Memphis football rally comes up short at SMU

Memphis football was in this position before. The Tigers had the ball with a chance to win or tie on the road in regulation.

It worked at East Carolina with a game-tying drive. At SMU Saturday, the Tigers hoped for similar results on their final drive charging into Mustangs territory.

The Tigers got in the red zone but Seth Henigan's high pass in the end zone was intercepted. Memphis lost 34-31 in another heartbreak on the road to end the regular season.

Here’s what we learned from the Tigers in Dallas.

The final drive

With 2:13 left at the Tigers' 15-yard line, Seth Henigan drove Memphis (6-6, 3-5 AAC) down the field. Asa Martin got things started on a 29-yard screen pass and Gabriel Rogers had a 24-yard catch on fourth down to put Memphis in field goal range.

Martin, who finished with 138 all-purpose yards, added a third down catch to inch Memphis closer. But Henigan, who has struggled with high passes lately, threw one to SMU's (7-5, 5-3) Brandon Crossley. It was the only turnover of the game for either team.

The loss meant Memphis finishes eighth in the AAC, one spot lower than last season. The Tigers also have their second consecutive losing record in conference play, which hadn't happened since the Larry Porter era (2010-11).

Running start wasted

Memphis wasted little time attacking SMU’s run defense, ranked 122nd out of 131 FBS teams. But despite 60 rushing yards on their first scoring drive, the Tigers didn’t get enough offense until 135 total yards in the fourth quarter.

After 10:51 in the second quarter, the Tigers only scored two touchdowns including a four-minute drive in the fourth quarter to get within three. The Tigers finished with three rushing touchdowns by Martin, Sutton Smith, and Gabriel Rogers. Henigan added a touchdown pass to Roc Taylor.

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Missed chances

Memphis nearly had an advantage when SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai went hit by Tyler Murray with 9:25 left in the second quarter. However, on the next series, true freshman Kevin Jennings led a 91-yard scoring drive that chewed over six minutes on the clock.

On that drive, Sylvonta Oliver dropped an interception. If he caught it or Memphis got a stop elsewhere, the Tigers could’ve led by more at halftime instead of 17-14. Instead, Mordecai returned in the second half to lead four consecutive scoring drives.

Nov 26, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan (5) runs the ball as Southern Methodist Mustangs linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia (41) chases during the first half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan (5) runs the ball as Southern Methodist Mustangs linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia (41) chases during the first half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Too much Rice

Memphis usually has held the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver in check or made them work for yards. SMU’s Rashee Rice blew that plan up.

Rice had 13 catches for 147 yards after entering the game as the nation’s leader in receiving yards and yards per game. The 6-foot-2 senior caught a 24-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give SMU a 31-23 lead.

Rice wasn’t the only player to do damage. Sophomore Roderick Daniels Jr. also had 111 all-purpose yards for SMU.

Special teams mistakes return

Memphis’ special teams was great the past two games but issues returned. Chris Howard missed a 43-yard field goal and in the third quarter, the Tigers gave up a 49-yard punt return to Daniels that led to an SMU field goal.

The biggest mistake came after Rogers’ sore. A low snap led to a blocked PAT that could’ve tied the game and Memphis made it worse with a personal foul penalty afterwards. Right after that, SMU got a 24-yard punt return and promptly scored on the next drive.

Memphis now waits to receive its bowl game invitation on Dec. 4.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis football's rally comes up short at SMU