When the 2-5 Tulane Green Wave jumped out to a 13-0 lead over No. 16 Memphis at the Liberty Bowl on Halloween, Tiger fans were in for a scare, and may have been wondering whether or not Justin Fuente had dressed up as previous coach Larry Porter for Halloween. Porter, of course, held a 3-21 record in his disastrous two years with the Tigers.
But thankfully for Memphis, the offense received a jolt in the second quarter, starting a run of 41 straight points as Fuente and the Tigers ran away with a 41-13 victory.
The win marked the fifth time this season that Memphis (8-0, 4-0 AAC) trailed by double digits early and then stormed back to win the game.
“I just think that we need to just go out there, make plays and worry about ourselves, and do what we’re supposed to do and were coached to do all week,” Memphis junior quarterback Paxton Lynch said after the game. “We work all week to do one thing, and then we come out here and shoot ourselves in the foot.”
According to Fuente, the slow starts seem to be more of an issue of overexcitement rather than a lack of preparation.
The spooky Halloween night contest was filled with its own fair share of oddities, including a blocked extra point, a rare 36-yard field goal miss by Memphis kicker Jake Elliott and two safeties by the Tiger defense. The first safety came near the end of the first half when a ball was snapped far over the head of Tulane punter Zachary Block, who recovered the ball in the Green Wave end zone. The play cut the Tulane lead to 13-12, and the Tigers took the lead on an Elliott field goal to cap off the ensuing drive.
Third-string quarterback Jordy Joseph got the start for the Green Wave due to injuries to Tulane’s primary two QBs, and was instrumental in his team’s fast start. But once the Memphis defense ratcheted up the intensity Joseph was unable to keep up, finishing 10-of-24 for only 131 yards.
Lynch had another big game at quarterback, totaling 343 yards and a touchdown through the air and 43 more yards on the ground. However, he wasn’t as efficient as typical, completing 26-of-42 passes. Prior to the win, Lynch had completed 71.6 percent of his passes this season.
Sophomore Phil Mayhue was the primary beneficiary of Lynch’s passing, racking up a game-high 107 yards on seven receptions. Senior Mose Frazier also played a key role in the aerial attack, reeling in seven passes for 75 yards.
With Tulane out of the picture, Memphis now enters its most difficult stretch of the season, beginning when Navy (6-1, 4-0 AAC) comes to the Liberty Bowl on Saturday. The Tigers then travel for road games against No. 18 Houston and No. 21 Temple, both of whom are undefeated.
Memphis has been extremely prone to both slow starts and personal foul penalties this season, and with such quality opponents up next on the schedule more of the same issues could finally doom the Tigers to their first loss.
“They’re going to cost us,” Fuente said of the repeated penalties. “As coaches, and me being the head coach, if we don’t get that point across, and obviously I have not, I have failed these kids in that manner, and it’s disappointing. I’m going to have to find some other way of motivating them to play smart.”
Memphis was penalized eight times for 106 yards in the blowout win.