While Playoff chaos breaks out elsewhere, No. 8 UCF proved yet again it belongs in the conversation, with or without quarterback McKenzie Milton. The Knights rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit, scoring five touchdowns in five second half possessions to blow past Memphis for a 56-41 win, securing their second straight American championship and extending their FBS-best winning streak to 25 games.
The game was eerily reminiscent of the teams’ Oct. 13 meeting in Memphis, where UCF (12-0) overcame a 30-14 second half deficit to win 31-30.
Memphis charged to a 38-21 halftime lead this time, racking up 336 first half rushing yards (the most by any team in a half this season), including 208 by Darrell Henderson, but the Knights played a perfect second half to keep their second straight perfect season alive, scoring touchdowns on all five second half possessions.
Making his first start, Darriel Mack, Jr. overcame three first half fumbles (two lost), to account for 407 yards and six touchdowns, including four on the ground.
A 54-yard strike from Mack to Anderson — who fumbled a punt away just before halftime, turning a possible 31-28 UCF deficit into a 38-21 Memphis lead just before halftime — pulled the deficit to 38-28 then, after a Memphis three-and-out, Mack pulled the Knights within three on a 4-yard keeper.
Memphis (8-5) answered by charging to a 1st-and-goal from the 10 but, after two runs pushed the ball to the UCF 2, Mike Norvell elected to throw on 3rd-and-goal, and Brady White‘s pass was incomplete. Norvell elected to kick a 19-yard field goal, extending the Memphis lead to 41-35 with 2:13 to play in the third quarter.
The lead wouldn’t last, as McCrae busted free for a 50-yard run, setting up Mack’s 2-yard keeper, handing UCF a 42-41 lead with 14:28 left in the game.
Facing their first deficit, Memphis again pushed into UCF territory but could not find the end zone, and Riley Patterson‘s 46-yard field goal was no good.
With a chance to take complete control of the game, UCF showed the championship mettle it has in its last 25 games — including all four wins over Memphis — and rolled 71 yards in eight plays, mostly on the ground, and Mack’s third rushing touchdown gave UCF a 49-41 edge with 6:37 to go.
Needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to stop the bleeding, Memphis instead went three-and-out. The Tigers called two passes in the series: White’s first down pass was incomplete, and his third down heave never happened because he was enveloped for a 7-yard sack.
UCF put the finishing blow into Memphis by rolling 82 yards in eight plays and scoring on a 5-yard Mack rush. After the 54-yard strike to Anderson to open the half, Mack closed out all of UCF’s drives with runs of four, two, two and five yards.
In five second half possessions, UCF scored five touchdowns, in the process gaining 353 yards on 39 plays.
Memphis’ last-gasp drive ended in a White interception in the UCF end zone with 33 seconds to play. After running for 336 first half yards, Memphis rushed for just 65 yards in the second half. Henderson rushed 16 times for 210 yards and three touchdowns, though just six of those yards came after halftime. White finished the game 17-of-29 for 178 yards with an interception.
While UCF likely will not have enough juice to jump forward four spots, the win will be enough to send the Knights to their second straight New Year’s Six bowl, most likely the Fiesta Bowl against LSU or Florida.