The Memphis Tigers kept their bowl streak alive Saturday night, moving to eight years in a row, as they defeated Tulane 28-33 on senior night. The Tigers now sit at 6-6 on the season and will book their tickets to Hawaii to play in the Hawaii Bowl.
A city-wide sigh of relief could be heard as Memphis made it through their most tumultuous football season in recent memory. Through injuries, questionable play calling, a struggling offense and special teams woes, the Tigers never wavered from their plan and did not panic when the season looked in doubt.
The player of the game Saturday night could be nobody else but freshman quarterback Seth Henigan. Praising his name and performance has become nothing new for fans as they have watched this true freshman play like nothing of the sort. The Denton, Texas native has continued to grow and learn from every game and fought through injuries all year, culminating with a 27/42, 356 yard, and three touchdown performance Saturday night with the team’s back against the wall.
The victory did not come easy for Memphis however, as Tulane had proven to be a feisty team all year despite their 2-9 record entering the game. The Green Wave had many good performances all season, most notably their 40-35 loss in week 1 at Oklahoma.
The star player for Tulane in this one was freshman running back Tyjae Spears, who ended the game with 264 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Even with Spears’ great performance, the Tigers defense came through again like they have for most of the season, forcing four turnovers on the night.
Leading the way for the defense was fifth year senior, often called the heart and soul of the defense, linebacker JJ Russell. The Grenada, Mississippi native came into the game sitting top 10 in the country in both solo and total tackles, and his tackling prowess showed itself again Saturday night with ten total and six solo tackles.
One name that was quiet for most of the night was star wide receiver Calvin Austin. It has been talked about previously how Austin has been playing not at full strength for most of the second half of the season, dealing with many different injuries. While everyone would understand if Austin would be unavailable for a game, Austin has trotted himself out there every game to be out there for his team.
One thing that becomes an advantage with Austin on the field, healthy or not, is the defense keying in on him, which opened up the field for Memphis’ other weapons to take advantage of the lax coverage. Sean Dykes, Asa Martin, Eddie Lewis, Gabriel Rogers and others took advantage of the opportunity while Austin was limited to just 20 yards on two receptions.
The game was also undoubtedly the best special teams performance for the Tigers all season. Much maligned freshman kicker David Kemp went 2/2 on field goals and hit all of his extra points. Asa Martin also forced a fumble on a kickoff that was subsequently recovered by Memphis.
The Tigers clinched their 8th consecutive bowl game appearance with Saturday's win over Tulane. Although close to the bitter end, the Tigers find themselves with a trip to Hawaii on the horizon as they play in the Hawaii Bowl on December 24.