Ok, so Memphis is not a world-beater on offense, but the Blue Raiders did hold UM to 170 passing yards and did not give up a pass completion longer than 26 yards on the night. DB Kenneth Gilstrap, who had one interception and one sack on the night, credited safety Kevin Byard with getting the group together and challenging them during the week to let the UM game serve as a prime opportunity to change people's minds about their unit. Well, mission accomplished, for the moment. The next step is showing they can be consistent in their play.
Head coach Rick Stockstill was quick to point out that his team was limited to under an hour of actual practice time on the field this week leading up to the UM contest due to inclement weather throughout the week. I'm not one for excuses, but you could tell that QB Logan Kilgore was off tonight, but he wasn't alone - his running backs were not hitting their holes and his offensive line looked out of place on certain protection packages. For his part, Kilgore did not do himself many favors, often throwing into tight coverage or letting the ball get away from him on his out routes and deep looks. Perhaps the lack of practice played a role in all of that, but I think credit needs to be given where it is due - Memphis came to play and their defense is nothing to scoff at. I'll reserve judgment on the Blue Raider offense until after next week, assuming they have ample time to practice this coming week.
The biggest takeaway from this contest is that the there is no way MT walks away from this game with the win if Memphis was not as penalized as they were. In the first half alone, UM racked up 11 penalties to the tune of 114 yards. To put that into perspective, the Tigers had six more yards worth of penalties than they had rushing yards in the first half, which is telling because the Tigers had great success on the ground. As they cleaned things up in the second half, though, they began to chip away at the deficit before eventually taking the lead on what I thought was a questionable TD reception. I seriously question whether or not the Blue Raiders would have been in this game in the second half had those early penalties not halted the progress that Memphis was making.
With the fate of the game hanging in the balance of one final Memphis drive, co-defensive coordinators Nix and Ellis went all out on their blitz packages, which resulted in three sacks, including the game winner as the clock ticked down to double-zeros. It was the smart thing to do. Knowing that UM was out of timeouts, Nix and Ellis sent their corners after the QB, vacating the middle of the field as they knew the sidelines were UM's only option. That aggressive style of play has been the calling card for Ellis and Nix over the years, and it appears that the style is rubbing off on their respective units this season.
Heading into this contest, the question marks around this team were surrounding the defense. We all presumed the Blue Raider offense was fine and that the UNC performance was more about playing tight on the road in a hostile atmosphere rather than there actually being a problem on that side of the ball. Well, following this game, the magnifying glasses will turn their focus to Logan Kilgore and his group when the Blue Raiders head to Florida to face off against Florida Atlantic. The Owls will be riding high following their 28-10 dismantling of USF Saturday night. Additionally, there are still question marks surrounding placekicker Cody Clark after Saturday night. Sure, he hit what turned out to be the game winner, but even Rick Stockstill admitted postgame that he was highly skeptical of Clark's chances on that 40-yard attempt. Perhaps Clark, who is now 2-for-4 on the season, will find his groove after connecting on the game-winner. Time will tell, though.