MEMPHIS — On a rainy night in the opening Saturday of college football, the Govs were outmatched by a Memphis team with much more experience.
The Tigers jumped out to a three touchdown lead after one quarter, and cruised down the stretch to defeat APSU, 63-0. It’s the fifth-highest point total in school history for Memphis, who averaged 6.6 yards per play in the one-sided contest.
“There were several times, defensively, in the first half where I thought we had some third down possessions where we almost got off the field,” APSU head coach Kirby Cannon said. “They did a good job mixing it up. We couldn’t really get a handle on if they were going to run it inside, outside, or some type of option play.”
Memphis totaled 545 yards on the evening, with 303 falling into the rushing category. Seven of the Tigers’ nine touchdowns came on the ground, with ball carriers having the ability to break through APSU’s first line of defense and into the secondary.
On offense, the Govs were unable to get any momentum going, especially in the first half. APSU finished with 146 total yards, and weren’t able to mix things up on a night where conditions didn’t allow passes to come out well. This kept punter Ben Campbell busy, as the senior booted the ball 10 times, giving the Tigers more opportunities to drive down the field.
Trey Taylor started at quarterback for APSU, but after throwing an early interception, freshman Darrien Boone came in and played the majority of the game. While they combined to have just 30 passing yards, Boone provided a running element which resulted in 59 yards for him. Justin Roberson, a sophomore who played defensive back last season, led the Govs in rushing with 51 yards, which gave them an quick guy out of the backfield to move the chains.
“I’ve always been a fan of Roberson,” Cannon said. “He’s one of those guys that’s very explosive, and also strong enough now after a year of lifting where he just doesn’t go down with a sneeze. Over the course of this season, he’s going to have some long runs.”
APSU deferred to the second half to begin the game, and the Tigers took the ball in excellent field position after the opening kickoff bounced out of bounds. Memphis used its no huddle offense to hit receivers quick in space as the APSU corners gave them some cushion, and marched into the redzone with ease. Versatile athlete Sam Craft was able to find room on the outside for a two-yard touchdown to cap off the drive.
Taylor trotted onto the field for his first series as a Gov, and found room to run on his first carry for a first down off a read option. But as the rain continued to fall at the Liberty Bowl, the lefty stared down a receiver on the outside for too long, and Memphis jumped the route for an interception. With the ball at the 15-yard line, the Tigers pounded the ball with redshirt senior Brandon Hayes, who added the second score of the first quarter.
Down 14-0, mental mistakes began to happen on the APSU side. First, the Govs took a delay of game penalty before a punt from Campbell, and later would give Memphis a gimme first down. APSU stopped the Tigers after four consecutive third down conversions, but an offsides penalty allowed the home team to add another seven points. With just over three minute remaining in the first quarter, Doroland Dorceus scored from five yards out to capitalize off the mistake.
After the Govs went three and out on their next possession, a positive sign emerged for APSU as Roderick Owens, a Memphis native, picked off a Lynch pass inside the redzone. The sophomore said he was prepared mentally to play in his hometown, and stepped up to make a big play for his team when they needed a positive to come.
“I saw the quarterback when he went play action,” Owens said. “I just saw the post and jumped it and took a chance.”
As the second quarter began, quarterback Darrien Boone let a wet ball slip off his hand as Memphis recovered in great field position. Five plays later, Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch scored from five yards out, the third rushing touchdown for the Tigers.
Lynch continued to exploit the APSU defense midway through the second quarter, hitting Keiwone Malone for 39 yards on third down, then trotted in to increase their lead to 35-0. Before halftime came, the Tigers poured on another touchdown as Lynch found Alan Cross for nine yards. The 42 points scored is the second-highest total in Memphis history for one half.
The Govs will serve a bye week next Saturday before hosting Chattanooga on Sept. 13 in the first game at new Governors Stadium. With a long list of things to take away from this game, a week off comes at a perfect time for a young APSU team.
“We were always looking at that bye week, going against Memphis and play as many guys as we could,” Cannon said. “We’re going to know a lot more about this team after tonight and that bye week couldn’t come at a better time, I think, considering how many freshmen we have.”