The Memphis Tigers sent a message to the rest of the American Athletic Conference tonight: Come and get us.
Playing without their top two running backs, and coming off a game in which the offense gained but 104 yards, the Tigers manhandled a Cincinnati team picked to win the American during the preseason. Memphis scored on five of its first six possessions and gained 612 yards on 94 plays, improving to 3-2 on the season and 1-0 in AAC play.
The Tigers conceded an 80-yard touchdown pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay on the game's first play from scrimmage, but answered quickly and frequently behind quarterback Paxton Lynch and fill-in tailback Sam Craft. Lynch tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Jones to tie the game on the Tigers' first possession, then found Adrian Henderson for a 29-yard score to give Memphis the lead for good just four minutes into the game.
Tiger linebacker Tank Jakes made life miserable for Kiel, an early-season conference player of the year candidate. Jakes sacked Kiel twice in the first quarter and delivered a hit to Kiel's chest on the last play of the first half that ended the Cincinnati quarterback's night. The Tigers led 27-7 at the break.
The Bearcats closed to within 13 on its first drive of the second half, but Memphis answered with a lengthy drive of its own, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown run by Craft, who finished the game with 172 yards on 38 carries.
Memphis scored at least 35 points for the fourth time in five games this season. The last time the Tigers scored 35 in four games for an entire season was 2007, the program's last winning season (7-6). Based on Lynch's performance as a sophomore, they'll score 35 a few more times this fall. Lynch completed 18 of 25 passes against Cincinnati for 311 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 45 yards and two more scores.
The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl next Saturday to host Houston in a game that kicks off at 6 p.m.