Memphis hosted a rival from days gone by in a rare Wednesday-night tilt at the Liberty Bowl. Facing Cincinnati for the first time since 2004 (when the Bearcats played their last season in Conference USA), the Tigers made a pair of costly turnovers that led to touchdowns for the visitors. And facing the 7th-ranked defense in the country, Memphis managed only 232 yards in a loss that drops the Tigers to 1-6 on the season (and 0-4 in American Athletic Conference play).
With 23,571 fans forsaking the telecast of the Grizzlies' season opener in San Antonio, the Tigers traded punches with Cincinnati through the first half. They converted a fourth-down attempt deep in Bearcat territory before quarterback Paxton Lynch connected with Tevin Jones for a seven-yard touchdown to give the U of M a 7-0 lead with less than two minutes to play in the opening quarter.
Cincinnati answered with a 13-yard TD dash by backup quarterback Jordan Luallen early in the second quarter, then capitalized on Tiger tailback Marquis Warford's sixth fumble of the season. Having recovered the ball at the Memphis 19, the Bearcats needed but one play — a scamper by Ralph Abernathy — to take the lead for good (14-7) 3:25 before halftime.
Tion Green ran the final two yards of an 11-play, 68-yard Bearcat drive to give the visitors a 21-7 lead just over five minutes into the third quarter. But the Tigers put together their strongest drive of the game to answer: 12 plays, 70 yards in 5:19, the final seven coming on a pass from Lynch to Brandon Hayes.
Down 21-14, the Tiger defense was backed up near its own end zone early in the fourth quarter, only to be rescued by a Bobby McCain interception of a Brendon Kay pass. (McCain returned to action after missing twp games with a knee injury.) Memphis failed to capitalize, though, Lynch throwing an interception himself — falling into the Tiger end zone as he threw the pass — with 8:42 left to play. Kay connected with Anthony McClung for 24 yards just over a minute later to give the Bearcats a 27-14 cushion (the PAT was missed).
On the Tigers' next drive, Hayes electrified the few remaining fans with a 31-yard touchdown run, one that featured a pair of cuts and a dive to the end-zone pylon over the last five yards. The score gives Hayes a team-leading five touchdowns on the season. But Cincinnati marched steadily downfield with its final possession of the game, Tion Green scoring on a three-yard run for the game's final score.
Lynch finished the game completing 17 of 33 passes for 140 yards, while Hayes gained 76 yards on 17 carries to lead the Tigers. Kay hit 27 of 35 passes for 321 yards, while McClung pulled down nine passes for 98 yards to help Cincinnati improve to 6-2 on the season.
The Tigers will next host FCS foe UT-Martin on November 9th, with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 at the Liberty Bowl. Then three of the Tigers' final four games will be played on the road.