It was another home football game for the Tigers, against another solid opponent, and a game most experts had Memphis losing handily. Memphis proved them wrong and almost pulled off the upset against UCF, but fell just short in the end for a 24-17 defeat.
“I could not be more proud of our kids,” Coach Justin Fuente said after yet another close loss. “We were not always right, we did not always make the play, but that is a group of men in there that went to battle against a good football team. We came up short.”
If moral victories counted for anything the Tigers would be 4-0 and in the discussion for biggest surprise team in the nation. Alas, there are no moral victories and the Tigers fall to 1-3 on the year with several crushing defeats.
Memphis has been on the cusp of winning in each of their three losses. They are losing by an average of just 7.7 points per game, and have led or been tied in the fourth quarter of each of their losses.
In the first game of the season, Memphis came back to tie the game against Duke only to see the Blue Devils score 14 unanswered points to win the game. Against MTSU, the Tigers committed an uncharacteristic 11 penalties in the first half and still had a chance to win, leading the Blue Raiders 15-14 before a late field goal put MTSU up for good.
The Tigers took a different route to defeat against the Knights. It was a route that was paved by some questionable calls by officials that started with a fumble on a kickoff by Marquis Warford. On the replay that was shown on the Liberty Bowl jumbotron, Warford looked like he was down before the ball was fumbled. However, the refs ruled it a fumble and the subsequent touchdown scored by the Black Knights’ Drico Johnson on the recovery was upheld, giving UCF the lead.
Then there was a phantom holding penalty on the Joe Craig kickoff return for a touchdown that erased the score, causing the Tigers to start their last drive of the game on their own 25.
Even though there were two game altering calls in the final two minutes of the contest, Coach Fuente is not placing any blame on the officials, “The officiating is what it is. I am upset we did not win the game, it is nobody else’s fault… it is on us.”
After two horrible calls by the officials, Paxton Lynch led the Tigers offense on a six play 69 yard drive that placed Memphis on the UCF six yard line.
It looked like Memphis was going to force overtime, but on the seventh play of the drive Coach Fuente called a halfback pass that was intercepted in the end zone sealing the Tigers defeat.
“It is an awkward situation there,” Coach Fuente said about the decision to run the halfback pass. “We had the guy open and just did not get the ball out and I do not know why.”
To call the way the Tigers lost this game odd is an understatement, especially when you take into account that Memphis dominated UCF in almost every category.
The high powered UCF offense came in averaging 450 yards per game. Memphis held the Black Knights to just 270 yards, including just 95 total yards in the first half. UCF only mustered 160 passing yards against Memphis well shy of their 297.5 average on the year (in comparison the Black Knights threw for 358 yards against South Carolina last week and 262 against Penn State earlier in the year).
Coach Fuente and the Tigers will have to put this contest behind them if they are going to beat a Houston team next week that is undefeated on the year.
“We cannot let this game linger. You cannot let a team beat you twice,” said Fuente. “There are a lot of great lessons in this sport. Life is not always easy.”
This year’s Tigers football team is finding out first hand just how difficult life (and winning) can be.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.