As 0's hit the clock for the final time on Saturday at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis a steady stream of fans made their way on to the field. After a week of buildup it seemed as if the city of Memphis could not wait to celebrate a huge statement win for the program.
Some would say "act like you've been there before," and I get that. But before you make that statement let me help you understand Memphis. See, Memphis is a blue collared town. It's a town that constantly is told "you're not good enough." But the city simply goes to work every day. A theme the home town Memphis Grizzlies has lived by is "grit and grind." These Tigers have seemingly taken up that mantra this season. Nothing brings Memphians together quite like sports. And on this day the city had cause to celebrate.
So how did we get to this point?
With 9:44 remaining in the first quarter the Tigers found themselves in a hole. After a Laquon Treadwell trick play pass to Quincy Adeboyejo and a 23 yard connection from Chad Kelly to Damore'ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss had a commanding 14 point lead.
The Memphis offense would still sputter only to see the Tiger defense hold an impressive stop against Ole Miss. The Tigers, awaiting the punt, would rough the kicker and give Ole Miss new life. For any Memphis fan this seems normal bad luck. Finally good fortune only to stumble in our own mistakes. Mind you, this Memphis defense has been abysmal all season and when they finally force a stop it is negated. The Tigers defense would retake the field in full force and hold Ole Miss 3 and out on -7 yards following the penalty. The rout was on.
Memphis would dominate the clock, and the game, for the remainder of the half and tally 24 unanswered points. Although Paxton Lynch would throw his first pick of the season in the first half he would rush for a touchdown and throw for two more touchdowns in the half. The Tigers had scores from Anthony Miller, Sam Craft, Alan Cross, and a field goal from Jake Elliot. But the star was the defense.
After giving up 175 yards and two scores on the first 3 drives the Tigers defense would clamp down and hold Ole Miss to 65 yards the remainder of the half. Its as if the defense had flipped a switch. They were "grit and grinding" the game away.
Memphis found itself up 17 after Mose Frazier scored an opening half touchdown to begin the second half. The teams would trade some scores and Ole Miss would eventually pull the game to 7 before Memphis would dominate the 4th quarter. The Tigers held the ball for over 11 minutes in the 4th including 7:57 on their final scoring drive. Fittingly the Tigers defense would end the game (much like against USF and Cincinnati) with a game clinching interception to end the game.
Much like the city of Memphis, the Tigers stepped up and rallied around one another when their number was called. A defense that had been Achilles heel ended up setting the early tone which led to victory. And offense which had dominated so much this season continued to chug along. While the Ole Miss dream season surely died, the Memphis dream season continued to roll on. And that is plenty reason for the Tigers and fans to celebrate.