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Recap: SMU Extinguishes Memphis’ Conference Title Hopes



Memphis missed opportunities in their loss to SMU. (Image Credit: SMU Athletics)

SMU topped Memphis by a score of 38-34 on Saturday in an explosive matchup in the Liberty Bowl.

In the Tigers’ three chances (Missouri, Tulane, SMU) to make this season memorable, they have failed to finish. Memphis did not execute on the defensive end, their fatal flaw in this game. Here’s the rundown of Saturday’s game.

Game theme: Senior day/blackout

Attendance: 30,313

Important Stat: Seth Henigan surpassed 10,000 yards passing and became the third Tiger to accomplish that feat. He joined Danny Wimprine and Brady White.

Key Moments

Plenty of key plays and sequences throughout the game led to the eventual Mustang victory.

First Quarter

What looked to be a promising opening drive for the Tigers was upended by a Demeer Blankumsee fumble. The junior wideout’s turnover gave the Mustangs the ball at the 50-yard line. The SMU offense would capitalize soon after, converting a 4th and 5 with a deep touchdown pass from Prestone Stone to RJ Maryland. 7-0 SMU.

A 24-yard catch from Roc Taylor helped set up a 47-yard field goal for Tanner Gillis. It could have been a touchdown if it weren’t for some inaccuracies from Seth Henigan. 7-3 SMU.

A very methodical 10-play, 80-yard drive ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass to DeMeer Blankumsee to put the Tigers out in front. 10-7 Memphis.

Second Quarter

Cameron Smith had a huge pass breakup on third down, which led to an 18-yard pooch punt from QB Preston Stone. Memphis took control on the 33-yard line with a 10-7 lead but went three-and-out. 

A blatant missed holding call on SMU left tackle Marcus Bryant assisted a 13-play, 70-yard touchdown drive from the Mustangs. At this point in the game, SMU realized that Memphis couldn’t stop runs up the middle. 14-10 SMU.

Seth Henigan’s 18-yard pass to Koby Drake on 4th down from around the SMU 40-yard line set up a 36-yard field goal for Tanner Gillis. This kick cut the Mustang lead to just one entering the half. 14-13 SMU. 

Third Quarter

Greg Rubin collected the Tigers’ first sack of the day, but it didn’t matter. A 24-yard pass from Stone to Jake Bailey helped set up a 1-yard touchdown run for LJ Johnson Jr., extending the Mustang lead. SMU 21-13.

A trio of receptions (25-yard, 17-yard, and 34-yard) from Roc Taylor set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Brandon Thomas. This drive (10 plays, 70 yards) moved Roc Taylor to 10th all-time in single-season receiving yards in program history. Afterwards, the Tigers went for two and got it with a 2-yard catch from Anthony Landphere. 21-21.

SMU responded with a touchdown of their own with a quick strike in a minute-long drive. 28-21 SMU.

Fourth Quarter

Henigan had a very efficient drive, which included an incredible catch from Tauskie Dove. Blake Watson emphatically finished off the 8-play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run. 28-28.

The Memphis secondary showed its first signs of life in the half. An An’Darius Coffey pass breakup forced the Mustangs to settle for three. 31-28 SMU.

Memphis had a quick three-and-out with three incompletions from Henigan. SMU pass rusher Elijah Chatman seemed to have rolled up on Henigan’s ankle, causing him to be on the ground in visible pain.

An ineligible receiver downfield penalty upended an excellent drive for the Tigers. Memphis punted and downed SMU inside the one-yard line. However, the refs called an illegal formation, which started the classic “ref, you suck” chant from the Tiger faithful. Subsequently, Memphis got an unnecessary roughness penalty, which made the fans boo even worse.

When Memphis needed a stop most, the defense failed to come through. Jordan Hudson’s 7-yard touchdown catch effectively put the game out of reach with 2:41 left. 38-28 SMU.

Henigan drove the Tigers down the field to cover the +8.5 spread but Gillis missed the extra point. The Mustangs recovered the following onside kick to end the game. 38-34, SMU wins.

Final Thoughts

In a game the Tigers could have won, a four-point loss is disappointing. Indeed, Memphis played hard, and they lost not for a lack of effort. This game could have easily flipped on its head with a couple more defensive stops. 

Overall, I was impressed by Seth Henigan, who played through multiple injuries and threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Henigan was also only sacked once, which is quite the feat, considering SMU entered the day sixth in the nation in sacks. His ability to get rid of the ball quickly was on full display.

In the post-game press conference, I asked Henigan if this was his last game in the Liberty Bowl. He responded “no” with a smug smile and seemingly complete confidence. Certainly, the Memphis faithful should be delighted to welcome him back for his senior season.