Slow starts have been the theme for Memphis football nearly all season long. But on the road at Houston, a slow start was far from the issue.
Instead of a slow start, it was a colossal collapse.
A 25-yard touchdown run on an option play by Tevin Jones gave Memphis a 34-14 lead with less than 15 minutes left in the game. Houston’s star quarterback Greg Ward left with an ankle injury in the second quarter. The Cougars were rolling with Kyle Postma at QB, who started the season as a wide receiver.
The game should have been over.
Instead, Memphis kept giving Houston chances.
A Doroland Dorceus fumble on the Tigers side of the field. A rare Paxton Lynch interception. A Chris Morley pass interference penalty. A questionable deep pass play on 3rd and 5 when Memphis desperately needed a first down. A missed 48-yard field goal from Jake Elliott in the final seconds.
Without any one of these mistakes, the Tigers would likely have come out on top and secured their second top 25 victory of the season.
Instead, Memphis fell 35-34 and is now on a two-game losing streak after having previously not lost a single game in 393 days.
The Tigers stormed out to a dream start to the contest, scoring on the opening drive and then locking down Houston’s eighth-ranked scoring offense. The Cougars didn’t even manage a first down until their third drive of the game, and by the middle of the final minutes of the second quarter the Tigers were out to a commanding 20-0 lead.
Postma entered the game for Houston in the final minute of the first half, and the team instantly rallied around him. He threw a deep touchdown pass right before the break, and was instrumental in the Cougar comeback effort.
After the lead was slashed to six in the third quarter, Memphis was able to extend it back out to 20, only to collapse yet again.
The Tigers were able to get out to those two 20-point leads due to the play of quarterback Paxton Lynch and running back Doroland Dorceus. Lynch completed 20-of-31 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for 43 more yards. Dorceus was a dominating force on the ground, finishing with 116 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts, and took a screen pass 61 yards for another score.
But while Lynch and Dorceus were huge in establishing the large leads, they also played a role in Memphis’ demise. Both had turnovers in the fourth quarter, and while Dorceus’ fumble didn’t directly lead to points for the Cougars, it was the first mistake that led to the collapse, and drastically shifted the momentum of the game.
Memphis dominated Houston on the stat sheet. A 490-392 advantage in total yardage. The Tigers were hyper efficient on third down, going 12-for-19 in those situations. Everything went Memphis’ way until it mattered most, and there were simply too many mistakes to make up for.
Already on a two-game slide, Memphis faces another difficult test on the road next week. Memphis travels to Philadelphia to take on Temple, which holds an 8-2 record and the lead in the East division of the American Athletic Conference. Kickoff in that contest is currently set for 11 a.m.