What a way to win it. Mike Norvell and the Memphis Tigers know how devastating losing a championship can be, and they found themselves in a familiar position Saturday. Up 29-24 against Cincinnati, the Tigers needed a stop from their defense. With the Bearcats driving, Tigers fans probably felt they were headed for the same fate as 2017 and 2018. But a Desmond Ridder pass fell incomplete on 4th and 15 and Brady White took a knee to end the game.
Speculation about Mike Norvell leaving for Florida State hovered over this game, but his team focused on the task at hand. Even if it took everything they could think of trying. Memphis started the game with an onside kick. The Tigers recovered, but interfered with Cincinnati trying to fair catch it. The Bearcats went down and scored, but Memphis never wavered. Now they have their first AAC title after coming so close the two previous years. It wasn’t pretty, but they’re the champions and will play in the Cotton Bowl.
It seemed like Cincinnati might hang on to this game given that the Bearcats controlled the pace of play, but Memphis found a way to win. If not for the running game for both teams, this game would have been uglier. Desmond Ridder (16-for-36 for 233 yards and a pick) and Brady White (18-for-40 for 253 yards with a touchdown and interception) struggled to find any rhthym all game. Ball placement wasn’t a strength for either of them, but their rushers picked up the slack.
Ridder helped himself by rushing for 113 yards and a score, while Michael Warren rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Memphis’ Antonio Gibson led his team with 130 yards and a score on the ground (he also added a touchdown receiving too). Both defenses made life difficult for the opposing quarterback, but it was the Tigers that made the final, deciding stop.
Memphis heads to the Cotton Bowl to face an opponent yet to be named. Cincinnati awaits its fate, but should be proud of what they accomplished this season. Not many expected the Bearcats to reach this game, and they exceeded everyone’s expectations. Memphis must now worry if Norvell will be their coach next year. Florida State announces their new head coach tomorrow, so Tigers fans are anxious to await who that will be.