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November 9, 2013

Wasn't pretty but Tigers win

It wasn't pretty, but that won't show up in the win-loss column. After losing to the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks in the 2012 season opener and head coach Justin Fuente's debut, the Memphis Tigers (2-6, 0-4 AAC) got some revenge Saturday afternoon with a 21-6 win in front of 24,487 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Though the Tigers pulled out the win, Fuente and his squad can't be happy with how they executed. A reoccurring theme all season, Memphis continuously shot itself in the foot, racking up 12 penalties for 123 yards. To put into perspective how bad that is, it was just 30 yards under the Tigers rushing output on the day (153).

"It was first we reversed back to some very old, bad habits and obviously the other team played really well kind of taken it too us," Fuente said. "And that is what I am most disappointed in. Penalties, poor execution, and turning the ball over and that are what bother me the most and that is what we have got to get fixed."

Memphis entered the half up 7-6, but was lucky to hold the lead. On two separate drives, the Memphis defense held the Skyhawks to a field goal after they got inside the five-yard line. The Tigers trailed the whole first half up until their final drive with 1:33 to go.

It seems that every time the offense has gotten into the hurry up mode, it has moved the ball with ease and it did just that on the final drive of the first half. After getting to the UT-Martin six with just over 20 seconds left, quarterback Paxton Lynch scrambled into the end zone to give Memphis the one-point lead heading into the half.

If it weren't for another good performance by the defense and a missed field goal, Memphis would have been trailing heading into the locker room.

"We played decent defense as a whole and they did buckle down there in the red zone but early in the game, they ran the outside and inside zone at us pretty hard and we did not respond," Fuente said. "They run every week, the outside zone and the inside zone. They really took it to us but obviously it gives us a chance because they buckled down in the red zone, they missed a couple of field goals and our guys did play good down there."

The offensive struggles continued in the second half, with Memphis not scoring a point in the third quarter. The Skyhawks had their second missed field goal of the game in the quarter, continuing the Tigers' luck.

It wasn't until the fourth that the offense put the game away. On their first drive of the final 15 minutes of play, Memphis drove 80 yards on eight plays thanks to two passes of 26 and 24 yards by Lynch. The freshman capped it off with a 12-yard pass to senior running back Brandon Hayes to take a 14-6 lead.

The Tigers would close the game out on their next drive as do-it-all freshman Sam Craft scampered eight yards for the score.

"At this point, we needed that win," Hayes said. "It might have been a sloppy win, but it feels good to see different faces in the locker room. We are upbeat and excited to go out there tomorrow and start preparing for South Florida to be honest."

Lynch finished the game 15-for-22 for 189 yards with a touchdown and interception. Hayes carried the load on the ground with 27 carries for 105 yards, while Craft finished with a career-high 83 yards receiving on three receptions.

With a trip to South Florida next week, Memphis is going to have to address the penalties and turnovers, which have plagued the Tigers all year. Against a more talented team and on the road, amassing over 100 yards in penalties will surely result in a loss.

"This will help us a lot, especially from a confidence standpoint," said safety Anthony Watson. "We need to fix the mistakes we made tonight when we are getting ready for South Florida. But, UT Martin is a tough team, so we can capitalize on getting this win moving forward."

Game time for next Saturday's game against South Florida is set for 7 p.m. ET.

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