(AP) – Memphis has risen in the rankings on the arm of quarterback Paxton Lynch and the hands of his corps of receivers.
Opponents, however, are finding that there is more to the 16th-ranked Tigers, who have shown they can also run the ball.
Memphis had not one, but two 100-yard rushers in a 66-44 win against Tulsa last Friday. Doroland Dorceus ran for a career-high 138 yards on 32 carries, while fellow sophomore Jamarius Henderson had 14 carries for 112 yards.
”We’ve got some depth,” coach Justin Fuente said. ”I think it showed at tailback last week.”
Coupled with Lynch completing 32 of 44 passes for 447 yards, the Tigers (7-0, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) amassed a school-record 704 yards of offense. Memphis now ranks sixth in the country in total offense at 557.3 yards a game as it prepares to host Tulane (2-5, 1-3) on Saturday night.
”We’re not one-dimensional,” Lynch said. ”We can run it, we can throw it. And that’s also hats off to the” offensive line.
Lynch has drawn the bulk of the attention, helping Memphis rank seventh nationally in passing. The emergence of Dorceus and Henderson was special because Memphis’ key runners Jarvis Cooper, the team’s leading rusher before Tulsa, and Sam Craft were banged up from the Tigers’ upset of Mississippi six days earlier. Cooper didn’t play, and Craft was limited against Tulsa.
Tight end Alan Cross, a key blocker, said Dorceus and Henderson stepped up and played a big role.
”If you establish the run game, the passing game is going to open up,” Cross said. ”We’ve got a good quarterback, obviously, and having those two guys back there, and we’ve still got Jarvis and Sam, it’s just incredible to have all those weapons.”
The Tulsa performance was the latest in a recovery for Dorceus, who had rushed for 237 yards in four games before a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi last year. He was Memphis’ leading rusher at the time and was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA.
Henderson has dealt with his own nagging ailments this season after showing promise in the Tigers’ first two wins over Missouri State and Kansas.
Fuente said Henderson’s enthusiasm is evident by how he jumps right back up. Then the Memphis coach stopped in mid-sentence before adding: ”I’m not sure he knows where he’s going, but he runs back somewhere towards where the ball’s going to be snapped. But he’s an excitable kid that likes playing ball.”
The Tigers now are averaging 199.3 yards rushing, which prevents opposing defenses from keying on Lynch and Memphis receivers. That run game could be important against Tulane, which boasts a defensive front that’s helped produce 15 sacks in its AAC games.
”We’ve wanted to be that equal threat to run or throw the ball since we’ve been here,” Fuente said. ”Just over the last couple of years have we achieved it. We don’t want to get in a situation where we are forced to only do one of those things.”
The Green Wave’s offense doesn’t figure to have nearly as much success as Tulsa carving up Memphis’ defense. Take away Tulane’s 83 points against UCF and FCS-level Maine and coach Curtis Johnson’s team has put up 48 in its other five games.
Add in Tulane’s 33.3 percent third-down conversion rate – tied for 108th in the nation, 101 spots behind the Tigers (50.0) – and it’s tough to see the Green Wave keeping up with Lynch and company.
It’s been a while since they have. These teams have met eight times since 2002 with Memphis winning them all. Lynch threw for just 178 yards in last season’s 38-7 victory as the Tigers returned two of their three interceptions of Tanner Lee for touchdowns.