A trip to the AAC Championship Game is on the line in Memphis this afternoon, and the Houston Cougars are looking to play their way into it after erasing a double-digit deficit in the second quarter to take a lead into halftime. Gleson Sprewell‘s 63-yard interception return for a touchdown off Memphis quarterback Brady White gave Houston a 21-17 lead. Houston had been down 17-7 just minutes before. Sprewell struck again with a second interception that prevented a Memphis touchdown in the final 20 seconds of the half.
After missing three of the last four games due to a knee injury, star defensive lineman Ed Oliver returned to the football field for the Houston Cougars Friday afternoon. And whether it was a coincidence or not, the Houston defense set the tone early on the road against Memphis. Memphis went three-and-out on each of their first two drives and the Tigers were stuck playing a battle of field position early on.
With the offense pinned just outside their own goal line, Memphis took advantage of a Houston defense that was forced to play without Oliver, who was having a helmet issue corrected on the sideline. Patrick Taylor rushed for a gain of 57 yards to the Houston 34-yard line on a 3rd & 2, and a 15-yard facemask penalty on Houston moved the football all the way to the Houston 19-yard line. Despite having an excellent chance to put points on the board, Memphis would have to settle for a field goal from the Houston 18-yard line.
Memphis took a 17-7 lead with touchdowns on each of their next two offensive drives, which started with a defensive stand that forced a Houston turnover on downs at the Memphis 25-yard line. Taylor capped the first touchdown drive with a run to the end zone from seven yards and quarterback Brady Whtie completed a nine-yard pass to Joey Magnifico for the 10-point lead.
Houston started the game playing aggressively through the air with Clayton Tune, who has taken over the offense in the absence of an injured D’Eriq King. Houston took to the air multiple times on their first offensive series, and Tune was fortunate not to have thrown an interception on a few plays the Memphis defenders would likely love to get a seconds chance at catching. The inability to force an early turnover would cost Memphis as Tune completed a 33-yard touchdown lob to Terry Mark on a free play (Memphis was offside on the play).
Tune helped the Cougars cut into the Memphis lead in the second quarter by extending a play with his legs and then finding a wide-open Keith Corbin in the back of the end zone for a score. The touchdown drive came after a much-needed strong defensive stand by the Cougars.
We have a ball game in the Liberty Bowl with the stakes as high as they can get in the AAC West. Winner gets to play UCF next week in the AAC Championship Game.