Tigers 1-0 in Conference USA
Defense like 'white on Rice'
Finally. After four games of turnovers, miscues, and pure frustration the University of Memphis football team silenced the critics for a while longer with a 14-10 triumph over the Rice Owls on Saturday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. It was a beautiful sight, as the minimal amount of fans that were still there jumped up and down rejoicing with their Tigers on a much needed win.
The last play the Owls had at the Liberty Bowl came in 2008, when they returned an Arkelon Hall pass with 11 seconds left to the house for a 42-35 win. The Rice defense decided to open the game up much the same for old times sake, with a fumble return for a touchdown on the University of Memphis football team's first play from scrimmage.
Senior quarterback Jacob Karam handed the ball off to junior running back Jai Steib on the Tigers' first play, but he stuck to the previous game plan to fumble the ball on what seems like every carry. Rice's Phillip Gaines then scooped up the ball and ran it into the end zone for a 7-0 Owls lead with 12:59 left in the first quarter.
As the Memphis offense remained stagnant, Rice increased the lead five minutes into the second quarter. After throws of 12 and 17 yards, the Tiger defense held the Owls to a 36-yard field goal to pull the Rice lead to 10-0.
By halftime, the Tigers offense had amassed just 97 yards of total offense on 28 plays. However, the defense, which had been one of the worst in the country for the past few seasons, gave up just three points and 154 yards of offense on 33 plays.
The seesaw started to tilt in the Tigers favor in the second half. After Memphis pinned the Owls inside their 10-yard line on their first drive of the half, the Tiger defense continued to look unrecognizable, forcing Rice to a three and out and a punt from their own seven-yard line. The Tigers took advantage of a short field and put together a 7-play, 44-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Karam to wide receiver Keiwone Malone to make type score 10-7.
Memphis then took advantage of a Rice missed field goal, marching down to the Rice 11-yard line off some nice runs by Karam and running back Carl Harris. Wildcat quarterback Eric Mathews then checked into the game, and fooled everyone by opting to pass instead of run. He found tight end Alan Cross for an 11-yard touchdown. The Tigers defense held Rice the rest of the way to preserve the 14-10 victory.
After a tradition of losing all but three of the last 25 games, the Tigers started a new tradition -- the team joined the band to sing the U of M fight song, and the fans joined the choir.
"Whenever I went over there to sing the fight song, the band conductor said get up there, get up there, and I wasn't going to turn that down," Karam said. "I saw [New York Jets quarterback] Mark Sanchez do that one time, and it's always been a dream to get up there do that in a game and I thought this was the perfect opportunity so it was kind of a big win for us. We were excited."
The Memphis defense held Rice to a season low 221 yards on 58 plays. Karam finished a modest 8-12 passing and one touchdown, but managed the offense and had no turnovers. Harris paced the rushing attack with 68 yards on 15 carries.
Senior offensive lineman Jordan Devey put in work at a few different positions to contribute to the Tigers win.
"It feels good. I'll play wherever they want me to and if I can do anyone to help the team win, I'm going to do it. Coach came to me and was like, 'You wanna play guard?'" Devey said. "I just did the best of my ability and we ended up running the ball pretty well so it was a good day."
It's back to work Sunday for the Tigers as they will try to use the momentum to go into the next challenge.
"It's just moving forward, no looking back. Next week I'm not going to look back on this game. I'm not going to look back at on the other four games," Devey said. "It's just worry about what's important now the first game and going 1-0 each week. I mean those games helped us to where we are now and we will just keep using them."
The Tigers return to action next Saturday at East Carolina. Game time is set for 3:30 p.m.
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