More than 44,000 fans turned out for the University of Memphis season opener Saturday, Sept. 7, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. They saw Duke beat the Tigers by a score of 28-14. They saw redshirt freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch complete 14-of-28 passes for 148 yards and rush for 29 yards on eight carries.
In numbers, in shorthand, that was the story.
Despite losing 28-14 to Duke, the University of Memphis football team drew more than 44,000 fans for the home opener Saturday, Sept. 7, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Second-year coach Justin Fuente called the turnout “an awesome display of Tiger Nation and their desire for us to build a football program here.”
(Andrew J. Breig)
Beyond the numbers, Tiger fans showed faith and support. And the team, despite the defeat, perhaps showed enough potential to bring them back.
Second-year coach Justin Fuente began his post-game press conference by thanking the fans for turning out, calling it “an awesome display of Tiger Nation and their desire for us to build a football program here.”
Redshirt junior defensive end Martin Ifedi, who had two sacks and three tackles for loss, called the turnout “amazing. That’s the most people I’ve seen at Memphis,” he said. When told a good number that stayed to the end of the game stood and applauded as the clock struck zero, Ifedi said: “That’s great. That means they still have faith in us.”
None of this is suggest that Fuente was calling this loss a moral victory. Far from it. That really wasn’t possible when Duke had 25 first downs to the Tigers’ 12 and 470 total yards on 82 plays to 237 yards on 57 plays for Memphis. Duke also had a 9-minute advantage in time of possession in improving to 2-0 on the season.
“They beat us,” Fuente said. “Don’t take anything away from them. They beat us.”
Fuente summarized his freshman quarterback’s day as “some good, some bad.” Lynch himself said he didn’t play very well – he fumbled a snap in the red zone – but there were moments that offered inspiration, such as the 45-yard completion to wideout Tevin Jones. Lynch goes 6-6, and when he has time and stands tall in the pocket, he can zip the short passes and heave the long ones.
“I like to throw it deep,” Lynch said.
It may have been one of the reasons so many fans stayed till the end, to maybe see one more big play from the young quarterback and to imagine what might yet be.
Reminded that his team had played a much better game against Duke than last season, when the Tigers lost 38-14, Fuente agreed this effort was better. But also nowhere near good enough.
“That’s not what we’re shooting for,” the coach said. “There was plenty of good (from a lot of young players), but not good enough to beat Duke this year in this game.”