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Memphis struggles early, but pulls away to beat Southern Illinois 44-31

After trailing in the first half, the offense picked up the defenses’ slack

NCAA Football: UCLA at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

A hangover from the monumental upset win over UCLA was evident when Memphis hosted Southern Illinois, and the Tigers struggled to get going. After both quarters in the first half, Memphis found themselves trailing. They eventually would pull away, and the offense finally figured out a way to become balanced.

Running the ball was a struggle for the offense early on. At one point, the Tigers only had 42 yards on 15 carries, and the Salukis were giving the running backs fits. Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson both found lanes to run through in the second half, giving quarterback Riley Ferguson time to throw and utilize play action.

Ferguson finished 22-for-36 for 288 yards and two touchdown passes, and found nine different receivers for completions. Receiver Anthony Miller, who had nine catches for 185 yards against UCLA, was held to six catches for just 47 yards and a touchdown. He had some help from his other receivers in both the passing and return games. Phil Mayhue hauled in four passes for 57 yards, while sophomore John Williams emerged in the game with two catches, but had 74 yards. Tony Pollard didn’t catch any passes, but added a 100 yard kick return for a touchdown, giving him two on the season. Teams will have to start kicking away from him, as he continues to prove he’s a dangerous threat on special teams.

It wasn’t a great game for the defense. They have now allowed 1,451 yards to opposing offenses and the Tigers have surrendered 105 points in three games. This game was just another poor performance for the defense. Even when the game was in hand and the clock ran out, the Salukis were in the red zone and driving. Now, injuries have done plenty of damage to this defensive group, and there were a few more injuries during this game. But Memphis needs to find a way to improve on that side of the ball, because the offense can’t keep winning games by outscoring opponents.

Overall, it wasn’t terribly surprising to see Memphis struggle, but it was good that they came out with the win. Coach Mike Norvell will regroup his team, and have them focus for yet another huge matchup. A tough road trip to UCF awaits next week, and the Knights offense is as explosive as the Tigers’ offense. Now that the non-conference season is over, the Tigers turn their attention towards a conference championship.