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Fuente, team confident despite losing streak

<p>Following the Houston loss, coach Justin Fuente and the Tigers have now lost back-to-back games for the first time since the 2013 season.&nbsp;</p>
Following the Houston loss, coach Justin Fuente and the Tigers have now lost back-to-back games for the first time since the 2013 season. 

When asked if Memphis’ heartbreaking 35-34 defeat to the undefeated Houston Cougars Saturday night was the most painful of his career, Tiger coach Justin Fuente said each loss has its own individual scar.

He went on to add he usually sleeps pretty easily regardless of whether the Tigers win or lose. Though after the Houston game, Fuente said it was a struggle.

The next morning, he broke the news to his seven-year-old daughter Cecilia, who had fallen asleep thinking the Tigers had won.  

“But then we went outside and played baseball and everything was better,” said Fuente at his weekly media luncheon Monday.

Even in defeat against Houston, Memphis (8-2, 4-2 American Athletic Conference) showed the ability to bounce back from its blowout loss to Navy the week before, holding a 34-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, because the Tigers lost and were not able to finish the Cougars off like they had done against so many other teams previously, any dreams of being involved in the inaugural AAC Championship Game or a New Year’s Six bowl were all but extinguished.

However, all is not lost. Memphis, which has won 18 games over the past two seasons, is currently tied with the 1949-50 Tigers for the most wins over a two-season stretch in program history. If the Tigers win this week against Temple, the 2014-15 Memphis football teams will own that record, alone. Also, with two more wins Memphis will have back-to-back double-digit wins seasons for the first time ever.

Memphis, which currently sits 28th in the AP Poll and 27th in the Amway Coaches Poll, also has a shot of a second consecutive top 25 finish in both major polls. It’s an achievement, like all the others, that would have been seen as near impossible just 12 months ago.

At the moment, after losing two games in a row following a program record 15-game winning streak, the Tigers will try and go “1-0” this week when they face the Owls in Philadelphia Saturday. Fuente said he really liked the way his team practiced on Sunday, but said it’s too early for him to answer as far as the team bonding closer together following the back-to-back losses.  

Tigers’ kicker Jake Elliott, who missed the potential game-winning 48-yard field goal in the loss, was not left to sulk by himself like most kickers would be, at least stereotypically, according to Fuente.

“It is not Jake’s fault,” the fourth-year coach said. “There is no other kid or kicker I would rather have out there than Jake Elliot. I think Jake is a little different and it would be interesting to hear what the guys here have to say about Jake. In the offseason, I throw Jake in line with the skilled kids because he’s a good athlete and a very competitive kid.  He loves that part of it and I put him out there with (wide receiver) Mose Frazier just so he can go compete. He is looked at differently. He is such a good player for us and certainly viewed as one of the guys”.

Fuente also added he knows regardless of whether Elliott’s kick goes through the uprights or not, who’s converted 18 of 21 field goals and all 53 of his extra point attempts this season. He said he’ll never lose an ounce of sleep on Elliott not being ready to go.

“He’s going to be fine,” Fuente said. “He’s dealt with harder things than this. He’s a mentally tough young man.”

Other notes

  • Through 10 games this season, the Tigers have scored 437 points. It’s the second consecutive season, and third time in team history, Memphis has scored more than 400 points in a season.
  • Due to changes in the American Athletic Conference schedule this season, Memphis is travelling to Temple for the second season in a row. Last year, Jake Elliott’s game winner earned the Tigers a 16-13 and bowl eligibility.
  • Saturday’s trip to Temple will be the second, and last time, Memphis will play in an NFL stadium this season. The Tigers defeated USF 24-17 at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earlier this year. 

Following the Houston loss, coach Justin Fuente and the Tigers have now lost back-to-back games for the first time since the 2013 season. 

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