The stage is set for one of the biggest games in the 55-year history of the Liberty Bowl. With a win Saturday night at Tulsa, the 7-1 Tigers will host SMU (8-0) next Saturday in a Top-25 showdown, only the second Tiger home game as late as November since 1965 with the teams combining for a single loss.
Tulsa's freshman kicker, Jacob Rainey, missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt (wide left) as time expired to secure the Tiger victory. The Golden Hurricane had erased an 11-point halftime deficit (28-17) to take a 41-35 lead with 5:14 left in the game, scoring on four consecutive possessions and imposing its offensive will on the Memphis defense. But Kenneth Gainwell
's third touchdown of the game with 4:26 on the clock — a one-yard scamper following a 57-yard gain by wideout Damonte Coxie
— proved to be decisive. Gainwell has six touchdowns in the Tigers' last two games and 14 for the season.
The Tigers won despite surrendering 584 yards (on 101 plays) to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane dominated possession time (35:59), largely by averaging more than four yards per carry in rushing for 275. Memphis won despite a fourth-quarter fumble by Gainwell that gave Tulsa three points on the ensuing possession, via Rainey field goal. The Tigers won despite Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith passing for 309 yards without an interception.
Tulsa falls to 2-6 with the loss and remains winless (0-3) in American Athletic Conference play. The Tigers are now 3-1 in the AAC, one game behind the Mustangs with a chance next week to gain ground in the league's West Division.
Gainwell rushed for 149 yards on 24 carries, the freshman's sixth straight game with 100 yards on the ground. Memphis quarterback Brady White
completed 15 of 25 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns (one to Antonio Gibson
, the other to Joey Magnifico
). Coxie caught five passes for 112 yards.
In November 2015, Navy came to Memphis with only one loss to face the undefeated (8-0) Tigers. It's the only such late-season clash in Liberty Bowl history, though both teams in that case were not ranked (as SMU and Memphis will be next weekend). Memphis has won five straight in its series with the Mustangs and owns an 8-3 advantage since the teams first played in 1976.