No. 15 Tulane thought it had the game in hand Saturday against Memphis, and the Green Wave almost started coasting too soon.
Memphis scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns before Tulane held on for a 41-31 victory to remain undefeated.
"I definitely say we let up," said Tulane coach Tommy Bowden. "We didn't play with the same intensity we did in the first half. There's no doubt. Why? That's what we have to find the answer."
Shaun King threw for four touchdowns and ran for another for Tulane (8-0, 4-0 Conference USA). He was 27-of-38 for 285 yards, and completed his first 14 passes as the Green Wave built a 27-7 halftime lead.
King threw scoring strikes of 3 yards to Mike Turner on Tulane's opening drive and 6 yards to John Wilson. In between, he scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown.
Brad Palazzo kicked two field goals, from 42 and 39 yards, in the final two minutes of the half for Tulane.
"It's disappointing," Memphis coach Rip Scherer said. "You can't spot them 21 points like we did ... It shows our guys don't give up until the final whistle. Something like that will help keep building confidence."
Memphis (2-7, 1-3) finally rallied in the fourth quarter, including two TDs by Gerard Arnold.
Arnold scored on a 30-yard run eight seconds into the period. Neil Suber, who hit Billy Kendall on a 51-yard TD in the first quarter, had a second TD toss to Richie Floyd with 9:09 left, and Arnold capped the rally with a 7-yard TD at the 4:28 mark.
But Tulane got the ball back, and King was able to run the clock out. The Green Wave finished with 497 yards of total offense and would have topped the 500-yard mark if King hadn't taken a knee behind the line on the final plays.
Bowden wasn't happy that the Tigers made the final score so close.
"We played extremel poorly in the last quarter and a half on defense, and we couldn't get anything going on offense," he said.
Memphis finished with 454 yards, including Arnold's 165 yards on the ground and Suber's 279 yards passing.
Memphis cut the advantage to 27-10 on Ryan White's 44-yard field goal on the Tigers' first possession of the second half. But the Tulane duo of King and wide receiver JaJuan Dawson put on a passing clinic that kept Memphis at bay.
Dawson, who had 10 catches for 127 yards, caught a 30-yard TD pass with just over five minutes left in the third quarter. Four minutes later, Dawson snagged a 10-yard scoring pass for a 41-10 Tulane lead entering the final quarter.
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