It was a gloomy, rainy, and cold Saturday. However, it was the perfect day for the University of Memphis Tigers and Coach Fuente to pick up their first football win of the season. The Tigers snapped a two game losing streak to Rice with their 14-10 victory on Saturday and are now 6-35 in their last 41 contests.
“I am proud of the team. To go through some of the things they’ve gone through the past couple of the years and this year. To keep plugging away… I am extremely happy for our team,” Coach Fuente said after the game.
He now has his first win as a head coach and it came in a defensive battle that saw neither team gain more than 250 yards of total offense. It was a historic night for the Tigers football program and for Fuente too. The first win of Fuente’s coaching career keeps the Tigers in the hunt for a C-USA Championship. So, in honor of the first win of the Fuente era, here are some of his thoughts on the game.
“They (Carl Harris and Brandon Hays) did a really good job. I was really proud of them. Brandon has come a long way in the past four months and Carl is slowly coming along. He’s got a little bit of speed that some of those other guys don’t have.”
The football was wet, the wind was blowing all game long, and throwing the ball was almost not an option for Memphis. In fact, the Tigers only threw it 14 times, so Memphis needed somebody to step up in the rushing attack. Enter Carl Harris and Brandon Hays who combined for 120 of the Tigers 164 rushing yards. Harris averaged just under five yards per carry on 12 rushes in the second half, while Hays averaged 8.5 yards per carry. Both of them did most of their damage in the second half when the Tigers were trying to ice the game.
“We did not want to go away from it… we felt like we could have some success if we would get out of our on way and hold on to the ball, my goodness!”
Holding on to the ball has been an issue for the Tigers all year, and this game was no different. The first offensive play of the game was a fumble by Jai Steib that Phillip Gaines from Rice returned for a touchdown. Yet, the fumble did not deter Fuente from the running game. That dedication to the run paid off in the end as the Tigers won the time of possession battle for the first time this year, holding the ball for nearly ten minutes longer than Rice.
“We put ourselves in this position really four weeks in a row previously… and let’s go get over the hump.”
Coach Fuente might have never said truer words than these to his players all year. Memphis is always within striking distance, trailing by no more than ten points to any opponent this year at the end of the first half (MTSU and Rice are the two teams who led the Tigers by ten). However, the second half is a different story as the Tigers are being outscored 71-44. This game followed the same script as the four before it with the Tigers trailing by just ten at halftime. This time Memphis found a way to “get over the hump” Fuente mentioned, win the second half, and subsequently win the game.
“Well I think the defense in general really kept us in the ball game. It is hard to single out one guy. But the defense in general played lights out for us.”
This is by far the best the defense has played all year. They only gave up three points all game and shut the Owls out in the second half. In addition to not allowing an offensive touchdown in the game, the Tigers recorded two sacks, and seven tackles for loss. Red shirt sophomore Martin Ifedi led the way for a defensive of line that has been struggling to get pressure on opponents quarterbacks. He had one sack and two tackles for a loss.
“He (Eric Mathews)had been in on running plays several times in a row, so we wanted to try and run a little play action and he found the guy and we scored.”
Eric Mathews saw a significant amount of playing time and it paid off in the end. He was used mostly in the run game, but when Rice began stacking the box with Mathews in the game Coach Fuente decided to take a chance. The play action pass was the first completion of Mathews’ young college career, and it was the score that put Memphis up for good.
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CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.