It was Senior Day in Memphis and what a beautiful day it was for football, especially meaningful football. The Tigers (8-3, 5-2) opponent was the Mustangs of SMU (9-2, 7-0). At stake, staying alive in the chase for the AAC championship. A win would not get Memphis there, but with a win and some help, chances were still good. It turned out to be a great game in front of a home crowd of 30,313.
Memphis would get the ball first and get to work getting a seven-yard from Blake Watson followed by a seven-yard catch by Roc Taylor. On first and ten from their 39, Seth Henigan would Demeer Blankumsee for 16 yards but he would fumble the ball. Ahmad Walker would return it to the Memphis 48 and four plays later, SMU QB Preston Stone would hit RJ Maryland on a 43-yard strike to make it 7-0 Mustangs. Memphis would answer with an 11-play 46-yard drive that ended in a field goal and a 10-play 80-yard drive for a touchdown to make it 10-7 Tigers. It would be the last time in the game the Tigers would have the lead.
An SMU touchdown on a 1-yard run from Stone and another field goal from Memphis would send the teams into the locker room with SMU holding a slim 14-13 lead. It was a first half that was reminiscent of previous games by these two teams, close and hard-fought. As exciting as the first half was, you sensed that each team still had plenty of firepower since they are two of the highest-scoring teams in the nation.
The second half would see the kind of exciting football the fans showed up for. Seth Henigan was just spectacular in this game going 35-51 for 402 yards and two touchdowns. But it was SMU that got the ball first in the third and they moved 80 yards on 13 plays capped by an LJ Johnson 1-yard run to make it 21-13 SMU. Needing to tie this game Memphis marched down the field and did just that with a Brandon Thomas 1-yard run and two-point conversion to tie it at 21-21. The play before Thomas scored, he appeared to score from the one but the replay showed he was down just short of the goal line.
Both teams would trade touchdowns to make it 28-28 and when SMU kicked a field goal to take a 31-28 lead, the door appeared to open for the Tigers to take the lead. It was then that the SMU secondary stepped up making big play after big play when they needed it. When they scored again to take a 38-28 lead, it looked like the lights had gone out on Memphis.
But the Tigers were having none of that and took the ball 70 yards capped by a Henigan to Blankumsee 20-yard touchdown to make it 38-34 with 1:44 to play. The crowd was loud and they had no intention of letting the home team forget what was at stake. SMU would get the ball and on third and 33 from the Mewmphis 34 they ran a play that allowed the clock to run out and end any hope the Tigers would have at claiming their second straight ACC title. The final from Liberty Stadium was 38-34 SMU.
In the loss, the Tigers showed some of what has hurt them this year. They could not get the big play when needed most and though Henigane was great, he could not get it done down the stretch. The running game just could not get it done as Watson was held to just 41 yards on 10 carries and the Memphis running attack as a whole ran it 22 times for only 62 yards.
Roc Taylor had a big game with eight catches for 146 yards but it could have been more, much more. On some of the biggest plays, especially in the red zone, Taylor was not in the game as he was dealing with a bum knee. His receiving mate, Demeer Blankumsee had 9 catches for 114 yards and two scores.
- With the win, SMU remains tied with Tulane and UTSA for the conference lead heading into the final weekend
- UTSA travels to Tulane next week with the conference title on the line
- SMU will host Navy and win keeps them in the hunt for the title
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