Lee Corso executed a perfect heel-turn after talking up the Tigers all day. Corso pulled the Pouncer mascot head out from under the desk on stage first, then tossed it to the front of the stage and put on a Mustang head signifying his choice of SMU.
After the show, Lawler put Corso in a headlock and the ESPN analysts raved about their experience on Beale. Truly a job well done by the City, Beale Street, Tiger fans, and the University of Memphis. A special shoutout to SMU for being 8-0 and allowing this experience to take place.
As the week progressed, it became clear that Memphis fans were planning to fill up the Liberty Bowl for the first home matchup between teams ranked in the AP Top 25 in Memphis football history. Once again, Memphis fans delivered.
The announced attendance of 59,506 set an American Athletic Conference record for a conference game. Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium looked and sounded amazing on TV, as the Mighty Sound of the South could be heard on the broadcast and Tigers fans were loud throughout the entirety of the night.
A day that many of us never could have dreamt of, is now a day that none of us will ever forget.
Memphis won the opening coin toss, but deferred until the second half. The Tigers defense appeared to be shot out of a canon on the first series, forcing an SMU 3-and-out. On the opening kickoff, Nehemiah Augustus delivered this hit that let out several audible gasps in my household. It’s safe to say he had been waiting all day to make that tackle.
Brady White and the Tigers offense took over and easily moved the ball downfield, as White went 3-3 and found Antonio Gibson for what appeared to be a 19-yard opening drive touchdown. Upon review, the officials correctly ruled Gibson down just short of the goal line. The Mustang defense was able to stop a QB sneak attempt and halt Gainwell for a loss and 2nd down, before tight end Joey Magnifico couldn’t haul in a touchdown pass on 3rd down. Mike Norvell rolled the dice on 4th and goal from the 3-yard line, but White was unable to connect with senior wideout Kedarian Jones resulting in a turnover on downs.
SMU QB, Shane Buechele, then led the Mustangs on a 12-play, 97-yard drive that took less than 4 minutes as the former Texas Longhorn completed 7 of 10 passes, the final a 16-yard touchdown completion to tight end Kylen Granson for a 7-0 lead.
As they would prove to do all night, Memphis responded. This particular drive was aided by penalties, as SMU picked up a personal foul for a late hit on the kickoff return after Antonio Gibson’s return of 29 yards had the Tigers at the 35-yard line. The penalty took Memphis to midfield. After the teams exchanged holding and pass interference penalties, White was able to connect with Magnifico for a 19-yard gain, which setup a 14-yard Gainwell TD scamper to tie the score at 7.
The 14-yard run would surprisingly be Gainwell’s longest gain of the day and his lone touchdown, as the redshirt freshmen sensation was held below 100-yard for just the 2nd time this season, finishing with 88 yards on 21 carries.
Following a Riley Patterson field goal, Memphis attempted a questionable onside kick that SMU recovered at their own 49. Buechele once again completed 4 of 5 passes as he picked the Tigers defense apart, before Xavier Jones punched the pigskin in from 2 yards out, giving SMU a 14-10 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Joey Magnifico fielded a squib kick and returned it for a touchdown but JoJo Dorceus was flagged for an illegal block in the back on the return. Yes, it was as crazy as it may seem and it is a shame that it did not count.
Penalties were a theme of the night, as the Tigers finished with 16 resulting in 134 yards while the Mustangs were flagged 11 times for 108 yards.
Following the penalty, Memphis would gain just 14 yards as Patterson was called on again and connected on a 49-yard field goal to bring the Tigers within 1. Adam Fuller’s defense flexed their muscles and forced Buechele and Co. to go 3-and-out once again, which led to a 26-yard SMU punt once again giving Memphis great field position.
Brady White responded with back to back passes to Gibson that resulted in 70 total yards (more Memphis penalties pushed the Tigers back), including this 50-yard TD reception. Gibson’s first score of the night put the Tigers up 20-14 with 5:36 remaining in the first half and is Gibson’s 4th score of 50+ yards on the season.
Despite allowing SMU to reach the 6-yard line, the Memphis defense got one more stop before halftime allowing just 3 points, putting the ball back in Brady White’s hands with over 3 minutes left on the clock, but the Tigers were only able to escape with a FG before the halftime horn sounded. Memphis lead 23-17 at the half of the primetime game on ABC.
Picking up where he left off after his 50-yard TD reception in the first half, Antonio Gibson returned the opening kickoff of the second half 97 yards for a touchdown. The University of Memphis has truly become Special Teams U over the last 4 years with 10 kick returns going for touchdowns in that span. Gibson’s score put the Tigers ahead 30-17, their first double-digit lead of the evening.
SMU wasn’t going down without a fight, though. Aided by 3 penalties on the Memphis defense, the Mustangs covered 77 yards in less than 2 minutes, culminating in a 2-yard touchdown plunge by Ke’Mon Freeman to bring the score to 30-24 early in the 3rd quarter.
An SMU pooch punt was preceded by another Patterson field goal, before the Memphis offense really had an opportunity to break the game open late in the 3rd. Starting on their own 2-yard line, White was able to again connect with Gibson on consecutive plays to give the Memphis offense some operating room without the threat of a safety breathing down their neck.
Following a sack, on 4th down and 3 at midfield, White delivered what is potentially his best pass of the season so far to a diving Calvin Austin for a 24-yard pickup. On the very night play, White connected with Damonte Coxie for a 24-yard touchdown. Coxie would go on to finish with 7 catches for 143 yards and 2 scores.
After the Tigers defense forced another SMU punt to close the 3rd quarter, Memphis had it’s first 3-and-out offensive series of the night to open the 4th and had to call on Punter Adam Williams for the first time in the game. Two plays later, Buechele had found Granson for their 2nd TD connection of the night and following a successful 2-pt conversion, the Mustangs were down just one score at 40-32.
And then, not to be outdone and just 2 plays later, White connected with Coxie on a slant ran over the middle of the field. Coxie then spun out of the route, making the defender miss, and jogged into the Tiger-striped end zone to put Memphis ahead 47-32.
Memphis’ defense responded to the momentum shift by holding to SMU to just 3 yards on their next possession, forcing the Mustangs 6th punt on the night. On the first play of the Tigers following drive, White just handed the damn ball to Gibson and he did the rest. Seriously, the senior scoring machine took it 78 yards breaking multiple tackles for a house call, his 3rd TD of the day, in 3 different ways! He finished with 130 receiving yards, 97 rushing yards, and 159 yards on kickoff returns. A historic day.
This would fittingly be the Tigers final score of the day, eclipsing the 50-point mark and giving Memphis a 54-32 lead. Of course, it had to be a bit more difficult than that, as Freeman ran over Tiger safety, La’Andre Thomas, on his way to a 68-yard TD scamper that brought SMU within 14.
Then Gainwell stayed down on the turf for a moment before slowly walking off the field and the Tigers were forced to punt for the 2nd time of the evening and a few buttholes began to tighten up. Then, the gunslinging Buechele who threw for 456 yards and completed 63% of his passes, found star wide received Jame Proche for a touchdown, bringing the Ponies within 6 following another successful 2-pt conversion. Proche finished with 149 yards while fellow received Rashee Rice also eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
Finally, holder Preston Brady recovered SMU’s onside attempt to seal the Tigers victory and a day that will never be forgotten in Memphis. After hosting College GameDay on Beale Street in the morning, Mike Norvell’s Tigers took control of the AAC’s West division in front of a sellout crowd and their hopes for a trip to the Cotton Bowl have never been higher.
- The first takeaway is that the Memphis offense allowed 0 takeaways by the SMU defense. This was the first time in 19 games the Mustangs went without forcing a turnover.
- Gibson’s 386 all-purpose yards set a Memphis Football record, and earned him national honors as the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.
- Gainwell become the 11th Tiger in program history to garner 1,000 rushing yards in a season, and the first freshmen to do so.
- Tight end Joey Magnifico surpassed former Tiger (current assistant coach) Alan Cross as the program’s all time leader in receiving yards by a tight end.
- Brady White finished 19-33 for 350 yards and 3 scores. White is now 5th nationally in passing efficiency.
- Austin Hall and TJ Carter led the Tigers defensive with 10 and 8 tackles, respectively.
- Freshman Jalil Clemons had two big sacks (first of his career! see below) on SMU’s Buechele and has become a playmaker on the defensive line.
- Riley Patterson was 4-4 on field goals and 6-6 on XP’s. The kicker has been an integral part of this Memphis team and continues to step up in key situations.
- Memphis moved up to #19 in the AP Top 25 Poll, trailing Cincy and leading #23 SMU
Tigers Remaining Schedule
Next Week: BYE
11/29: vs. (#17) Cincinnati
[Top Image: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey]