MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) During a four-game winning streak that has given No. 24 Memphis the lead in the American Athletic Conference West Division, the Tigers have averaged 49.5 points and 541.5 yards total offense. Still, there’s something missing.
The Tigers are still seeking more from their high-powered offense that has occasionally sputtered.
They got plenty of points Friday night. Memphis overpowered Tulane 56-26 behind a balanced attack that produced 298 passing yards and 259 rushing yards. Quarterback Riley Ferguson passed for three touchdowns and rushed for two others, while running back Darrell Henderson added 112 yards and another score.
”When you score 56 points, it’s a good night,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. ”But we’ve got to continue to be more consistent in what we’re doing.”
The win kept the Tigers (7-1, 4-1) atop the West Division by a half game over SMU, which defeated Tulsa on Friday night. Tulane (3-5, 1-3) dropped its third consecutive game and lost its 11th straight in the series.
The Tigers sputtered in the third quarter, managing only 30 yards and being held scoreless. In its win at Houston last week, Memphis was shut out in the first half before rallying for 42 second-half points.
”That third quarter was terrible,” Memphis receiver Anthony Miller said. ”We’re back to the drawing board. We’ve just got to limit the mistakes. We have yet to play a complete game. That’s our goal this season.”
Ferguson entered having thrown for 1,181 yards and 11 touchdowns – with one interception – in the team’s previous three games. He continued his solid play by throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns in the opening half. The Tigers led 35-12 at the break.
He also was concerned about what transpired in the third quarter. Each of the team’s three drives ended with punts. Two were three-and-outs.
”It’s just execution, that’s the main thing,” Ferguson said. ”We have to keep ourselves in manageable downs and distances. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”
Tulane, which ranked 12th nationally in rushing at 266 yards per game, managed only 16 rushing yards in the first quarter and 122 for the game.
”Seeing them with 52 carries and (only) 122 yards, that’s pretty special,” Norvell said.
Despite the sluggish start, the Green Wave scored 19 straight points after falling behind 35-0.
Tulane scored twice in the final 3:44 of the first half – including a touchdown on the final play of the half – and added a third-quarter touchdown on a 6-yard pass from Jonathan Banks to Charles Jones to trim the deficit to 35-19.
Although Memphis averaged 12 yards per play in the opening half, it was unable to sustain its first-half production. Memphis required a defensive score to create a second-half spark. Linebacker Austin Hall recovered a bad Tulane snap in the end zone to give the Tigers a 42-19 lead early in the fourth quarter. Ferguson added his two rushing touchdowns in the closing eight minutes.
”We’re just not to the point where we can miss assignments,” Tulane coach Wilie Fritz said. ”They have great skilled guys, an excellent quarterback, good backs, good receivers. … You have to be hitting on all cylinders defensively and we certainly weren’t.”
Tulane: Much like it did in last week’s 34-28 loss to South Florida, another nationally ranked opponent, Tulane battled back from a huge deficit. Against USF, the Green Wave rallied from being down 34-7. Against Memphis, the Green Wave trimmed what was a 35-point deficit to 16 points on two occasions.
Memphis: The Tigers continued on their trek to the American Athletic Conference West Division title. Memphis has won four straight and has games left against Tulsa, SMU and East Carolina. Only SMU has a winning record.
Memphis: With an overpowering effort against Tulane, the 24th-ranked Tigers could move up another spot or two. Memphis will be ranked for the third straight week.
ALL CAUGHT UP
Memphis’ Anthony Miller became the school’s career leading in receiving yards in the first half after a 12-yard reception. Miller surpassed Duke Calhoun, who had 2,981 receiving yards from 2006 to `09. Miller finished with six catches for 75 yards and has 2,987 career receiving yards.
Memphis: Defensive lineman John Tate went down in the first half with an apparent knee injury, but was able to walk off the field. He returned to the game later in the half. Another defensive lineman, Christian Johnson, hobbled off midway through the fourth quarter.
Tulane: The Green Wave returns home to play host to struggling Cincinnati. The Bearcats have dropped five straight, are 0-4 in league play and 2-6 overall.
Memphis: The Tigers, who played one Saturday game in October, continue their non-Saturday stretch. Memphis travels to Tulsa Friday to play another struggling conference team. Tulsa lost earlier this month, 62-28, to Tulane.
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