Southern Illinois lost momentum and perhaps the game when electrifying Memphis Tiger Tony Pollard returned a kickoff 100 yards near the end of the third quarter.
Pollard's touchdown followed an SIU field goal that had pulled the Salukis within three points of Memphis, a team that knocked off 25th ranked UCLA a week ago. Pollard's return boosted the Memphis lead to 34-24.
"On that drive, we only got three. Then they housed the kickoff. That's tough to respond from, but I was happy with the way that we continued to come back and finish for four quarters," SIU head coach Nick Hill said on SIUSalukis.com.
The Tigers went on to defeat SIU 44-31 in a nonconference game that pitted FBS member Memphis against SIU of the FCS. The game was played at the historic Liberty Bowl and served as Memphis' Homecoming.
Pollard, last year's American Athletic Conference special teams player of the year, now has two kickoff TD returns this season.
The Salukis still managed to get within six points when quarterback Sam Straub found Jaylon Graham open for a one-yard touchdown pass with 4:51 remaining in the game. It was Straub's fourth TD pass of the night.
This time SIU pooch-kicked to keep the ball away from Pollard. The Tigers' offense preserved the win with a 72-yard touchdown drive. The Salukis appeared to have stopped Memphis on a crucial third down, but a personal foul face mask penalty on Torian Lewis gave the Tigers a key first down. Three plays later, Patrick Taylor capped the scoring drive with a six-yard TD run.
The loss was the first of the year for SIU, which fell to 2-1. Memphis improved to 3-0.
Quotable & Notable
"I was proud of our guys. We didn't come down here just to be proud of our effort and play it close and feel good. Really, we've never questioned this team's effort. We knew they were going to come out here and play hard. They wouldn't be travelling if they weren't a guy that commits and plays hard and battles."
--SIU head coach Nick Hill
"I figured Memphis would face tougher teams than UCLA this year. But I never would have assumed one of them might be Southern Illinois. The Tigers aren't playing great, but the Salukis are pretty good, too."
--Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper)
"Whew. That was scary, wasn’t it? Memphis’ dream season looked to be in real peril Saturday as Southern Illinois gave the Tigers everything they could handle. "
--Geoff Calkins, USA Today Network (Tennessee)
Players of the Game
Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 23 yards.
Memphis specialist Tony Pollard racked up 148 yards on three kickoff returns, including the school-record 100-yarder.
Southern Illinois quarterback Sam Straub completed 30 of 48 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns (three in the first half).
Southern Illinois receiver Connor Iwema caught nine balls for 118 yards and a touchdown.
By the Numbers
0 -- Sacks in the game by either team
1 -- Turnover in game (SIU threw an interception)
3 -- SIU conversions on fourth down in four attempts
4 -- Career kickoff touchdown returns by Tony Pollard of Memphis
30 -- Point spread Memphis was favored by entering the game
$285,000 -- Amount of guaranteed money SIU received from Memphis for the game
SIU hosts Northern Iowa in the Salukis' Missouri Valley Football Conference opener. Kickoff is 6 p.m.