It's far too late to avoid a losing season and dreams of a bowl bid will have to wait until next year, but the Memphis Tigers aren't quitting on first-year coach Justin Fuente.
The Tigers delivered their most complete performance of the season in a 46-9 victory over UAB, performing on offense, defense and special teams to win their second game in a row. This is the first time they've won back-to-back games since 2008, and now they have a chance to end a once-bleak season with a three-game winning streak if they can close it out with a victory over winless Southern Miss.
"I'm very proud-very proud-of the way we've stuck to it," Fuente told The Commercial Appeal. "I'm not sure they've always done that in the past. They're continuing to go out and work, and that's not always easy."
Quarterback Jacob Karam was brilliant for the second week in a row. After completing 14 of 18 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a victory over Tulane on Nov. 10, Karam connected on 14 of 16 pass attempts for 147 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Blazers. In the past two games, he has completed 82.3 percent of his passes for 417 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
Junior running back Brandon Hayes rushed for season highs of 127 yards and three touchdowns. The Memphis defense held UAB to 213 total yards, the lowest total by an opponent this season. The Tigers even shined on special teams.
Sophomore Keiwone Malone became the first Memphis player since 1994 to amass 100 yards in punt returns; junior Tom Hornsey became the school's all-time leader in punting yards with 9,979; senior Paulo Henriques booted a career-long 51-yard field goal; and the Tigers blocked a PAT for the first time since 2009, a play that resulted in a safety when sophomore linebacker Charles Harris returned the loose ball for two points.
"We went out and played with great team chemistry," Hayes told The Commercial Appeal. "We wanted to get this 'W' for our seniors and go out with a bang. We put it together on offense, defense and special teams."
WHAT'S AHEAD: After beating Tulane at home and UAB on the road, the Tigers will have an opportunity to end the season with their third consecutive victory when they play host to Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles fell to 0-11 with a heartbreaking 34-33 loss to UTEP. They are winless this season after going 12-2 in 2011. The Tigers will have to utilize an improving pass rush to pressure sophomore QB Arsenio Favor, who threw for 347 yards against UTEP.
• Memphis beat UAB to claim the "Battle for the Bones" trophy for the third time since 2006 when the two teams starting playing for a 100-pound bronze rack of ribs. The Tigers also won the trophy in 2007 and 2008. The Blazers won in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011. The game is accompanied by a barbecue competition which is open to both professionals and amateurs.
• Memphis scored 21 points in the first quarter against UAB, the first time they've scored that many points in the opening quarter since an Oct. 18, 2003 game against Houston. The Tigers scored 28 points in the first quarter that day en route to a 45-14 victory over the Cougars.
• The Memphis defense enjoyed its finest hour against UAB. The Tigers held the Blazers to 213 total yards, the lowest total by an opponent this season, and matched their season high with six sacks.
Keep An Eye On: After catching just one pass for 12 yards in the first eight games of the season, junior TE Jesse Milleson is emerging as a key player in Memphis' improving passing game. He has one touchdown catch in each of the past three games. He had a 1-yard touchdown reception against Marshall, a 23-yarder against Tulane and a 21-yarder against UAB. Milleson had seven catches for 77 yards in those three games.
Looking Good: Junior RB Brandon Hayes rushed for a career-high 127 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries against UAB. He scored on runs of 7, 5 and 46 yards. It was, by far, his best game of the season. Hayes surpassed his previous season-high of 83 rushing yards against UCF on Oct. 20.
Still Needs Work: Whether in victory or defeat, the Tigers still have trouble hanging on to the football. They fumbled twice against the Blazers, both of which resulted in turnovers. The Tigers lead Conference USA with 20 fumbles this season. Houston is second with 15. Memphis has committed 23 turnovers in all.
Quote To Note: "Offensively, we knew we wanted to come out fast and jump on them. And then the defense did an incredible job of stopping them time after time after time. This was just a great win all together."-Junior QB Jacob Karam, to The Commercial Appeal, following a 46-9 victory over UAB.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
• Senior DB Mitch Huelsing was one of 50 players nominated for The Burlsworth Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's most outstanding football player who began his career as a walk-on. Huelsing, a native of Munford, Tenn. who grew up 30 miles from the Liberty Bowl, earned a scholarship in 2011 after starting three of the last four games as a sophomore in 2010.
• Junior QB Jacob Karam was named the Tennessee Sports Writers Association offensive player of the week following an outstanding performance against Tulane. Karam completed 14 of 16 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-23 victory over the Green Wave.
• Senior WR Marcus Rucker moved into seventh on Memphis' all-time list with 1,652 career receiving yards, passing Darron White (2001-04).
• Junior RB Brandon Hayes rushed for 127 yards and three touchdowns against UAB, becoming the first Memphis player in three years to rush for three or more touchdowns in a game and the first in two years to rush for over 125 yards. Curtis Steele ran for four touchdowns against Tulsa in 2009. Gregory Ray rushed for 176 yards against Houston in 2010.
• Senior OL Jordan Devey played three different positions for the second time this season, lining up at left guard, right guard and left tackle.
• Freshman OL Taylor Fallin returned to the field after missing the past three games with an injury.