The Memphis Tigers got a much needed win on Thursday night's primetime stage against Navy. This game was must-win for many reasons for the Tigers, namely filling the void in the win collumn.
Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Tigers needed to show they can put together a full game, and they needed this win to keep their hopes for a bowl appearance from being in jeopardy. Navy is a team that has given the Tigers a hard time ever since they joined the AAC, but they have struggled this season with a multitude of injuries that has hampered them throughout the year. With three straight losses and frustrating mounting, this game was going to be very telling of how the rest of the season would go for the Tigers.
The Memphis offense got off to a fast start with quarterback Seth Henigan hitting wideout Javon Ivory for a 49-yard strike to get the Tigers in scoring position. A few plays later, Memphis would capitalize on the big play with a three-yard touchdown pass to standout tight end Sean Dykes.
Now, Memphis won the toss and elected to receive the ball first, which might seem to go against everything that is taught in football when winning the coin toss. Why Memphis wanted to receive the ball and strike first showed itself when Navy got the ball.
What came next was a 21 play, 12 minute drive for Navy that felt like death by a thousand cuts. Four yards here, six yards here, and another five after that. With each run, it felt like the drive lasted an eternity. When Navy finally punched it in the end zone, only 20 seconds remained in the first quarter. The drive was the longest by any NCAA team this season.
With only enough time to run one play before quarter ended, Memphis decided to quickly counter by getting the ball into Calvin Austin’s hands. Good things seem to happen when the speedster has the ball. On a reverse run, Austin flew up field and, with the help of a timely block by Sean Dykes, went 69 yards for a touchdown.
What had plagued Memphis during the three-game skid was costly turnovers, and it showed up again with what looked like pick six by Navy. Fortunately for Memphis, a penalty during the run back on the interception negated a touchdown.
That turned out to be huge as Navy would eventually settle for a field goal as the defense played arguably its best game of the season after the long first drive. Memphis would answer quickly again with Henigan hitting transfer wide receiver Eddie Lewis for 74 yards to make it 21-10. Before the first half ended, Brandon Thomas would tack on another touchdown to make it 28-10 going into halftime.
After Navy opened the second half with a score, making it 28-17, Memphis seemingly put the proverbial nail in the coffin as they ran the ball down the field the ensuing drive, culminating with a Marquavious Weaver touchdown.
The fourth quarter consisted of Memphis’ defense constantly thwarting Navy attempts at heroics. The defense shined brightly with four sacks on the night. Xavier Cullens led the way with 12 tackles, and Mr. Tackle himself, JJ Russell, had 11 total on the night.
On a night where Memphis needed to show they have what it takes to overcome some tough losses, they showed tremendous grit and toughness to grind out a victory on national television.