An underdog going up against the Cougars in Houston last weekend, the University of Memphis football Tigers had been steadily improving and the thought of a victory wasn't beyond the realm of reality.
The Tigers clearly believed that, holding a 15-10 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Unfortunately for the "Big Blue Nation,"the Cougars rallied handing the Tigers (1-4) a 25-15 setback, their fourth loss this season.
For Memphis, it was the second time in as many games in conference competition that the Tigers had the lead late in the game and couldn't come away with a win. After a chaotic finish, Memphis stumbled the week before against UCF after edging ahead early in the fourth quarter.
Many may question why the Tigers can't finish, but maybe they need a different perspective. Because when you look at the past few seasons, Memphis was getting blown out pretty consistently and rarely ever had a chance to pull out a win against a quality opponent.
"The way it goes is that it's so close, the difference is so razor thin every single week that, you know, they make a couple plays and you don't make a couple plays and you lose," said Memphis head coach Justin Fuente after the Tigers' latest loss.
So how do you solve that problem?
"The bottom line is you've got to get the job done, and we will. We'll absolutely get it done," said Fuente. "We just have to continue to head in the right direction. Your margin of error is very small. I anticipate we'll continue to keep improving, keep getting better and keep playing hard."
And anyone who questions the Tigers' improvement under second-year coach Fuente is either blind or hasn't been watching. The most obvious example is Memphis jumping from 117th to 11th in Division-I defensive rankings in just two seasons. The Tigers' defense has been the main reason Memphis has been competitive this season.
Still, the improvement that everyone is looking for is the one in the win column. Memphis' next chance to do that will be this weekend (Oct. 19) against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. However, don't read too much into their record, with losses coming against Texas Tech, Texas A&M, TCU and Rutgers.
SMU is coming off a bye week, so Coach June Jones, Texas transfer QB Garret Gilbert and the Mustangs should be ready for game day.
The Tigers look to stay confident and hungry.
"An opportunity is right there in front of us. Our kids have done a great job of battling away and we've got to find a way to get over the hump," said Fuente.
NOTE: Game time is at 11:00 a.m. at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, with ESPN regional coverage