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November 30, 2013

Temple tops Memphis

The Memphis Tigers have been in every football game it has played in. The team took Central Florida to the brink and had chances to beat Duke, which is 10-2, and the Louisville Cardinals on the road no less. So, naturally the Tigers were going to have no problem with a 1-10 Temple Owls team, right?

Wrong. Not only did Memphis (3-8, 1-6 American Athletic Conference) lose the game at home, it was thoroughly outplayed from start to finish in a 41-21 loss.

What had been one of the best defenses in the country entering the game; the Tigers' unit was absolutely torched, giving up a season high 534 yards. The secondary allowing 328 yards passing isn't as big of a surprise considering it has had its troubles. However, the rush defense getting ran all over for a total of 206 yards is inexplicable.

The Tigers came in ranking 11th nationally with opponents averaging just 111.5 yards per game on the ground. Temple already had 176 by halftime as the Memphis front had no answer for the Owls' rushing attack. They didn't have a back go over the 100-yard mark, but three players had over 50 including freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, who had a fabulous game with 328 yards passing, four touchdowns and one pick and 59 rushing yards.

"They showed up and beat us in every facet of the game," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said. "(Temple head coach) Matt (Rhule) and his staff did a great job of keeping those kids committed and getting them ready to play hard. And that's how they won the game. They had a crushing defeat last week. They showed up here ready to play a football game."

Unfortunately, the Tigers didn't show up to play a football game. Fuente said his squad had a good week in practice, but that didn't translate to Saturday. Memphis has been plagued this season by crucial mistakes, a theme that continued against the Owls.

One of the biggest came at the beginning of the second quarter. Three plays after freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch completed a 25-yard throw to sophomore Allan Cross to get the Tigers to the 28, freshman tailback Doroland Dorceus popped off an eight-yard run, but fumbled at the end of it and Temple recovered. The Owls then marched 87 yards down the field to take a 10-0 lead.

Junior wide receiver Joe Craig helped Memphis out a ton on the ensuing kickoff, running it back 56 yards to set the Tiger offense with great field position. Lynch then connected on a 23-yard pass to junior wideout Keiwone Malone two plays later to set up a one-yard touchdown run by freshman Sam Craft, the first of his three scores on the day, to cut the deficit to 10-7.

"I was awfully proud of the way (Craft) played," Fuente said. " I thought he showed toughness and I thought he showed commitment. I was really proud of Sam."

A few drives later, the Owls took over the ball at their own 47-yard line with the clock winding down in the first half. On the first play, Walker gashed the Tigers for 40 yards, blowing through arm tackles to get to the 13. Walker found receiver Robbie Anderson for another score on third and eight at the Memphis 11 to give the Owls a 17-7 advantage at the break.

At the half, the Tigers had already given up 310 yards on 52 plays to Temple, including allowing them to convert on three of four fourth down conversions.

It seemed that maybe Memphis was going to make it a game when Craft scored his second touchdown of the game on a 11-yard toss from Lynch to make it 17-14. But, as soon as the Tigers got some momentum, the Owls took it back with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Walker to Chris Coyer.

Things only got worse from there. The Tigers went three and out on the next drive and when senior punter Tom Hornsey went to kick the ball, it was blocked by Sharif Finch and recovered by Michael Felton in the end zone to balloon the Owls' lead to 31-14.

Memphis answered with a 12-play, 62-yard drive that ended with Craft running in from three yards out to give him a hat trick for the day. However, that would be the last time Memphis scored as Temple continued to gain big yards and shut down the Tiger offense.

Though Memphis made some good plays on offense, the unit was held to a mere 228 yards by a Temple defense that is 113th in the FBS. They were never able to get in a rhythm and the three scores they had were in large part due to a short field.

The fact that the Tigers played so badly against a team that hadn't even won an AAC game raises a lot of concerns heading into the last game of the season at Connecticut.

"We need to get ready for UConn next Saturday. We cannot dwell on this loss we had today," Craft said. "Temple played hard today. We have to go out to practice this week and get ready for Saturday. Temple came out and hit us hard. You never come in to a game expecting to play like this. It's up to us to bounce back. We have to stay focused from the beginning of the game, we can't come out flat."

With the loss, the Tigers can no longer best last year's record, but a win on the road to close out 2013 would help send Memphis into the offseason with some momentum. Saturday's game is set for 12 p.m. CT and will be streamed on ESPN3.com.

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