After a lackluster start saw Memphis fall behind 7-0, the Tigers dominated the Bulls from the middle of the first quarter on. Memphis outgained USF 560 total yards to just 170 for the school from Tampa. Memphis picked up 31 first downs compared to just 5 for Charlie Strong’s squad.
If you only watched the first quarter of this football game, one could have came away thinking USF had a legitimate chance at winning. The Bulls forced a 3-and-out on Memphis’ first offensive possession of the game, then marched 75-yards in just 6 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Senior Night. USF accumulated 67 yards on the ground on this scoring drive, capped off by Dave Small’s 1-yd scoring run.
Memphis was once again forced to punt after just 4 offensive snaps on their second drive of the day, but Adam Williams was able to pin USF inside their own 15 and the Memphis defense began revving their collective motor up. Adam Fuller’s unit forced USF into negative 9 yards on their 2nd possession, highlighted by a sack that involved several Tigers in Austin Hall, Tim Hart, and Bryce Huff.
Brady White and the Tigers offense finally got into somewhat of a rhythm as the highly efficient quarterback went 5-5 for 50 yards on the ensuing drive, before senior running back Patrick Taylor punched it in from 3 yards out. The score was Taylor’s first since the season opener against Ole Miss, but it wouldn’t be his last.
The Memphis defense once again forced a 3-and-out, this possession highlighted by JoJo Dorceus missing a sack attempt, getting up off the ground, and tackling Bull’s QB Jordan McCloud after he scrambled for 6 yards in an attempt to pickup the first down. However, when Memphis got the ball back, White had an errant throw picked off and returned for 40 yards to the Memphis 23-yard line by KJ Sails.
Yet again, the Memphis defense didn’t allow USF to pickup a first down, holding the Bulls to a field goal that put the home team up 10-7. Memphis would proceed to score 42 unanswered points and completely dominate the rest of the game.
By halftime, Patrick Taylor had collected his 2nd rushing score of the game and Kenny Gainwell had dashed for 103 yards, putting him over the 100-yard mark for the 7th time this season. Brady White, despite throwing 2 interceptions, completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 222 yards and 2 TD’s.
Receivers Kedarian Jones and Damonte Coxie were on the other end of White’s scores, they had 6 catches for 99 yard and 5 catches for 69 yards, respectively. Jones hit his defender with a nasty spin move/ cut while Coxie and White converted on a perfectly timed and placed score in the corner of the end zone.
Leading 28-10 at the half, Memphis had outgained USF by a total of 357-119 yards and held the Bulls to just 13 passing yards. Memphis had racked up 19 first downs compared to just 4 for USF. Quite possibly the most remarkable stat of the first half, was that Memphis escaped with 0 penalties, a welcome site for one of the nation’s most penalized teams.
The second half was a mere formality, as White attempted just 1 pass for the remainder of the game and gave way to backup Connor Adair before the 3rd quarter came to a close.
USF would gain 36 yards on their opening drive of the half, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs and didn’t have another positive possession the rest of the way. In fact, they would not gain another first down after this drive.
Meanwhile, Antonio Gibson found the end zone for Memphis via a rush as did Adair on a QB Keeper early in the 4th quarter. Patrick Taylor punched in yet another short yardage score, to give him 3 rushing TD’s on the day to go with 95 yards. Gainwell finished with 128 yards rushing.
Defensively, it was a complete group effort. JoJo Dorceus had 2 of the team’s 7 Tackles For Loss, while Quindell Johnson led the team with 6 tackles. Everitt Cunningham got a sack when he blew threw a poor blocking attempt by a USF running back, and the Tigers collected 4 sacks throughout the game.
Mike Norvell and the Tigers will quickly turn their attention to the Cincinnati Bearcats who invade Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium for a Black Friday matchup set for 2:30 in the afternoon. Cincy is currently leading the AAC East division, while Memphis is atop the West. If the Bearcats are able to beat Temple Saturday evening, they will secure their spot in the AAC title game. Memphis still needs to beat Cincinnati next week, or if they were to lose, a Houston win over Navy would be required for the Tigers to remain in the Championship Game.
At this point in the season, Norvell’s team is in the exact position they imagined throughout the offseason. However, just one poor showing on Friday could bring it all crashing down. I don’t believe that will happen. This Tigers team appears to be locked in on both sides of the ball, and is probably the best defensive unit we’ve seen in Memphis.
There is still much to be written about the 2019 Tigers, but the goal of being the Group of Five representative in the Cotton Bowl remains very much in reach.
[Top Image: Chris O’Meara/AP]