With the scary situation involving Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel going from worrisome to basically a sigh of relief, UC and Memphis got down to the matter of deciding a key AAC matchup — and did so in highly-entertaining fashion.
An offensive first half morphed into a defensive third quarter and then swung wildly and delightfully violently back toward the offensive in the fourth, with the Tigers hanging on for dear life and getting the best of the Bearcats 53-46 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. The win was Memphis’ 11th straight, tying it (for the moment) for second-best in the country with TCU behind Ohio State’s 16 in a row.
As alluded to earlier, this was a tale of one half and two quarters.
In the first two quarters, the teams combined for 58 points and 683 yards of offense, with the Bearcats claiming 30 of the former and 419 of the latter in staking itself to the two-point halftime lead. The third quarter saw just a pair of field goals — one for each team — and less than 150 yards of offense combined. The fourth quarter, though, was a first-half remake.
On back-to-back-to-back-to-back possessions to open the fourth quarter, the teams split four touchdowns — and combined for 316 yards — with one converting on a two-point conversion (Tigers) and one failing on theirs (Bearcats), leaving the two knotted up at 46-all and Memphis in possession of the ball with 5:56 remaining.
After driving down to the UC 35-yard line and facing a fourth and two, the Tigers eschewed a field goal attempt but failed to convert, handing the ball back to the Bearcats with 3:11 remaining to win it in regulation. One first down and three incompletions later, the Bearcats punted the ball back to the Tigers with 2:27 left in the fourth.
Taking over at their own 20, the Tigers first avoided disaster as a called fumble on a 13-yard Roderick Proctor reception was (somewhat surprisingly) overturned upon further review. Four plays from there got the ball inside the UC five-yard line, with Sam Craft taking it in from three yards out to give U of M a 53-46 lead with :53 left.
Cincinnati was far from done, however, as, after taking over at their own 25-yard line, they drove down to the Memphis 19-yard line with :18 left. On first and 10, Hayden Moore, who set a school record with 557 yards passing in less than four quarters worth of work, went all freshman on the ending, tossing up an ill-advised sideways, backwards pass as he was being sacked that was intercepted by Memphis’ Leonard Pegues and sealed the win for the Tigers.
Cincinnati finished with a school-record 752 yards of offense in the loss. Moore broke the old passing standard of 554 yards set by Greg Cook in 1968. Paxton Lynch threw for 412 of Memphis’ 572 yards of offense.
The win was huge for Memphis’ postseason aspirations as the Tigers remain perfect at 4-0 on the season, maintaining their standing as one of a handful of Group of Five teams still in line for a lone slot in the New Year’s Six bowls. For Cincinnati, it’s a damaging blow to their AAC East hopes already as they fell to 0-2 in the conference on the season, with one of those losses coming in their own division to Temple.