I was absolutely, without a doubt, certain that Memphis' 63-0 demolishing of Austin Peay meant absolutely nothing in the big picture. So much so, that I thought "well, they're playing UCLA this weekend. 11th ranked UCLA at that. Glad I can just ignore that game."
Wow, was I wrong.
Which is unfortunate, because I was so sure that a game which was close at the half wouldn't remain that way that I turned the second half into a tequila drinking game. Each time Memphis ran a stupid running play, I did a shot. By the fourth quarter, I was loopy enough to start stumbling through this recap.
Here is an absolutely ridiculous set of stats to start the game: Paxton Lynch finished the first half 17-for-21 for 234 yards and a touchdown. Not only is that impressive, but it is made even more so by the fact that this marked the first time in five years that Memphis had a quarterback pass for 200+ yards in a full game.
Memphis' offense was clicking in that first half, to the tune of a 28-21 deficit against the 11th ranked team in the country, on the road. That is a huge accomplishment, especially considering what Memphis football has done in recent years.
They hadn't done much in the second half, and the defense was doing it's best but they still trailed 35-21 heading into the fourth quarter. Then Doroland Dorceus broke off a 40-yard touchdown right up the gut of the UCLA defense and it was a one-score deficit. Then two plays later Fritz Etienne nabbed himself a pick-six and the game was suddenly tied at 35-35 with 13:44 to play.
UCLA snagged themselves a score and then forced Memphis into a three-and-out. But wait! Memphis went to punt and UCLA was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty that gave Memphis a fresh set of downs. Memphis wasn't able to turn it into points, but the game remained close.
Obviously the downside here is that, as my need to pay attention to the game increased, my ability to do so gradually decreased. But soldier in I did, watching the tense final five minutes through the haze of... five or six shots, I don't know.
As much as UCLA tried to put away Memphis, they couldn't, as stupid penalties kept giving Memphis life. The penalty on the punt. A pass inteference penalty on third and very long. Again, no matter what else happened in this game, Memphis took possession of the ball, on the road against the nation's #11 team, with 45 seconds left and a chance to tie the game with a touchdown.
That said, Memphis unraveled on that last drive. When you have 45 seconds and no timeouts to score, plays that do not reach the sideline are not your friend. A missed tackle is one thing, but deliberately dumping down to a receiver who has no hope of reaching a first down or the sideline is futility, so the Tigers wind up in a 42-35 losing effort.
Paxton Lynch finished the game with 305 passing yards, which was the seventh best by a Memphis quarterback in the last six seasons. I'm not entirely sure yet whether this game says more about Memphis being underrated or UCLA being overrated, but it damn sure means that Cincinnati and the rest of The American had better stop assuming that they'll beat Memphis and prepare themselves for a slugfest.