MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team could not overcome its missed opportunities to shock Football Bowl Subdivision member Memphis for the second straight season, falling to the Tigers 21-6 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
UT Martin (6-4) jumped out to an early 6-0 lead but could not overcome the Tigers’ stingy defense. Memphis held the Skyhawks to just 286 yards of total offense, but allowed 164 rushing yards.
Offensively, the Skyhawks were led by junior Abou Toure who registered a season-high 113 rushing yards on 17 carries. Toure’s 113 yards is a season-high allowed by the Memphis defense, one of just six teams in the country not to allow an individual 100-yard rushing game. DJ McNeil tallied 52 yards on 16 carries before leaving with an apparent injury.
Jarod Neal got the start under center for the Skyhawks, completing 6 of 16 pass attempts for 105 yards and one interception. Dylan Favre also saw action for the Skyhawks, completing two of three attempts for 17 yards.
Senior Jeremy Butler tallied five receptions for the Skyhawks, including a game high 95 receiving yards. Chris Thompson and Toure both tallied receptions on the night.
Despite the score, the Skyhawk defense stood out today with several solid efforts. Thad Williams led the team with 10 total tackles, including four unassisted and one tackle for loss. DJ Roberts tallied seven tackles and a team-high 2.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. Senior Camaren Harris tallied one interception and three tackles on the night.
“I’m very proud of Abou, he had 17 carries for 113 yards,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “We have been waiting for his break out game all year, so that was good to see. We knew that throwing the ball was going to be very difficult against this defense. Our plan was to slow the game down, run the ball and keep us in third and mediums and be able to convert on those.”
Memphis (2-6) was led by quarterback Paxton Lynch who completed 15 of 22 passes, good for 189 yards and one touchdown. Lynch rushed seven times for 38 yards and one touchdown. Running back Brandon Hayes tallied 105 yards on the ground on 27 carries while tailback Sam Craft tallied one touchdown on two carries and 14 yards.
The Skyhawks wasted little time trying to make an impact in today’s game, placing the game’s first points on the board on their first possession. Facing the FBS’s sixth-best defense against the rush, the Skyhawk used eight consecutive rushing plays to move into Memphis territory. The Skyhawks attempted two shots at the end zone through the air before turning to sophomore specialist Jackson Redditt. Redditt nailed the 41-yard field goal attempt to give the Skyhawks the early 3-0 lead with 10:55 to play in the first.
Following a punt by James Satterfield, the Skyhawk defense settled in for yet another defensive stand. With Memphis in good field position, starting their drive on their own 38, the Tigers complete two plays before the Skyhawks quickly ended their drive. Facing third and six from their own 42, Lynch throw an interception to defensive back Harris. Harris who intercepted his second pass in the past two games, returned the pick for six yards.
With good field position for the Skyhawks after the interception, taking over on the Memphis 45, Neal quickly hit Butler for a 25-yard reception along the right sideline. On the next play it was McNeil who tallied a piece of Skyhawk history. With a one-yard pick up, McNeil surpassed the 1,000 yard mark for the season. McNeil is just the fifth Skyhawk to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in a single season, and first since Don Chapman completed the feat in 2007.
The Skyhawks would turn to McNeil yet again after a pass interference penalty, on the Memphis two-yard line. McNeil would streak to the endzone before Memphis stripped what they believe to be a fumble. For the second time in the contest, Simpson challenged the official’s ruling on the field, winning the challenge yet again and keeping the Skyhawk drive going. Redditt would attempt a 29-yard field goal to stretch the Skyhawk lead, but would hit the left upright to end the Skyhawks’ scoring opportunity.
After another defensive stand, the Skyhawks offense found life again on their ensuing possession. Sparked in large part by a 51-yard rush down the right sideline by Toure and another pass interference penalty, the Skyhawks found themselves on the Memphis 2-yard line. After three failed attempts to get into the endzone, Redditt nailed a 21-yard field goal attempt to extend the Skyhawk lead to 6-0 with 1:34 to play in the half.
Memphis began their next drive on their own 35-yard line and transitioned into a two-minute offense. Lynch completed three passes on the drive, including a big 32-yard connection to Alan Cross to move the Tigers to the UT Martin 16. Following a pass interference penalty on the Skyhawks, Lynch called his own number and scampered for the six-yard touchdown. Following the extra point by Jake Elliott, Memphis went into the halftime break with a slim 7-6 lead.
The Skyhawks forced their second turnover of the game on Memphis’ second drive of the third quarter. With Memphis on their own 49 yard line, Ryan Isom got to Lynch, stripping the quarterback. Roberts quickly jumped on the fumble, good for an eight yard loss and giving the Skyhawks great field position.
With UT Martin trailing by one, they marched down the field but could not put points on the board. The nine-play drive ended with a 42-yard field goal attempt by Redditt. However, results were like earlier as the sophomore hit the left upright, bouncing back into the endzone.
Memphis would put together another scoring drive at the 11:55 mark of the fourth. Lynch hit Craft for 26 yards to the 50 yard line. Lynch hit Mose Frazier for 12 yards before scrambling for a 24 yard first down. Lynch capped off the well-executed drive at the 7:56 mark after hitting Hayes for a 12-yard touchdown. Following the extra-point by Elliott, Memphis held a 14-6 advantage.
The Skyhawks would look to answer the Tigers’ touchdown as Neal hit Butler for a 37-yard completion, moving the Skyhawks to the Memphis 34. The hype was short lived however as Neal’s next pass was intercepted by Anthony Watson at the 13 yard line.
Memphis would put the game out of reach on the ensuing possession, using a nine-play drive which chewed up 82 yards and four minutes off the clock. The Skyhawks almost stalled Memphis’ attack when Dorola Dorceus fumbled following his 34-yard rush, but Memphis would recover. Following a timeout, Craft rumbled into the endzone for an eight yard carry and the score. Following the extra point, Memphis led 21-6 with just 2:57 to play.
Taking over on their own 30, the Skyhawks made one last effort but couldn’t find enough magic to close the gap as Favre’s fumble on the UTM 46 sealed the Memphis victory.
The Skyhawks will look to regroup as the set their sights on next week’s return to conference play. UT Martin will be back in action on Saturday, Nov. 16 at noon local time when they make the trek to Eastern Kentucky.