Memphis football fans are learning to thank their lucky goal posts.
Last week, two field-goal attempts by UT-Martin deflected off the left upright in the Tigers' first victory since September. Tonight at South Florida, a 56-yard attempt by Tiger freshman Jake Elliott with 12 seconds to play in the first half bounced off and over the crossbar to give Memphis a 6-0 lead. Elliott's monster kick broke Stephen Gostkowski's eight-year-old program record by three yards.
With Brandon Hayes chewing up the last 30-plus yards on the ground, the Tigers drove 59 yards midway through the fourth quarter, culminating in Hayes's seventh touchdown of the season. The Tigers' only offensive touchdown gave Memphis a 13-3 lead with less than five minutes to play. Elliott added a third field goal (from 34 yards) after a Dion Witty interception.
With less than two minutes to play, Tiger cornerback Bobby McCain intercepted a Mike White pass — his second pick of the game and fifth of the season — and sprinted 36 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tigers 17 points in the game's final five minutes. McCain intercepted a third pass on a desperation heave to end the game.
Hayes ran for 78 yards on 20 carries, while quarterback Paxton Lynch rushed for 51 on just six carries. Lynch completed only six of 13 passes for 59 yards. The Tigers once again struggled with penalties, committing nine for 81 yards (almost precisely their nation-leading average for yardage penalized).
The win gives Memphis (now 3-6) its first road win of the season and first in American Athletic Conference play. The Tigers travel to Louisville next Saturday to face the 20th-ranked Cardinals. The game will be the only AAC meeting between old rivals, as Louisville moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.