MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis‘ Mike Norvell might be one of the youngest coaches in college football, but he’s been around long enough to know what Saturday’s 48-45 win over No. 25 UCLA means to the Tigers’ program.
“We knew this was going to be a showcase game for the coaches, the players and the city,” said the 35-year-old Norvell, in his second season as Memphis’ coach. “One game doesn’t define a season, but like I told the players, one game can always be remembered. This game will be on our walls, and our team will always remember the day UCLA came to the Liberty Bowl and we got the job done.
“It gives us an opportunity to show where our program is going.”
It was also a huge early-season boost to Memphis’ New Year’s Six bowl hopes as the Group of 5 representative and reminded the rest of the country how lethal the Riley Ferguson-to-Anthony Miller combo can be. Ferguson, a senior transfer from Tennessee, passed for 398 yards and six touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns went to Miller, a former walk-on who caught nine passes for 185 yards.
Norvell also provided some good news after the game. He said defensive back JJ Russell, who suffered a scary-looking injury in the first half and had to be immobilized and carted from the field, will be OK.
“He took a big hit, but he’ll be fine,” Norvell said.
Norvell said Russell was able to walk from the cart to the training room after leaving the field and will undergo further evaluation as a precaution.
The Bruins lost despite rolling up 633 yards of total offense. Quarterback Josh Rosen finished with 463 passing yards and four touchdowns, but also had two costly interceptions and was hit with a pair of intentional grounding penalties.
“I had no doubt we were going to go down and score at the end,” said Rosen, who’s thrown for 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns in three games this season. “I just made some stupid mistakes. I made 10 points worth of really bad plays.”
His interception midway through the third quarter was returned 60 yards for a touchdown by Memphis’ Tim Hart to put the Tigers ahead 41-31. And with just under seven minutes remaining in the game and UCLA driving, Rosen was hit by Austin Hall as he threw on a third-and-10 play, and the ball was intercepted by T.J. Carter at the 9 and returned to the UCLA 48.
“I just got caught up trying to throw the ball away when I should have just been smarter,” Rosen said. “We were in field goal range. It’s a four-point play. Then, the pick-6 was seven. That’s 10 points on the board, and we lost by less than that. I just can’t make silly mistakes like that.
“It’s trying to play hero ball. It’s not needed. You have to play within the system.”
UCLA coach Jim Mora added: “He made some really good plays and obviously he would love to have the turnovers back. … He has to learn to be a little more careful with the ball.”
Mora said players like Rosen never want to concede a play.
“And that’s a mindset that you love and a mindset that can get you in trouble sometimes,” Mora said.