MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Neither wind, nor rain or even a 57-minute delay for lightning was going to keep the No. 18 Memphis Tigers from hoisting the West Division trophy for the American Athletic Conference.
A balanced offensive attack and explosive scoring, including 21 fourth-quarter points allowed the Tigers to pull away from SMU for a 66-45 victory Saturday afternoon, sending the Tigers (9-1, 6-1, No. 21 CFP) to the conference’s title game on Dec. 2.
But it was a wild day of offense, trading touchdowns and difficult weather conditions, including the delay for lightning in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
“We’re going to strap up and get ready to go,” quarterback Riley Ferguson said of dealing with the conditions. “It doesn’t matter what day it is, what time it is, what the weather’s like, we’re going to be ready to go.
Darrell Henderson rushed for 147 yards, including two long touchdown runs and Ferguson threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tiger offense. In addition to his throwing scores, Ferguson scored on three runs as Memphis won its sixth straight and claimed a spot in the conference’s Dec. 2 championship game. Patrick Taylor had 112 yards rushing, while Anthony Miller had 163 yards receiving. Both scored two touchdowns each.
“It’s crazy how many playmakers we’ve got,” Miller said. “How many guys could shake the stadium at any time.”
After SMU (6-5, 3-4) jumped to a 10-0 lead, Memphis answered with 24 straight points. From there, the teams traded touchdowns, keeping the Mustangs close until Memphis added three straight touchdowns in the fourth to claim the division trophy.
“Obviously, that wasn’t the outcome we were after, by no means,” SMU coach Chad Morris said. “I’m disappointed.”
Xavier Jones rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Mustangs (6-4, 3-4), who lost their third straight. Quarterback Ben Hicks was 15 of 34 passing for 218 yards and four touchdown passes, two of them to Trey Quinn.
“The mindset, the attitude, no adversity was going to distract this football team,” coach Mike Norvell said.
For the Mustangs, the end face Tulane next week still with a chance to go to a bowl. But SMU will have to reverse a 3-game losing streak.
“Our culture will pull us through and we’ll get through this,” Morris said. “At some point, it’s a battle, it’s a want-to, it’s a you get yourself back up. You are going into the last week of the season, and you’ve got a chance to play for something at home.”
Memphis entered the week at No. 18 and No. 21 in CFP, and given their offensive performance and a division crown, it seems doubtful Memphis will drop in the rankings. Moving up the ladder is likely, depending on games involving other ranked teams Saturday.
SMU: Hicks started the game 3 of 12, but finished the first half completing 6 of his next 8. That was part of the offensive display that was put on by both teams, scoring on possession-after-possession. But the Mustangs couldn’t keep pace as Memphis scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
MEMPHIS: Miller with a catch in the second quarter became the Tigers career leader in receptions for a career passing Duke Calhoun, who finished with 212. That was part of a balanced Memphis attack in the front half. But the scoring for Memphis came on the ground with seven rushing touchdowns, matching a school record for touchdowns on the grounds. That was part of the teams combining for 111 points – the most scored in a game in school history.
Memphis gets a lot of attention with Ferguson’s passing, particularly to Miller. But the Tigers showed a more balanced attack Saturday with 333 rushing and 331 passing. “We use that to our advantage because once you try to stop the run, we go to the passing game. Once you try to stop the passing game, we go to the running game. It’s hard to stop both.” – Tiger running back Darrell Henderson.
SMU: Hosts Tulane in the season finale next Saturday
MEMPHIS: The Tigers will play their final game of the regular season next Saturday against East Carolina.
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