MEMPHIS, Tenn. – University of Memphis running back Darrell Henderson continued rushing up the school’s career charts. Quarterback Brady White again displayed his uncanny accuracy. And receiver Damonte Coxie kept his streak of consistency alive with a third-straight 100-yard game.
But in Saturday’s 47-21 American Athletic Conference victory over Tulsa at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, it was the Tiger defense that set an early tone. The defensive unit, directed by coordinator Chris Ball, rewarded another solid outing by one of the nation’s most proficient offenses and helped the UofM become bowl eligible for the fifth-straight year.
“We are now bowl eligible and that is something that is huge for our program,” Tiger coach Mike Norvell said.
Memphis (6-4, 3-3 American) will extend a school-record postseason streak that began in 2014 when the Tigers beat BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl. Tulsa fell to 2-8 and 1-5.
Behind Henderson, White and Coxie, the Tigers amassed 499 total yards. They also got their first punt return for touchdown – a 72-yard, spinning, twisting run by John ‘Pop’ Williams – in three years.
Henderson rushed for 166 yards and scored twice to increase his season total to 17 rushing TDs. Patrick Taylor added 96 yards rushing and a TD, while White was 14-of-20 passing for 184 yards and two TDs. Coxie finished with six catches for 110 yards.
It was, however, the defense that showed its mettle, recovering from several difficult performances to put together a complete effort.
Midway through the third quarter – after taking a 27-7 lead – the Tiger defense had accumulated some of its best numbers of the season: nine tackles for lost yardage, four sacks, three quarterback hurries and a forced turnover. By the end of the game, those numbers read: a season-high 11 tackles for loss, a season-high five sacks and four QB hurries.
Memphis held Tulsa to a season-low 252 yards.
“I challenged our guys to play our most complete game,” Norvell said. “I wanted to see it in every phase. And in every phase I thought we dominated.
“We had a couple of mistakes we need to get corrected, but all in all the game plan we wanted to do we were able to accomplish. Our guys did a great job all around. It was exciting for me to see as a coach, to see our guys go out and execute at a high level.”
The Tigers, relying on their defense, grabbed 27-0 halftime lead.
While the offense was amassing 331 yards and getting touchdowns from Williams (a 1-yard reception from White), Joey Magnifico (a 5-yard reception from White) and Henderson (a 1-yard rush) – and field goals of 21 and 30 yards from Riley Patterson – it was the defense that dominated.
The Tigers limited Tulsa to 73 total yards in the first half, including only 23 on the ground. Defensive end Jonathan Wilson had two first-half sacks, while defensive tackles Emmanuel Cooper and O’Bryan Goodson, linebacker Jackson Dillon and cornerback TJ Carter had tackles for loss. Dillon finished with two TFLs to tie Wilson for the lead.
Also, linebacker Austin Hall returned a first-half fumble 40 yards.
Dillon, who has endured an injury plagued career, picked up his first sack since 2014. He praised the team’s execution of a new defensive package called `Nickel’ that was implemented by coach Ball. The Golden Hurricane’s 112 rushing yards were a season-low.
“This (performance) gives us big-time confidence,” Dillon said. “We wanted the shutout, but didn’t get it.”
Overall, Dillon said the new defensive wrinkle “worked out for us quite a bit.”
Memphis resumes American Athletic Conference play Friday at SMU. ESPN2 will carry the game, which kicks off at 8 p.m.
With a 16-yard carry to the Tulsa 13 late in the second quarter, Tigers running back Darrell Henderson became only the second play in school history to surpass 3,000 career rushing yards. The leader is DeAngelo Williams, who set the school record (from 2002-05) with 6,026 yards.
Henderson scored twice to give him 40 career TDs, which ties former receiver Anthony Miller for second place on the school’s all-time list.
The Tigers improved to 4-1 against Tulsa since both schools joined the American Athletic Conference. All five games have been decided by 20 or more points.
Overall, the Tigers lead the series, 18-11, and is 8-5 against the Golden Hurricane in Memphis.
The 72-yard punt return by John ‘Pop’ Williams in the fourth quarter was the first for a touchdown since Roderick Proctor accomplished the feat against Missouri State in 2015.
Reserve Tiger quarterback Brady McBride made his third appearance of the season early in the fourth quarter shortly after Williams’ punt return gave the Tigers a 47-14 advantage. He completed 2-of-3 passes for 18 yards and rushed once for eight more.
Memphis receiver Damonte Coxie’s 28-yard reception to the Tulsa 9 to open the fourth quarter gave him his third-straight 100-yard receiving game. He had 111 yards Oct. 20 at Missouri and a career-best 176 Nov. 3 at ECU. He finished with six catches for 110 yards against Tulsa.
Coxie’s effort gave him 949 receiving yards this season, 52 shy of becoming only the third Tiger to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. The others are Isaac Bruce and Anthony Miller (twice).
Coxie has made at least one reception in 15 straight games.
Tiger running back Patrick Taylor entered the game with 1,970 career rushing yards and gained 96 to eclipse 2,000 career yards.