By: Anthony Sain ( @ SainAsylum )
In a shocking and improbable fashion the Memphis Tigers (8-2, 4-2) lost to the Houston Cougars (10-0, 6-0) 35-34 in a heartbreaking loss. The Tigers surrendered 21 unanswered points to the Cougars after being up 34-20 with 14:51 remaining in the forth quarter.
Also surprising was how Houston was able to rally a comeback after starting quarterback Greg Ward Jr. left the game with 1:21 remaining in the second quarter and his team down 20-0. Houston was lifeless before his injury and backup Kyle Postma entered the game. Postma would end the game going 21-33 for 236 yards and one touchdown.
Houston Head Coach Tom Herman would call Postma’s performance “gutsy,” as he praised him for rallying his team from two 20-point deficits.
“He’s a pretty unflappable kid,” said Herman. “We talk about unit pride and competitive focus, meaning when your number is called, you’re ready, and you’re focused at all times, and you prepare when your number is called. You won’t let your brothers down.
“He had a great week of preparation. He’s had a great season of preparation. I don’t think anyone batted an eye when we put him in the game.”
Memphis Head Coach Justin Fuente would also comment on Postma’s performance, and why he thought his team struggled with Postma’s after holding Ward to 60 yards and passing 6-11.
“Obviously, he didn’t run around as much, but we still had a hard time with him,” said Fuente. He still made some plays with his feet; a few less quarterback designed runs, but they still did some of the same stuff. It wasn’t a dramatic change.”
The Cougars were able to swing the game back in their favor in the forth quarter after a combination of Memphis miscues and Houston scoring drives. After a 10-yard touchdown run by Houston tailback Kenneth Farrow, Tigers tailback Doroland Dorceus would fumble the ball back to Houston on the next drive.
Memphis would then force a turnover on downs against Houston on the next drive, stopping the Cougars on forth and goal from the Memphis five-yard line. Celebration for the stop would be short-lived, as Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch would throw a costly interception with 8:08 remaining in the forth quarter.
Houston would score on the next drive on a one-yard touchdown run by Javin Webb, making the score 34- 28, with 5:49 left in the game. Memphis would be forced to punt when they got the ball back, allowing Postma’s to score on an option run from 7 yards out, giving the Cougars a 35-34 lead with 1:27 remaining in the game. Perhaps the most controversial play of this drive was a pass interference called against tiger defensive back Chris Morley giving Houston first and goal from the seven-yard line.
Memphis put together a nice final drive attempting to salvage a victory after allowing the Cougars to come back, including an 11 yard pass to Tevin Jones and a huge 24 yard pass to Roderick Proctor, placing the Tigers on the 47 yard line of Houston.
Lynch would then get the Tigers into potential game-winning field goal range when he found Phil Mahue for an 11 yard pass followed by a 5-yard screen pass to Mayhue again getting the Tigers to the 31 yard line of Houston. After two consecutive and questionable incomplete pass plays, Tiger kicker Jake Elliot missed a 48-yard field goal attempt far right, giving Houston the come from behind victory.
Coach Fuente on what he said to Elliot after missing a field goal from a range where Elliot has proven to be a clutch performer.
“There is no one play that wins or loses a ball game,” said Fuente. “You put yourself in those situations enough, and work hard, and sometimes that is going to happen.”
Paxton Lynch would share similar sentiment concerning Elliot.
“You can’t do anything about it. It’s not on just Jake (Elliot); it’s not on just me. It’s not the o-line. It’s not the defense. As a group, we just didn’t finish the game like we needed to.”
Coach Fuente would speak on whether or not his team changed their offensive attack after being up 20-0 in the first half. He would also comment on what lead to Houston coming from behind.
“I don’t know,” said Fuente. “We still ran the ball, I don’t know what the numbers were, but we tried to make a concerted effort to run the football, just get back to some basics. They have really good players. Sometimes those guys made plays, and sometimes we made plays.”
“We had a mishandled pitch, and we probably shouldn’t have put our kids in that situation,” said Fuente on the Doroland Dorceus fumble. “We had a low ball that got intercepted on a run/pass play. Credit to Houston for making those plays. There are a lot of plays in the game that ultimately determine the outcome. It wasn’t the last play, and it wasn’t the first play, it was just a bunch. Both teams were out there battling and competing, but we came up a little short.”
Many would question Memphis deciding to attempt to pass the ball on two consecutive plays after getting to the 31 yard line instead of possibly running the ball to possibly move closer or at least to set the ball up closer to the hash marks. Paxton Lynch would explain Coach Fuente’s logic on the final plays.
“Yeah, I knew Coach Fuente told me that we at least had to get to the 35,” said Lynch. Once we got to the 35, he just made sure I was smart with the ball. Jake [Elliott] usually doesn’t miss those kinds of kicks, and you can’t put that on him at the end of the game. That’s a big time kick for him that he’ll usually make nine times out of 10, but tonight it just went their way.”
Lynch on whether or not losing a close game and surrendering a large forth quarter lead will be hard to come back from.
“It will definitely be tough, just because of the way we lost and how much we were up by,” said Lynch. “We felt like we had the game tucked away, but we turned the ball over, and at the end of the day we just kind of hurt ourselves.”
Memphis faces the #22 Temple Owls (8-2, 5-1) on the 21st on the road and has little time to hang their heads. Temple also lost this week to South Florida 44-23.