MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In many ways, Tulane and Memphis are a lot alike.
Both football programs have been mired in losing for the better part of the last six years, and their respective athletic departments are banking on charismatic first-year coaches to reverse seasons upon seasons of futility.
But for every similarity these two programs share, the gap between them seems to grow wider with each meeting. The Green Wave (2-8, 2-4 Conference USA) fell to the Tigers 37-23 for the seventh straight time Saturday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Normally reliable Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin, coming off a 400-yard passing effort last week against Rice, threw three interceptions — including one on the first play of scrimmage — and generally wasn’t able to get into a rhythm. He was 25-of-43 passing for 211 yards, one touchdown, and the three picks.
“I think the (first) play kinda got him in a little bit of a tank,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “We turned the ball over to them a couple times, and he never really got back into the rhythm that he’s had going (recently).”
Meanwhile, Tigers quarterback Jacob Karam had one of his better games in a Memphis uniform, going 14-of-18 for 270 yards and two touchdowns.
The Texas Tech graduate transfer connected with receiver Tevin Jones on a 52-yard touchdown — the Tigers’ longest scoring pass of the year — in the third quarter to break a 16-all tie, and he helped engineer a 97-yard drive in the fourth quarter that put the Tigers ahead by two scores.
“We were able to get some big plays, you know, and I thought Jake did a good job,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “He was pretty efficient on first down passing, which is when you have an opportunity to get some big plays.”
It wasn’t that the Green Wave couldn’t move the ball; Griffin and the offense proved they could in their second series of the night, when he went 7-of-8 for 53 yards and a touchdown to put Tulane ahead 7-6 with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
And receiver Ryan Grant had a stellar game with 113 yards on 11 receptions to go with a touchdown catch.
But Saturday night was more about the Tigers’ defense, which, in addition to forcing four turnovers, held tough in multiple crucial situations and forced the Green Wave to settle for field goals.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Green Wave went for it on a 4th-and-goal run play from the 1 trailing 23-16, but running back Orleans Darkwa was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s very frustrating,” Johnson said. “Usually, we punch those in, and we just didn’t tonight. I think their defense played well, and their nose guard really played well. He did a good job and kind of stuffed us. They did a good job.”
“They have athletes across the board,” Johnson said. “(Wide receiver) Marcus Rucker is a pro-type football player. (Former receiver) Duke Calhoun was here before, he was a pro guy. They got them, and they’ll get more together. They’ve struggled just like us. We just did not match up very well against them tonight.”