What was thought to be an easy win, turned into a closer than expected contest for Memphis Thursday night. The Tigers offense put up 37 points, and did so mostly on the ground. After averaging 159 rushing yards per game last season, Memphis accumulated 319 rushing yards.
With rainy conditions surrounding the game, offense through the air was expected to come at a premium. If you came to watch the Riley Ferguson to Anthony Miller show, you probably left disappointed. Ferguson finished 10-for-25 with just 97 yards passing and Miller had only two catches for 23 yards. Both teams were forced to stick to the ground game, and Memphis was able to be more effective as they utilized multiple backs.
Doroland Dorceus was expected to be the lead back, but didn’t get any carries for a while and finished with two carries for seven yards. Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor were easily the surprises of the game. While they were expected to get touches as backups to Dorceus, both became the featured backs in the game and broke off big runs. Henderson finished with 169 yards and two touchdowns while Taylor added 131 yards and another score. Dorceus two carries will be the center of attention outside of Henderson and Taylor’s performances, and the lack of touches is extremely surprising.
On defense, the Tigers struggled to stop the Warhawks, giving up 425 total yards and 29 points. What started to appear to be a comfortable win quickly turned into an uncomfortable lead. UL-Monroe pulled within eight points with 40 seconds to go, and showed that Mike Norvell will be focusing primarily on defense this next week.
Injuries played a role in the defensive struggles as linebacker Jackson Dillon left the game early with an apparent shoulder injury, and defensive tackle Jared Gentry was carted off the field. Injuries ended Gentry’s season in 2016, so the Tigers are hoping that isn’t the case this year as well.
The highlight of special teams came right after halftime. Tony Pollard proved, once again, that you shouldn’t kick off in his direction. The dynamic sophomore returned the second half kickoff to the house to put the Tigers up 27-7.
The defense needs to get a lot better with UCF on the schedule next. The Knights scored 61 points last night against FIU, and will test the Tigers defense with their weapons. Jonathan Wilson will be out due to a targeting penalty he committed in the second half, and the status of Dillon will be evaluated as the week goes on. It’s safe to say that defense will be a focal point after giving up 29 points in conditions that should have made the Warhawks offense fairly predictable.
The real MVP’s of the game were all of the fans that came to watch despite the less than ideal conditions, and they’re hoping their beloved Tigers can be 2-0 the next time they play at home. Despite a disappointing first game, there’s still plenty to be positive about. Two weapons broke out in this game, Ferguson and Miller will still be stars, Pollard is still one of the most dangerous threats in the AAC, and the weather conditions can only get better from here. This may not be where Memphis wanted to be after one week, but this team is still on track towards a conference championship.