The Tigers traveled to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville today as 23-point underdogs. They left with perhaps the most promising performance in two years under coach Justin Fuente.
Facing the second-ranked defense in the country, Memphis scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull with seven points and had a chance, with three minutes left in the game, to take possession for a chance to tie the 21st-ranked Cardinals. Tiger sophomore Reggis Ball, though, was penalized for roughing the Louisville punter near midfield, giving the ball back to the Cardinals. By the time the Tigers regained possession (having exhausted their timeouts), there was less than a minute to play and more than 85 yards of field to travel. The clock expired after a Paxton Lynch pass fell incomplete near midfield.
Louisville scored the game's first points on a 47-yard fumble return by Preston Brown just over ten minutes into the game. Despite the ball traveling 10 yards forward upon leaving Lynch's hand — and despite an official review of the replay — the apparent pass attempt was confirmed a fumble and the Cardinals had a 7-0 lead.
The U of M got on the board with 6:54 to play before halftime when Jake Elliott converted an 18-yard field goal. The Tigers were held on three attempts inside the Cardinal five-yard line after Lynch completed a 47-yard pass to Keiwone Malone. On the Cardinals' next possession, though. All-America candidate Teddy Bridgewater completed a 39-yard touchdown pass-and-run to DeVante Parker. (Bridgewater played gingerly for much of the game, fighting an apparent back injury.) Cardinal kicker John Wallace added a 39-yard field goal to make the score 17-3 at the half.
The Tigers attempted an onside kick to open the second half, only to have Elliott touch the ball before it traveled the required ten yards. Bridgewater proceeded to lead a 16-play drive that chewed up more than six minutes, culminating with a four-yard touchdown run by Dominique Brown to extend the home team's lead to 24-3.
Behind a ground game led by senior Brandon Hayes (86 yards on 22 carries), the Tiger offense rose near the end of the third quarter, and Lynch stretched into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown on the first play of the final period. The freshman quarterback later scampered for 15 yards on fourth-and-11 to extend a Tiger drive that resulted in a Lynch-to-Jesse Milleson touchdown pass of six yards. The score came with 6:07 to play and would be the final points of the afternoon.
Bridgewater completed 26 of 36 passes for 220 yards to help Louisville improve to 10-1 on the season. Lynch was 11 for 23 for 144 yards as the Tigers fell to 3-7. Overall, Louisville outgained Memphis, 342 yards to 279, though the Tigers won the ground battle, 135-122. Memphis entered the game as the country's most penalized team and only committed three for the game (including that errant onside kick). Alas, the roughing-the-punter infraction killed the Tigers' late-game momentum and too much of the remaining game time for Memphis to pull off the upset.
The Tigers return home for Senior Day next Saturday when Temple visits the Liberty Bowl for the first time. As a longtime gridiron rivalry with the Cardinals comes to a close, a new one with the Owls is set to begin.