Turnovers Cost Memphis in 48-30 Loss to MTSU
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee (2-1) scored 24 points off four Memphis (0-3) turnovers in a 48-30 win Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Middle Tennessee grabbed a quick lead with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took just 2:15 off the clock. Logan Kilgore was 4-for-5 passing on the drive for the Blue Raiders, capping off the drive with a 12-yard strike to Christian Collis for the score.
A play-action, 63-yard pass completion from Jacob Karam to Marcus Rucker sparked the Memphis offense, but Middle Tennessee held the Tigers to a field goal on the drive. A 4th-and-1 conversion gave the U of M a first-and-goal situation, but a dropped pass in the end zone and a fumble on third down forced a Tyler Spurlock38-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.
Memphis went to the deep pass again to take its first lead of the game, 10-7, with 14:47 remaining in the second quarter. Mitch Huelsingforced a Middle Tennessee fumble to give Memphis the ball at their 28-yard line. Karam went 3-for-3 on the ensuing drive with a 49-yard completion to Rucker for the touchdown.
Middle Tennessee tied the game with a 19-yard field goal by Carlos Lopez with 11:13 remaining in the first half. On third-and-goal from the Memphis two-yard line, Kilgore missed an open receiver in the back of the end zone, forcing the field goal attempt. The incompletion was Kilgore's first in nine tries.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Blue Raiders forced a fumble to begin the go-ahead scoring drive at the Memphis 29-yard line. The Tigers defense held Middle Tennessee to three yards on the drive as two passes were incomplete. Lopez nailed his second field goal, a 43-yard attempt, to give Middle Tennessee at 13-10 lead with 10 minutes left in the half.
A turnover again cost the U of M, as Middle Tennessee increased their lead to 20-10 with an interception returned for a touchdown. Blue Raiders' safety Kevin Byard picked off Karam's pass on third-and-11 and returned the pick 68 yards for the touchdown. It was Karam's first interception in 77 pass in his collegiate career.
A fifth Memphis fumble, the second recovered by MTSU, helped the Blue Raiders increase the lead to 27-10. MTSU, aided by an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Tigers, scored on a six-yard run by Benny Cunningham. Memphis answered with a 42-yard scoring drive to cut the MTSU lead to 27-17 at the half. Helped by a 55-yard kickoff return from Bobby McMain, Karam hooked up with Rucker for the second passing touchdown combination of the night, a 10-yard completion.
Out of the halftime break, Memphis fumbled the kickoff return to give MTSU good field position. The Blue Raiders cashed in on their third fumble recovery of the day as a third-and-goal from the one was rushed in by Cunningham, resulting in a 34-17 lead. After forcing the Tigers' offense to go three-and-out, MTSU converted in the goal line situation to cap off a nine-play, 63-yard scoring drive to lead 41-17.
The Tigers cut into the deficit with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that saw Rucker close within nine yards of the single-game record for receiving yards. Jerrell Rhodesended the drive with a six-yard rush, but Memphis' two-point conversion play failed to see the Tigers trail 41-23.
MTSU added a touchdown on a 10-play, 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter to increase the lead to 48-23, but Memphis answered late in the period to set the final score of 48-30. Keiwone Malone had two catches on the drive to go over 100 yards receiving in the game and Carl Harrisrushed one yard for the touchdown.
Rucker finished the evening with 10 receptions and 177 yards, while Malone had 10 catches for 102 yards, marking the first time since the Nov. 24, 2007 three-overtime game against SMU that the Tigers' offense produced two, 100-plus yard receivers. Karam finished the game 26-of-37 with 325 yards passing, a career-high.
Memphis plays at Duke, Saturday at 5 p.m. (CT) in a game that will be aired on ESPN3.