AAC Notebook: Memphis makes statement vs. Rebels

The Sports Xchange

October 18, 2015 at 9:13 pm.

Oct 17, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 17, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

If there were any doubters about how good the Memphis Tigers were before, Saturday’s 37-24 victory over No. 12 Ole Miss should have served notice that this team’s going to be tough for anyone to beat.

After allowing two touchdowns on the first two Rebel possessions, the Tigers dominated the rest of the way. Paxton Lynch threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns, and Memphis converted 12 of its 20 third down conversion attempts.

“I think there was a time in the first quarter when they thought, ‘Maybe coach hasn’t been lying to us forever and we can do this,’ “Fuente said. “I think there was a moment of realization today but I’m not sure when it was. My message to the team was you don’t have to be better than you are. You don’t have to be someone you aren’t. The best you is what we need. We need you to prepare and you to play well.”

The victory came before a sellout crowd at home, and was televised on ABC. It extended the team’s winning streak to 13, and almost assuredly will lead to a lot more votes in the polls and more national attention.

“I just told the team that if they thought there were distractions then just wait,” Fuente said. “Some of y’all are going to be mad at me but I am going to try to protect them as much as I can to protect the group. But I know those things are going to come and we have to do a good job of handling them.”

As for himself, Fuente didn’t take long to turn his focus to the next line on the schedule.

“Our kids fought and clawed and found a way to win the game. We are now bowl eligible,” he said. “All of y’all are going to shake your heads at me, but in six days we got to go on the road and play a conference game against Tulsa, a team that scores points in bunches, and it will cause a tough matchup for us.”

Houston also took care of business. The Cougars, who entered the weekend No. 24 in the coaches’ poll, had few problems with Tulane in earning a 42-7 road win. Still, coach Tom Herman wasn’t entirely satisfied.

“We’ve now scored touchdowns six straight games on the first drive, but the second and third drive has not been very good,” Herman said. “After six weeks, it’s no longer just a coincidence. It’s a pattern. We have to figure out what’s going on there.”


Game: Temple 30, Central Florida 16. The Knights led 16-14 after three quarters, then didn’t score again and remained winless through the first seven games. Central Florida forced four Temple turnovers, but untimely penalties limited the team’s ability to take advantage of the miscues.

Takeaway: Central Florida allowed Jahad Thomas to 199 yards and three touchdowns, with the final two scores coming in the fourth quarter and proving to make the difference. Justin Holman managed to throw for just 67 yards, with a pair of interceptions.

Next: vs. Houston, Oct. 24.

CINCINNATI (3-3, 0-2)

Game: Brigham Young 38, Cincinnati 24. The Bearcats played tough for three quarters, but were outscored 21-0 over the final frame and fell to the Cougars on the road. BYU outgained Cincinnati 449-331.

Takeaway: Hayden Moore got the start at quarterback, and was sacked eight times. That epitomized the team’s failure on both sides of the line — the Bearcats couldn’t get to Tanner Mangum at all and weren’t credited with a quarterback hurry.

Next: vs. Connecticut, Oct. 24.

CONNECTICUT (4-3, 2-1)

Game: South Florida 28, Connecticut 20. UConn dominated the stat sheet, except on the scoreboard, in falling to South Florida at home. The Huskies finished with 528 yards of total offense, but couldn’t translate that into points.

Takeaway: The Huskies got into Bulls territory on 12 of their 13 times, but turnovers, sacks and poor execution on third down limited the impact of those drives. “I just pitched the stat sheet because it’s not relevant. It’s a bizarre read,” coach Bob Diaco said.

Next: at Cincinnati, Oct. 24.

EAST CAROLINA (4-3, 2-1)

Game: East Carolina 30, Tulsa 17. Josh Hawkins returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive to set the tone for a shutdown performance by the East Carolina defense. The Pirates held Tulsa scoreless until the fourth quarter.

Takeaway: The Pirates needed the defensive effort on Saturday, because the offense had a tough time moving the ball. East Carolina managed just 382 total yards and was tackled 14 times behind the line of scrimmage.

Next: vs. Temple, Oct. 22.

HOUSTON (6-0, 3-0)

Game: Houston 42, Tulane 7. The Cougars overcame a sluggish start to race past the Green Wave to the road. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. had three touchdowns on the ground and another through the air.

Takeaway: Houston scored on its opening drive, but then didn’t find the end zone again until the second quarter. That’s been a pattern for this team lately, but fortunately for the Cougars, so has winning.

Next: at Central Florida, Oct. 24.

MEMPHIS (6-0, 2-0)

Game: Memphis 37, Ole Miss 24. The Tigers fell behind 14-0, then scored the next 31 points to take control. Paxton Lynch threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns, making it five times in six games he’s thrown for multiple touchdown passes.

Takeaway: Memphis’s defense proved its mettle against a top SEC squad. Ole Miss was averaging 46.8 points per game entering the weekend, and the Tigers held the Rebels to nearly half that.

Next: at Tulsa, Oct. 23.

NAVY (5-1, 2-0)

Game: Bye

Next: vs. Tulane, Oct. 24.


Game: Bye

Next: at South Florida, Oct. 24.

SOUTH FLORIDA (3-3, 1-1)

Game: South Florida 28, Connecticut 20. The Bulls came back from an early deficit to score 21 second-half points and knock off the Huskies on the road. South Florida gained 312 of its 461 total yards after halftime.

Takeaway: The victory marked the first time since 2013 that the Bulls secured back-to-back wins. It also marked the school’s 100th victory as an FBS school.

Next: vs. Southern Methodist, Oct. 24.

TEMPLE (6-0, 3-0)

Game: Temple 30, Central Florida 16. The Owls came back from a sluggish start to remain perfect with a home victory over the winless Knights. Temple trailed 16-14 entering the fourth quarter, but tallied a pair of touchdowns and two-point conversions to emerge with the win.

Takeaway: Jahad Thomas had a career day with 31 carries for 199 yards and three touchdowns. The Owls became the fourth team in program history to win its first six games.

Next: at East Carolina, Oct. 22.

TULANE (2-4, 1-2)

Game: Houston 42, Tulane 7. The Green Wave got overwhelmed by an AAC foe for the second week in a row, having no answers for the Cougars. Tulane’s defense allowed 461 total yards.

Takeaway: Redshirt junior Devin Powell got the start at quarterback, throwing for 88 total yards. Neither the offense nor the defense has been able to show that it can compete against the league’s elite.

Next: vs. Navy, Oct. 24

TULSA (3-3, 0-2)

Game: East Carolina 30, Tulsa 17. Tulsa didn’t score for the first three quarters and suffered its worst offensive performance of the season while losing on the road. A 100-yard pick six on the opening drive proved a sign of things to come for quarterback Dane Evans, who threw for 288 yards but couldn’t turn that into points.

Takeaway: While the offense struggled, the Tulsa defense turned in one of its best performances of the season. It finished with three sacks and 14 tackles behind the line.

Next: vs. Memphis, Oct. 23


–The week’s most surprising result may have come from Greenville, N.C.

Not because of the result — a 13-point East Carolina victory — but in the final score. A battle between two high-powered offenses saw the Pirates defense take center stage in the 30-17 victory.

The Hurricane came into the weekend averaging 36.6 points and 568 yards per game, but could do little against East Carolina. Tulsa was held scoreless through three quarters, and the final touchdown came in the last minute of the game when the outcome had long since been decided.

Prior to Saturday, the Hurricane hadn’t scored fewer than 24 points all season, but untimely turnovers, drops and poor execution left Tulsa unable to stay in the game.

“That’s part of this game,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “You are going to have your good days and your bad days. We were not consistent. We got in way too many third down and long situations and didn’t do a great job on third downs.”

Tulsa’s defense did its part, with one of the ECU scores coming on a pick-six and another following a failed fourth-down conversion that left the Pirates in the red zone.

“They gave us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask for out of them,” Montgomery said. “We basically gave them fourteen points — obviously with the pick six, and then late in the game when you’re trying everything you can to get back into the game you got to go for a fourth down that you normally obviously wouldn’t go for, giving them an extremely short field. So fourteen points of those were definitely ours.”

–Consistency has been a, well, consistent problem for South Florida in recent seasons. The Bulls haven’t been able to build momentum under Willie Taggart — in fact, until this weekend, the team hasn’t recorded back-to-back victories since 2013.

But South Florida knocked off Connecticut 28-20, following up its impressive homecoming win over Syracuse to get back to .500 at 3-3.

Rodney Adams led the way against the Huskies, with five catches for 118 yards and a USF record-tying three touchdowns. But feeling the momentum of the back-to-back wins, Adams has his eye on bigger things.

“We are a team on a mission. We are looking to win our side of the conference and get to a bowl game,” Adams said. “We have a point to prove. People call us underdogs but we don’t believe that. We believe we are one of the top teams in this conference and we are playing like it.”

What made the performance more spectacular is that Adams’ status was in doubt late in the week.

“On Thursday he got hurt in practice and we thought he wasn’t going to be able to play. He was ready go today,” Taggart said. “It was good to see him come out and he is a big time player for us. It was great to see him step up and make big plays today.”

A win against Southern Methodist this weekend would extend the streak to three, and also match the team’s win total from 2014.

–Temple improved to 6-0 with a close win over Central Florida. After trailing 16-14 after three quarters, the Owls scored 16 in the final frame to come away with the victory.

The Owls looked bad early, so much so that the hometown fans let them know about it by booing as they went to the locker room even though the Owls led 14-13. Coach Matt Rhule had to get his squad’s attention, but he didn’t doing by screaming or throwing chairs.

“I wanted them to seize the moment,” Rhule said. “Sometimes when we play at home we get so caught up in everything, and when we’re on the road it’s more of a bunker mentality. I just told them to look around. Look at the sky and the stadium, this is amazing.”

Central Florida entered winless, but the Knights have perennially been one of the top teams in the league, while Temple’s history doesn’t exactly inspire its fans confidence. This marks just the fourth time in program history that the team has started off the season with six wins.

“Our guys are fragile at times,” Rhule said. “The crowd was booing them and I told them when you’re getting booed that it’s a good thing. It means you’re a good team that’s not playing well. It means the crowd doesn’t feel sorry for you. I said enjoy that and enjoy the fact that the other team is losing by a point and they’re running off the field excited. We’re constantly trying to tell our guys to enjoy the moment, even when things are going bad. I got them all together and got after them about the way they were playing, but I also told them we have to play four quarters, so they have to enjoy it.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We have six more games left. It’s a good thing to be 6-0 and bowl eligible, but we have six more games and a lot of work to do, so we’re just going to try and win as many games as we can.” — Temple quarterback P.J. Walker, following Saturday’s victory over Central Florida.



1. Both Bo Schneider and Tyler Harris warmed up late in the Central Florida loss to Temple. Though neither got into the game, it indicates that the Knights are starting to think about the future at quarterback, particularly given the team is already eliminated from bowl contention.

2. Tulsa freshman quarterback Chad President saw his first action against East Carolina, and sparked the offense with some fourth-quarter runs. He could see more action in the coming weeks to supply opposing defenses with something else to worry about.

3. Chad Morris spent his bye week trying to figure out how to get SMU to stop the self-inflicted damage. Turnovers, penalties and poor execution leave his team with a 1-5 record heading into the second half of the season.

4. The victory over Ole Miss extended the Memphis winning streak to 13. That’s the third-longest in football, behind Ohio State (19) and Texas Christian (14).

5. Hayden Moore got the start at quarterback for Cincinnati, and wasn’t particularly effective. Gunner Kiel has been cleared to play, and the two will continue to compete for the starting job going forward.