Just when it seemed as if the football program was heading in the right direction after the improved performance in the 35-23 loss to the Houston Cougars on Halloween, the team’s careless and inconsistent ways resurfaced and they were defeated by the Memphis Tigers on Saturday evening 23-10 to fall to 2-7 (2-3) on the season.
Perhaps the biggest mishap came on a critical goal-line fumble in the second quarter by offensive lineman turned fullback, Lawrence Martin, when the Bulls were driving to score after Memphis had taken an early 6-0 lead on two field goals from kicker Jake Elliott.
“It’s a play that we put in, and we run on the goal-line, you probably would have seen it a lot more but we hadn’t been on the goal line as much” was the response by Coach Taggart when asked about the decision to use the jumbo 6’3 316 pound athlete, who against Houston made an acrobatic catch and run, instead of starting running back Marcus Shaw who ended the game with 60 yards on 11 carries.
When you have a team that has struggled with overcoming adversity all season, it is a crucial turnover like this that can negatively impact the psyche of the team — all night it seemed as if they were trying to recover from that missed scoring opportunity.
After mis-communication between he and receiver Chris Dunkley led to the first of his four interceptions, fans quickly realized that while Mike White showed the potential to be the solution to the quarterback issues, he still is a true freshman and is prone to having growing pains.
And while 18 of 33 for 198 yards is not a bad game statistically, especially when compared to the Tigers freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch’s 6 of 13 for 59 yards, there were too many instances where he was errant with a passing attempt that ended a drive or led to a turnover.
One receiver he did have success in getting the ball to was senior Andre Davis — in the process of connecting seven times for 110 yards and one touchdown, Davis surpassed the 100 catch mark for his career and also eclipsed the 100 yard plateau for a second consecutive game.
Defensively when you hold an opponent to only two third-down conversions in 10 attempts, force two turnovers, and limit their leading receivers to a combined two catches for 18 yard, that should be enough to win the game in spite of surrendering 187 yards rushing, 53 from Lynch, and allowing Memphis to convert on all three redzone opportunities — two field goals and one touchdown.
The Bulls look to bounce back against the Southern Methodist Mustangs in another night game at Raymond James Stadium next Saturday. They will be facing the fifth rated passing offense in the nation led by former University of Texas starter Garrett Gilbert, who on the season has already accumulated 3,390 yards and 21 touchdowns for the season.
This will be a tough test for the pass defense of the Bulls, but SMU has their own issues defensively as well — ranking 116th in the nation in scoring defense allowing 38.1 points per game.