Tigers Beat Navy In First Conference Game
It required some time and adjustments, but when the University of Memphis discovered how to slow what had been a potent Navy offense, a victory in its American Athletic Conference opener came into focus.
After the Midshipmen gained nearly 300 yards in the opening half, the Tigers limited Navy to 81 yards and a field goal in the second half, a key contributor in the UofM’s 35-23 win Thursday night before 33,909 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Three second-half touchdown passes by quarterback Brady White and a second-straight 100-yard rushing game by freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell also helped the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 American) remain unbeaten. Navy fell to 2-1 overall, 1-1 in the American
“I’m extremely proud of our football team,” said Tigers coach Mike Norvell. “We talked all week long about it being a program-defining game because of who we went against. They do things the right way.
“For us to come out and not play our best in the first half and see our guys respond (in the second half) and continue to keep believing in each other . . . our kids would not be denied. That speaks volumes to where we are and gives a great deal of encouragement to where we can go.”
White completed 14 of 18 passes for 196 yards and Gainwell rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Receiver Antonio Gibson finished with 105 yards receiving on three catches.
White was particularly effective in the second half, throwing for 173 yards. Two of his second-half TDs came on third-down-and-long throws.
“In the first half I could have put this team and this offense in a better situation,” White said. “I wasn’t playing like myself.
“Then I settled down and the defense kept us close. We knew it was going to be a dog fight. It was a big win.”
In the second half, the Tigers quickly took steps to erase a six-point halftime deficit.
The Tigers scored on their second and third possessions of the half to take a 28-20 lead.
The UofM’s first touchdown of the half came at the end of a 50-yard drive when White found Kedarian Jones on a drag route for a 5-yard score. Riley Patterson’s extra point gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 21-20.
On their following possession, the Tigers converted on third-and-13 from their 27-yard line. White found Gibson several yards ahead of defender Tony Brown and hit Gibson in stride for a 73-yard TD and a 28-20 cushion.
Navy’s Bijan Nichols connected on a 49-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to cut the Memphis lead to 28-23.
Navy enjoyed a commanding advantage in time of possession in the first half (23 minutes to 7 minutes). Combined with its strong rushing attack, the Midshipmen dominated to take a 20-7 lead midway through the quarter.
But the Tigers regained the momentum on the ensuing kickoff. Gabriel Rogers, returning a kickoff for the first time in his career, raced 99 yards for a touchdown, breaking several tackles en route to the end zone. The TD trimmed the Navy lead to 20-14.
Each team missed a field-goal attempt in the final six minutes of the half, Memphis’ Patterson from 55 yards out and Navy’s Nichols from 46 yards out.
Navy opened the game by driving 75 yards in 10 plays, scoring on a 1-yard keeper by Malcolm Perry. The Tigers countered on their first snap as Gainwell busted through traffic on the left side and sprinted 75 yards for the TD, reaching the end zone despite being tripped up by Navy’s Kevin Brennan at the 5-yard line.
The Midshipmen regained the lead late in the opening quarter as Perry led an 86-yard drive, one that ended with a perfectly thrown pass to Chance Warren in the right corner of the end zone from 17 yards out. The extra point try by Nichols struck the upright and Navy led, 13-7.
The teams exchanged fumbles early in the second quarter, but the Midshipmen turned theirs into points for a 20-7 lead. After recovering a White fumble at its 26, Navy drove 74 yards, starting with a 45-yard pass completion and ending with a 1-yard keeper by Perry.
Behind its lopsided lead in time of possession, Navy dominated statistically in the first half. The Midshipmen gained 292 yards (to 98 for the Tigers) and rushed for 217 of those. Navy had 15 first downs to three for the Tigers.
Memphis resumes play next Saturday at UL-Monroe in the Tigers’ final non-conference game of the season. ESPNU will carry the game, which kicks off at 2:45 p.m.
TIGER FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK
The Tigers entered the game allowing 116 yards rushing per game. Navy amassed 164 rushing yards in the opening quarter.
The UofM’s Gabriel Rogers returned a second-quarter kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. It was the first kickoff return of Rogers’ career.
Memphis receiver Damonte Coxie scored on a 31-yard pass in the fourth quarter for his first TD catch of the season. Coxie entered the game as the American Athletic Conference’s fifth-leading receiver.
The Tigers improved to 18-1 in non-Saturday games since 2014. They are also 6-0 playing in Thursday games during the same time span.
Navy’s Keoni Makekau rushed for 101 yards to become the first back to eclipse 100 yards against an Adam Fuller-coached defense in 17 games. Fuller is in his first season as UofM defensive coordinator after coming to the Tigers from Marshall.
Tigers defensive lineman Joseph Dorceus caught the second pass of his career in the second half. Lining up as fullback, he took a short pass from quarterback Brady White and gained seven yards.
Tigers running back Kenneth Gainwell became the first freshman to record back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since DeAngelo Williams in 2002. Gainwell rushed for 104 yards against Navy after gaining 145 at South Alabama.
Shown are videos of: the University of Memphis Tigers Marching Band delivering the Tigers Fight Song; and entertainers Al Kapone and Uriah Mitchell along with the marching band performing a new rendition of Eye of the Tiger.