Revenge is as strong a motivator as any, and it could have been a factor that ultimately buried the Memphis Tigers this past weekend against No. 16 Ole Miss.
It was either that or Ole Miss’ explosive offense. Likely, it was a combination of both.
In the 62nd all-time meeting between the two schools, Memphis fell to Ole Miss, 48-28. It was the Tigers’ first loss of the season, and it had to be a tough one to stomach for head coach Mike Norvell and his team.
The Rebels cruised to a 27-7 lead early in the third quarter. Against a ranked SEC team, on the road and as homecoming opponent, it would have been easy for Memphis to fold right then and there. Credit has to go to the Tigers for fighting back, scoring 14 straight points before Ole Miss was able to get on the board again.
Quarterback Riley Ferguson led two big drives for Memphis. The first was a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a Doroland Dorceus run. Dorceus finished the day leading the Tigers in rushing, notching 72 yards and the aforementioned touchdown on 14 carries.
Memphis’ second touchdown was a one-yard run from Ferguson, one of two touchdowns he picked up on the ground. He also completed 30-of-46 passes for 343 yards. Ole Miss picked Ferguson off three times, though, which undoubtedly hurt Memphis’ chances to pull off the road upset.
So did Ole Miss’ offense… or a lack of Memphis defense, which has to alarm Norvell after his team gave up only 27 points total in the first three games of the season.
Memphis gave up a whopping 624 offensive yards to Ole Miss, which ended up being the fifth-highest total in school history (361 yards through the air and 263 rushing yards). Memphis allowed Ole Miss to convert 6-of-7 red zone possessions, and two Rebels rushed for over 100 yards for the first time since 2014.
Memphis was the first team to allow an Ole Miss rusher to go over 100 yards this season.
Junior running back Eugene Brazley ran all over the Tigers, notching 124 yards and two touchdown on 13 carries. Senior Akeem Judd also got into the mix with 108 yards of his own, though he wasn’t able to find the end zone.
Senior quarterback Chad Kelly is one of the more notable players in the SEC, and though the Tigers were able to pick him off once, he still completed 30-of-44 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown.
Memphis lost the time of possession battle, 32.13 to 27.47, and also lost the turnover battle 4-1. Throw in seven penalties for negative 52 yards, and that’s a recipe for a loss against any team, let alone one of the better teams in the SEC trying to pick up a homecoming win.
“Tonight it came down to a lot of those things we talk about that can’t happen in big games,” Norvell said via Tom Schad of The Commercial Appeal. “We turned the ball over. We had some communication issues. Penalties. Missed tackles. All those things, they’ll cost you when you’re playing a quality opponent.”
The revenge factor hasn’t even been mentioned yet…
Last year’s game had to be on the minds of Ole Miss players all week. In 2015, Ole Miss was 5-1 and one of the most explosive teams not just in the SEC, but in the nation. The Rebels were still very much so in the SEC hunt after a loss to No. 25 Florida, but met an undefeated Memphis team in Tennessee. Those Tigers were led by all-star quarterback Paxton Lynch and head coach Justin Fuente — who got the gig at Virginia Tech because of his successful stint with the Tigers.
Lynch put up 384 yards and three touchdowns (one interception) and Memphis picked off Kelly twice. The Tigers firmly put themselves on the national map with the 37-24 win over Ole Miss, but that win also firmly put a target on their back heading into The Grove this season.
Sans Lynch and Fuente, Memphis was overmatched against Ole Miss this time around. Sure, the Tigers were undefeated heading into the contest, but consider their opponents. The Tigers beat Southeast Missouri State, Kansas and Bowling Green. The combined record of those three teams is 4-10, so it’s not like the Tigers were lighting the world on fire.
Mistakes and miscues will doom any team. Throw in an Ole Miss team that desperately needed a statement win, and it’s really no surprise that Memphis picked up the first loss of its season.