More than 1,300 yards of total offense later, Memphis held off Cincinnati, 53-46, in a battle of AAC contenders Thursday night. Each half was crazy in its own right. Cincinnati led 30-28 at halftime, and both teams combined for just six points in the third quarter before erupting for 35 in the fourth.
So, coach, how’s your blood pressure right about now?
“Well, I’m pretty tired. I’m ready to go to bed,” Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench, laughing. “It was pretty crazy. I’m obviously happy to win the game. I’m happy for the way our kids battled and continued to fight all the way through a crazy, loony game. We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re going to continue to win games. There are plenty of things for us to fix after this one.”
One definite bright spot? Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who was masterful throughout. Lynch was 24-of-36 for 412 yards and two touchdowns and led the Tigers in rushing with 11 carries for 52 yards.
He was special.
“He really (was),” Fuente said. “He’s a good player. He’s worked awfully hard. I’m proud of the way he’s come along. He’s getting more and more confident. He’s a really good athlete for a kid that big, and he threw the ball around pretty well. There was a time there probably late in the third quarter when I said over the headsets, ‘Let’s let Paxton go win the game. Whether it’s throwing it or running it or whatever, let’s keep the ball in his hands and see what he can do.’ And he certainly did it for us tonight.”
Bearcats starting quarterback Gunner Kiel, meanwhile, was carted off the field in the first quarter following a vicious shot to the head. Backup Hayden Moore entered the game and was lights-out, going 31-of-54 for 557 yards and four touchdowns. He did, however, have two interceptions, including one that ended the game.
“We finally got some pressure on the quarterback there at the end and forced a bad decision and came up with the loose or tipped ball,” Fuente said. “But Cincinnati is loaded on offense. We didn’t pressure the quarterback very well. We didn’t cover at times, and at times he had all day to throw the football. I’m telling you: They are pretty talented. They’ve got five senior wide receivers that are very, very good players. They’re huge upfront. They picked up everything we threw at them. We threw the kitchen sink at them defensively. They did a fantastic job, and obviously we’ve got some things we’ve got to work on as well.”
Memphis, which is averaging 53.8 points per game, improved to 4-0. The Tigers looked shaky at times, but they made plays when they had to.
“I like our team’s resiliency,” Fuente said. “They’re a tough, hard-nosed bunch and they play their tales off. If they get behind, if things don’t go their way, they don’t panic. But for me, we graduated eight seniors off our defense last year and three backups, so we’re playing with a bunch of new guys out there. And for me, kind of the mark of us will be can we improve as the season goes on? For the first time in my tenure here at Memphis, we’re older on offense than we are on defense. It’s been the other way around the last couple of years. So I think our challenge is can we continue to get better? We’ve got some good players out there that I think are some talented players that are going to be good players. We’ve just got to keep improving them because they’re out there for the first time. But I do like their mindset. The kids keep battling and they’re trying to find a way to win the game.”
Memphis plays at USF (1-2) on Oct. 2 before hosting No. 3 Ole Miss (3-0) on Oct. 17.