The Memphis Tigers took full advantage of being on primetime television as they pulled away with the upset of the SMU Mustangs.
Memphis bested SMU in an offensive battle, and did just enough to stay perfect at the Liberty Bowl. The No. 24 Tigers hosted ESPN College Gameday for the first time, and the undefeated No. 15 Mustangs faced their toughest test of the season. Coach Mike Norvell said he thought his team executed well and responded to the adversity from the opposition.
"The city of Memphis and all of Tiger-nation was great today," Norvell said. "I'm glad we got the opportunity to come out 1-0."
A slow-developing 54-48 win gave the Tigers another win. The largest lead was a 22-point Memphis advantage, but it was quickly cut to six and home team held on to pull out the win. The SMU offense refused to back out as they plunged into Memphis territory time and time again. Anytime the Tigers built a decent lead, the Mustangs came right back with an answer.
The Tigers were balanced in almost every aspect. Antonio Gibson dominated and scored a touchdown as a receiver, rusher and as a return specialist. Gibson set a new record in Memphis Tigers history as he earned 386 all-purpose yards. Gainwell reached 1,000 yards rushing in a season in the first quarter, becoming the 11th in Memphis Tigers history to do so.
Riley Patterson executed for the Tigers. He kicked 4-for-4 as they held a loose lead the entire game. Patterson was put on the field and was asked to convert long field goals and came through with perfection. He ended the game with a total of 18 points and did not miss a single kick in a game decided by six.
"[Patterson] did a great job capitalizing on the opportunities that had when we needed him," Norvell said. "I am really proud of that young man."
The Memphis offense performed well under pressure throughout the game. Brady White prevailed in the pocket and seemed to be immune to any resistance. Shane Buechele carved the Memphis defense with 456 passing yards, but White produced just as much as the SMU quarterback did.
Both signal callers combined for more than 800 passing yards, and both defenses grew weary. It was expected that the Mustangs would rely heavily on their passing attack whereas White did not hesitate to exploit the Southern Methodist secondary.
"I definitely feel like I'm in command of this offense," White said. "It's not just the knowledge of the offense itself, but it's just my connection with my teammates and comfortably getting out there on the field."
The SMU punter and placekicker was not prepared as Memphis' special teams took advantage of the unusually short punts and short kickoffs. The Tigers also had no turnovers in the game, but neither did SMU.
The flags could not stay in the pockets of the refs as both teams combined for 27 penalties for a total of 242 yards.
"I still think they are greater steps that we can take," Norvell said. "Every day we gotta improve."
The Mustangs were the last undefeated team in a non-power five conference., and the Tigers have opened up possibilities for the New York Six bowl game. Memphis enters a bye-week and will watch the highlights of a historical day in the 901 as a rise in the AP ranking awaits.