Despite a lackluster performance for most of the game, Memphis defeated Tennessee Martin Saturday afternoon 21-6 thanks to 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Justin Fuente said that he was happy that the team won, but that it was by no means their best performance.
Paxton Lynch dives for the endzone at the end of the first half.
"I'm happy that we won the game, but there are a lot of things that I do not like about what we put on display today," said Fuente. "There is teaching to be done from it, growth to be done from it and I anticipate that we will continue to get better and learn from it."
"I told the kids that I am happy for you, but not very proud of you. I'm happy we found a way to win the ball game. That's a lot better than not finding a way to win, but we can't do those things. We've got to be accountable to each other, and there are a bunch of examples of us not doing that."
The Tigers turned the ball over twice, and were called for 12 penalties, totaling 123 yards. Memphis has now turned the ball over 17 times this year, 11 of which were fumbles.
"It's very frustrating," said Brandon Hayes. "As a senior, I have to try and correct it, especially in practice."
Four of the 12 penalties were personal foul, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, which to Hayes, just aren't justifiable.
"In order to beat South Florida, there is no way that we can have penalties like that," Hayes explained. "Personal fouls and facemasks are not acceptable. We definitely have to change that around going into this next weekend."
Redshirt freshmen Tony Mays, a former Whitehaven standout who was making his first start today, was ejected in the first half for incidental contact with an official.
"It would surprise me if Tony did something deliberately of that nature," Fuente said. "Nevertheless, that hurts the football team. I'm proud of the way Tony has come along and the improvements that he has made and I think this is really important to him, but he also has to understand that we can't do those things."
On a positive note, the defense stepped up, and did their job all night long. UT-Martin had their opportunities to score touchdowns, but the Tigers were able to hold them to field goal attempts. The Skyhawks were two of four on those chances, and failed to reach the endzone for the first time all season.
"We played decent defense as a whole, and they did buckle down there in the redzone," Fuente explained. "Obviously, it gave us a chance, and our guys did play well down there."
"We tried to keep them out of the endzone," said Anthony Watson. "That was our mentality coming into this game. We played as a team, playing hard, smart and tough and we were able to keep them out of the endzone."
The Skyhawks came into the game averaging 423.7 yards of total offense, and 26.6 points per game. Memphis held UT-Martin to just 122 passing yards, a season best for the Tiger defense, and kept its fifth opponent in eight games under 300 yards of total offense. Anthony Watson pulled down his first career interception in the fourth quarter, ultimately sealing the victory for the Tigers.
"They are a great team," Watson added. "It was very challenging. They played very physical, and we just had to come ready to play hard, smart and tough. I think we matched their physicality."
Saying that the Tiger offense got off to a slow start would be an extreme understatement, as Memphis put up just 50 yards of total offense in the first quarter, including only 12 rushing yards. However, the Tigers were able to put together a drive late in the second quarter, that ultimately gave them the lead for good, and some momentum going into the locker room.
"I thought it was good," Fuente said. "We got a little something going there. Those are the hardest scenarios to be in when there is not much time left, and you are on the seven yard line. Those are times when you really need someone to make a play. Paxton stepped up and made a play. That's what you need. You need a guy to be able to get it in the endzone."
Even though Memphis was unable to score in the third quarter, the offense continued to move forward. Brandon Hayes was the workhorse for the Tigers tonight, carrying the ball a career high 27 times, for 105 yards. Overall, Memphis rushed for 109 yards in the fourth quarter, sealing their second win of the season.
"It was hard yards, but you have to be ready at any time, especially in this game of football," Hayes explained. "I can't complain about taking 27 carries, so it was a good burden."
Freshmen running back Marquis Warford did not dress for Saturday's game, and was apparently on scout team during the week leading up to the game. Fuente didn't have much to say about Warford.
"That is correct," replied Fuente when asked if Warford didn't dress. He had no further comment.
Quarterback Paxton Lynch finished the game 15 of 22 for 189 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Lynch also rushed for three yards and a touchdown. He found fellow freshmen Sam Craft three times, for 83 yards, which was a career high for the former Olive Branch standout. In fact, it was the most receiving yards by a Memphis receiver this season.
"You can make adjustments with him (Craft), you can move him around and you can play him in different spots," Fuente explained. "That's where we are going. We are just finding ways to get him the football."
"Paxton told me he was going to give me a chance to make a play on the ball," said Craft. "He ended up finding me a couple of times tonight, and the chemistry is getting there. It is getting better every day."
Craft not only shined as a receiver, but made the most of the few carries he got tonight. The true freshmen had two carries for 14 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown run at the end of the game. Craft has now rushed for three touchdowns this year, none of which were handed to him. He just seems to have an eye for the pylon.
"When you are that close to the goal line, my motto is you have to get into the endzone no matter what is in front of you," Craft added. "I just pushed, and made the second effort to get in there."
Before Saturday, it had been seven weeks since the Tigers beat Arkansas State, their lone win of the year. It was not a pretty win by any means, but considering the number of close calls that Memphis has had this season, they'll take the win, no matter how ugly it might it have been.
"It feels good to win," said Bobby McCain. "We didn't win how we wanted to, but it was a hard fought battle. We fought through adversity at times, and we played well when we were uncomfortable at times too. It's a win in the books, and we have to go back this week and prepare better."
Even when Memphis was having trouble on offense, the Skyhawks were never handed that great of field position. Outside of the two turnovers near midfield, UT-Martin had to work for every yard, large in part thanks to Memphis punter Tom Hornsey. The senior punted six times, averaging 46.8 yards per attempt, including a 70-yard boomer when the Tigers were deep in their own territory. Hornsey may not always get the recognition, but he is a valuable piece of this football team.
"I think by Tom's standards, last week was not a good night for him," Fuente said. "I think you could see that in his preparation. He was really intent on proving that he was a better player than that and I think he did that."
UT-Martin running back Abou Toure rushed for 113 yards, becoming the first player to rush for 100 yards against Memphis this season. The Tigers' defense began the day as one of just six FBS programs not to allow a 100-yard rusher.
Memphis returns to action next Saturday, beginning a two-game road trip at South Florida. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CST, and can be seen on ESPN3.com.