Ferguson carries No. 24 Memphis past Tulane
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Early in the second quarter, No. 24 Memphis scored three touchdowns — each covering 37 yards or more — in less than three minutes. But as prolific as the Tigers’ big-play offense was Friday night, senior wide receiver Anthony Miller and his quarterback, Riley Ferguson, cannot help but wonder what would happen if they ever play like that for four quarters.
“Y’all saw the points we put up,” Miller said after making six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown as Memphis defeated Tulane 56-26 in an American Athletic Conference game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. “But that third quarter was terrible.”
Memphis (7-1, 4-1 AAC) extended its winning streak to four games and will remain alone in first place in the AAC West Division. Ferguson, also a senior, completed 18 of 31 passes for 298 yards, with three TDs and one interception while rushing for two more scores.
Late in the second quarter, Memphis led 35-0. But the Tigers mustered just 30 yards of offense in that “terrible” third quarter.
Tulane scored 19 straight points when, with 12:32 left in the fourth quarter, a bad snap was recovered in the end zone by Memphis linebacker Austin Hall for a touchdown that boosted the Memphis lead to 42-19 and snuffed out any chance of a comeback.
But Ferguson, like Miller, was thinking about what might have been and what could be going forward.
“If we ever play a full game, a perfect game,” Ferguson said, “there’s no telling how many points we could put up.”
It wasn’t all passing. Darrell Henderson rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Memphis had scoring plays in the first half of 16, 37, 38, 58 and 82 yards.
“We had a lot of problems with guys being in the wrong spots,” said Tulane nickel back Jarrod Franklin. “The secondary was a little off tonight.”
The Green Wave (3-5, 1-3) lost their third straight. They gave up 557 yards of total offense to Memphis and gained 325 yards. Jonathan Banks completed 15 of 30 passes with three touchdowns and also rushed for a touchdown.
Tulane’s first six drives of the game ended in punts and Banks said, “We had trouble getting going at first.”
Meanwhile, all of Tulane’s preparation for the explosive Memphis offense seemed to slide away in the first half once the Tigers started showing multiple looks.
“They really do a nice job of manufacturing offense with formations, sets,” said Tulane coach Willie Fritz. “They have great skill guys. You have to be hitting on all cylinders defensively and we weren’t.”
With Tulane trailing 35-0, Banks’ 4-yard touchdown run got the Green Wave on the scoreboard with 3:44 left in the first half.
Among the big plays from Memphis: Tony Pollard took a reverse 58 yards for a touchdown for the first score of the game; Ferguson found Miller for a 16-yard touchdown as Miller made an acrobatic catch; Henderson scored on an 82-yard run, stretching the lead to 28-0; and a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kedarian Jones put the Tigers up 35-0 with 11:20 left in the second quarter.
It could be enough to push the Tigers into the first College Football Playoff Top 25, which come out on Tuesday.
“I think we’ve done a good job,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. “Whether we’re there or not doesn’t dictate who we are.”
NOTES: Tulane QB Jonathan Banks played despite a dislocated finger on his throwing hand. The junior suffered the injury last weekend in a loss to South Florida. ... Memphis leads the series 21-11-1 and entered the game having won 10 straight. Tulane last beat Memphis 37-14 in New Orleans on Nov. 18, 2000. ... Tigers senior WR Anthony Miller’s 112 receiving yards per game ranked third in the nation and in the first quarter he became the program’s career leader in receiving yards. He is at 2,987 receiving yards and counting. He came to Memphis as a walk-on.