Coming into its Week 7 matchup with No. 13 Ole Miss, Memphis was looking to send a message to not only the rest of its Group of Five compatriots but to the college football world as a whole. Exiting the weekend, consider the message resoundingly sent.
On the strength of strong-armed sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch and a surprisingly stout defense, the Tigers fought back from an early hole then held on for a 37-24 win over the Rebels. It was U of M’s 13th straight win, a streak that’s the third-longest in the country and extends back to October of last year.
The Rebels jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead after just five minutes of play in the first quarter, only to see the home-standing Tigers rip off 31 straight points. That run began late in the first quarter on a Lynch touchdown pass and ended the same way after the first drive of the third quarter.
The Rebels then went on another run of their own, with a 10-point mini-spree late in the third quarter — a Chad Kelly-to-Laquon Treadwell touchdown hookup and 24-yard field goal — cutting the lead to one score at 31-24.
A 42-yard Jake Elliott field goal with 9:44 remaining in the game pushed the lead back out to two scores at 34-24. And then came the backbreaker for the Rebels: a 16-play, 70-yard drive that began at the Tigers’ 21-yard line and ended with another Elliott field goal. It wasn’t the points that mattered, although it stretched the lead to 13 at 37-24; rather it was the time off the clock — 7:57 to be exact — that left the Rebels with just :55 to find a way to score a pair of touchdowns. That, of course, didn’t happen.
Lynch ended the game with 384 yards passing, his fifth consecutive effort of 300-plus. Given the opponent it came against, you’ll likely hear Lynch’s name dropped into the Heisman discussion moving forward.
The combination of Memphis’ resounding win over a ranked SEC team and Boise State’s thumping at the hands of Utah State Friday night leaves the Tigers as the clear front-runners for the G5’s slot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Yes, there are plenty of games to play, with Memphis still having to traverse a couple of unbeaten obstacles on the road in Temple and Houston. Still, in the here and now, Memphis is the best the G5s have to offer.
Whether they can keep Justin Fuente beyond this year is another matter entirely.