No. 20 Memphis blows out East Carolina
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Before Saturday’s game kicked off, Memphis Tigers wideout Anthony Miller ranked in the top five in the nation in receiving touchdowns and receiving yards per game. But when the list of finalists for the Biletnikoff Award recently came out, Miller wasn’t on it.
“I was kind of mad to be left off,” Miller said after catching three passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in the No. 20 Tigers’ 70-13 victory over East Carolina on Saturday afternoon at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. “That was sort of the fuel to my fire.”
Miller and fellow senior Riley Ferguson burned the ECU defense on the first play from scrimmage. Ferguson, the American Athletic Conference’s leading passer, flicked a short pass to Miller and he turned it into an 89-yard touchdown, giving Memphis a 7-0 lead at the 11:46 mark in the first quarter.
“It was blocked extremely well and you get Anthony Miller in space, good luck,” Ferguson said.
The Tigers’ quarterback passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns as Memphis (10-1, 7-1 AAC) won its seventh straight. The Tigers already had clinched the conference’s West Division crown and will play East Division winner UCF in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 2 in the league’s title game.
Ferguson’s day was done late in the third quarter. He completed 9 of 13 passes, averaging 23 yards per attempt.
ECU (3-9, 2-6) finished the season losing three of its last four games. The Pirates entered the game 128th out of 129 FBS programs in scoring defense. Memphis outgained ECU 635-466.
“That probably was the best team we’ve played,” said ECU coach Scottie Montgomery. “It’ll be in an interesting championship game next week.”
Montgomery, in his second year at ECU, said Memphis outclassed the Pirates in several areas, but speed was the most obvious one. He vowed to go to work on that and other shortcomings in recruiting.
“I guaranteed you the next time we enter the field we’ll be bigger, faster, stronger,” he said.
Memphis coach Mike Norvell is also in his second season, and as Saturday’s game was coming to a close there were media reports that Memphis was working on a new contract for Norvell in an effort to keep him. He is considered to be a candidate for a number of open jobs, including Arkansas after the Razorbacks fired Bret Bielema on Saturday.
Norvell’s focus, of course, was on UCF.
“I’m so excited we have an opportunity next week to be on another national stage in a championship game,” he said.
Norvell’s up-tempo offense allowed the Tigers to lead 49-0 at the half. Memphis had scored seven touchdowns with just 10:30 of possession time.
Memphis running back Patrick Taylor Jr. rushed six times for 127 yards and two TDs. Backfield mate Darrell Henderson had 122 yards on 10 carries with two scores and became the Tigers’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009.
The Tigers were off to a 14-0 start with 4:42 left in the first quarter when the defense joined the party as Tigers free safety Jonathan Cook intercepted a pass from ECU quarterback Gardner Minshew and returned it 32 yards for a score and a 21-0 lead.
Cook said he hadn’t scored a touchdown since he was playing in junior college. At the point he found the end zone Saturday, “I thought we would put 90 up,” he said.
Minshew completed 28 of 54 passes for 351 yards with two TDs and three picks. ECU wideout Trevon Brown finished with seven receptions for 128 yards. He returned nine kicks for 187 yards, and one punt for two yards for 317 all-purpose yards.
Running back Tyshon Dye gained 71 yards on 12 attempts.
Memphis played at UCF on Sept. 30 and lost 40-13. The Knights are undefeated but that doesn’t deter Ferguson’s confidence about a rematch.
“We’ve come a long way,” Ferguson said. “That loss helped us if anything.”
NOTES: With Saturday’s victory, Memphis went 7-0 at home for the first time in the program’s history. The 1938 Tigers finished 6-0 at home. ... Memphis also broke a seven-game losing streak to the Pirates, having not won since Oct. 22, 2005. The Pirates still lead the all-time series 15-7. ... ECU is 13-57-1 vs. ranked opponents. The Pirates’ last win over a ranked team came on Sept. 20, 2014, when they beat No. 25 North Carolina 70-41. ... The Tigers’ Tony Pollard had a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown in the third quarter. It was his fourth of the season, which leads the nation.