Memphis Football Flirts With Upset, Falls Just Short In Loss To 25th Ranked UCF
Momentum-Halting Targeting Penalty Turns The Tide in 35-28 Loss
It’s been a streaky season for Memphis Football… Coming into their big Homecoming showdown with 25th Ranked UCF, the Tigers had dropped three straight- after a four game winning streak had vaulted them to an exciting 4-1 start. A devastating first half at #25 Tulane, where Memphis had hit the locker room down 35-0 had left the ballclub at .500 and wondering what the script for 2022 would look like.
When all was said and done on Saturday, the Tigers put themselves in a position where they were tied with the 25th ranked team in the Nation and driving in for the possible go-ahead score in the 3rd Quarter. It was 1st and 10 at the UCF 21 yard line when play was stopped for what seemed like forever for the refs to debate a Memphis targeting call, seemingly sucking the life out of the Homecoming Game crowd at Simmons Liberty Bank Stadium and the drive itself.
It wasn’t so much the actual call. It’s 2022 and player safety is paramount. It was the time it took for the refs- and whoever was on the line in New York- to make the call. On the field, it literally seemed like 15 to 20 minutes and in fact the refs sent the Memphis offense on and off the field three separate times. Both the Memphis faithful in the crowd and the offense seemed super frustrated and it mounted with every on and off. When play continued, the Tigers seemed to sputter out with the drive ending in a very difficult situation for Coach Ryan Silverfield. He decided to go for it on a 4th and 16 from the UCF 39 yard line (instead of trying for a long Field Goal that could have put Memphis up by 3) and the offense could not convert. UCF took the lead on the next drive and never looked back. Silverfield later remarked that the penalty and wait time “took the wind out of our sails”. He talked about how “anytime we get inside the 50, we were going to be very aggressive” and he lived by that motto in this huge matchup.
UCF followed with two touchdown drives to go up 14 and even though Memphis fought back with a late touchdown and had the ball with a chance to tie the game late in the 4th.
Memphis gave up 204 yards on the ground, including a 61-yard TD to UCF running back RJ Harvey. Sure The defense had trouble getting off the field on 3rd Down against UCF sophomore QB Mikey Keene. Keene was an escape artist all afternoon, converting endless 3rd Downs with both his arm and his legs. Keene, starting in place of the injured John Rhys Plumlee (concussion), fired a 24-yard scoring strike to Javon Baker with 4:58 left in regulation that ended up being the game-winner. He looks like a real talent and UCF has a plethora of talent at the QB position going forward.
The UCF (7-2, 4-1 AAC) road win over their long-time rivals sets the table for a top-25 showdown with American Athletic Conference foes Tulane next week.
Memphis has a quick 4-day turnaround and an ESPN matchup with Tulsa on Thursday to try and get back to .500. They are still in a position where two home wins in a row will get them Bowl eligible.