|No. 24 Memphis plans to ride the Wave|
No. 24 Memphis became bowl-eligible for a fourth straight season in dramatic fashion last week. The Tigers scored 14 unanswered points in the final 5:14 of a thrilling 42-38 win at Houston.
It was the kind of win -- on the road, in conference play -- that can lead to an emotional letdown in the next game. However, Memphis coach Mike Norvell insists that won't happen to his team when the Tigers (6-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) host improved Tulane on Friday night in a league tilt.
"At this point in the year, it's always emotional," Norvell said. "Every game is emotional because every game matters. ... All this football team has accomplished has put us in a better position so that every game truly matters. One of the biggest things going into this past week was securing bowl eligibility.
"That's four consecutive years. That's something that this team, this group of seniors, is going to be able to say for the rest of their lives. They were part of the winningest team to ever come through this football program. And they were able to go to a bowl game every year."
The Green Wave (3-4, 1-2 AAC) have lost two in a row, but they showed heart last week in a 34-28 loss to then-No. 16 South Florida. Tulane trailed the Bulls 34-7 midway through the third quarter but rallied for 21 consecutive points to close out the game.
The Green Wave racked up 415 yards of offense but struggled to slow down South Florida's high-octane attack. Tulane also was hampered by 12 penalties for 91 yards.
"I was proud of our guys fighting through to the end of the game," Tulane coach Willie Fritz said after the loss. "Those guys are ranked as high as 13th in the country and to come within a touchdown, we don't have moral victories, but it didn't look good for us at the beginning of the second half. We kept fighting throughout the second half and made it a very competitive ballgame."
Tulane running back Dontrell Hilliard, who had 94 yards rushing and two touchdowns against South Florida, agreed with his coach about not having moral victories.
"These games hurt, and they hurt bad because we know we can win," Hilliard said after the defeat. "We just have to finish the game. It shouldn't have been that way from the jump. We should have come out and actually had fun in the game. That's on us."
Memphis responded to its only loss with three straight wins, including a 30-27 victory over then-No. 25 Navy two weeks ago that may have helped prep the Tigers for Tulane's option attack. The Green Wave are 12th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 266 yards per game. Memphis ranks 108th in run defense.
"They are so different," Norvell said of Tulane and Navy. "Yes, they like to run the football, yes, they're option-based; they want to control the clock. They run play-action. But it is a very different presentation. For us, there's not going to be a whole lot of carryover to it (from the Navy game), in a sense. You've got to play assignment football. You've got to be physical at the point of attack. We've got to try to steal some possessions by creating takeaways."
Memphis has been very opportunistic on defense this season, having forced 20 turnovers, including 11 fumble recoveries. Tulane has lost two fumbles this season.
The Green Wave have 1,862 rushing yards and 835 passing yards. The Tigers have 2,334 yards through the air and 1,111 yards on the ground.
The Tigers beat Tulane 24-14 last season and have won 10 straight in the series. The Green Wave's last win over Memphis came in 2000. Even with the dominance in the series, the Tigers say they will remain focused.
"All we are trying to accomplish is to get a little bit better each day, individually and collectively, offensively, defensively and as special teams units," Norvell said. "Overall as a football team, there are a lot of mistakes that we have to get cleaned up."
"At the end of the day, we're a hungry team," Tigers running Patrick Taylor added. "We're just trying to get Memphis on the map."
The game will kick off at 8 p.m. ET at Liberty Bowl Stadium.