For the University of Memphis Tigers, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium has been home soggy home in 2012. The first two home games were played in rainy conditions, and if you combine that with the losses, the word gloomy just about covers the first third of the season.
So it was no surprise that rain set in for Memphis' conference opener against the Rice Owls this past Saturday (Oct. 6). The conditions were much the same. Actually, they were worse. With game time temps in the high 40's, the light showers made for bone-chilling competition.
The environment notwithstanding, this night did ultimately turn out different as the Tigers worked their way to a 14-10 victory, their first of the season.
Memphis' defense got the game started off with a three-and-out stand. The Tigers offense trotted onto the field and fumbled the ball on their first play. Rice recovered and returned it for a blink-of-the-eye touchdown. Many fans had to been thinking, "Here we go again."
At the half, Memphis' offense hadn't mustered any points, and the Tigers went to the locker room to regroup trailing 10-0.
The second half was a different story. The foundation was a defense that continued to play strong, shutting out the Owls. The offense found a little rhythm – enough to score two touchdowns.
"I think the defense played so well that it allowed the offense to continue and try to run the ball," said U of M coach Justin Fuente. "If the defense hadn't been playing so well, then offensively we may have had to stray away from the plan (to run the ball)."
And run the ball they did – 51 times compared to only 14 passes. It looks like all the work the Tigers put in on the running game during the bye-week truly paid off.
"I think we're starting to understand as a team that getting the job done is what we're looking for," said Fuente. "How it happens or who gets the glory, we're not really concerned with. We just want to get the job done."
He's right; a W is a W. And the Tigers players and coaches were clearly relieved and excited about their first W this season.
Next up is another trip to North Carolina, this time to take on the East Carolina University Pirates (Oct 13). This will be a true test for the Tigers (1-4) because ECU is 3-3 and looks to be one of the better teams in C-USA this year.
A win for Memphis this weekend could be a big boost in momentum for the rest of conference play. It doesn't have to be pretty. They just have to get the job done.