On a bright and sunny October afternoon at the Liberty Bowl, a socially distanced “crowd” of 10,000 masked fans settled in for a battle between AAC heavyweights Memphis (1-1) and UCF (2-1). It didn't take long for the fireworks to begin.
Memphis started with a promising 70-yard drive that ended with a fumble into the endzone that was recovered by the Golden Knights. UCF then methodically drove the length of the field to take a 7-0 lead, eight minutes into the game.
Memphis returned the favor a minute or so later, with a speedy drive that culminated with a 12-yard pass from quarterback Brady White to Calvin Austin to tie things up.
The tone was set and the game had the appearance of a high-scoring shootout in the making, with neither team's defense showing up in the early going. That changed on the next possession, as UCF once again drove the length of the field, only to be stopped inside the 10 on four downs. The Tigers took over and moved to midfield before punting to end the first quarter.
UCF scored on its next possession, the drive ending with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Dillon Gabriel to Jaylon Robinson with 12 minutes left in the half.
The Tigers were penalized for holding on the ensuing kickoff and began with the ball on their own 9 yard-line. On fourth and one from the 18, the Tigers opted to go for it — and made it — demonstrating Memphis Coach Ryan Silverfield's confidence in his offense, or a lack of confidence in his defense. Or both. No matter, the Tigers were forced to punt from their 40 a few plays later.
UCF took over at its own 15 and scored on an 85-yard pass from Gabriel to a wide-open Marlon Williams two plays later. The extra point was botched, giving UCF a 20-7 lead, which, given the futility of the Memphis defense to this point, loomed larger than it
But the Golden Knights (I find it difficult to type such a Monty Python-esque nickname without snickering, but so it goes.) were stopped by Memphis at the home team's 35, giving the Tigers life with five minutes left in the half. A 65-yard drive finished off with a quarterback sneak from the one by White brought the Tigers back to within six points with three minutes left. But the optimism was soon quashed.
UCF drove 75 yards in less than two minutes to score with 12 seconds left in the half, taking a 27-14 lead (on 434 yards(!) of offense.) into the locker room — and looking much the stronger team.
Demonstrating the point, UCF took the second half kickoff and engineered a bruising 75-yard drive, finished off with a 14-yard run by Gabriel — then added insult to injury by converting a two-point conversion, making the score a daunting 35-14.
Memphis returned serve with an efficient, multi-play touchdown drive, capped off with an in-your-face two-point conversion, making the score 35-22 with eight minutes left in the third quarter. Next question: Could the UM defense make a stop?
Short answer? Nope. At least, not at first. UCF worked its way downfield with a tidy mix of short passes to the eight-yard line, before the UM defense stepped up and forced a fumble inside the five-yard line, giving the Tigers the ball and 95 yards of real estate to cover.
No problemo! White engineered an impressive length-of-the-field drive, and finished it off with an 18-yard pass to Tahj Washington, bringing the Tigers back to within six points, 35-29, with a minute left in the third.
After Memphis held UCF on downs(!), the Tigers took over at their own 25 after a UCF punt, as the third quarter ended.
UCF forced a punt, which the Tigers downed inside the 10-yard line. So now it was the Knights of Gold faced with a 90-plus yard drive. Again, no problemo! On the first play from scrimmage, Gabriel dumped a screen pass to Ryan O'Keefe, who took it 96 yards to paydirt. And since this is how we do it in this game, UCF converted a two-pointer to take the score 43-29. And may I just add an editorial comment here? This UM secondary is, um, porous.
Undaunted (maybe because he's just used to it), Brady White got the Tigers back in gear, putting together another long drive, and finishing it off with yet another two-point conversion. (It's clear by now that kicking extra points is for wussies.) As is defense.
Score: UCF 43-UM 37, with nine minutes left in the game. Wowsers, it's a score-a-palooza.
And let's be real at this point (which is two gin and tonics in): The Tigers needed a stop.
Alas, it was not to be. (Are you surprised?) After a four-minute drive, UCF scored again, but (Moral victory alert!) failed on their two-point conversion attempt. With five minutes left, it was 49-37 UCF and, as shadows fell upon the frozen tundra (sorry) of the Liberty Bowl, things didn't look too promising for the hometown blue.
But, to his credit, the undauntable(?) White took the Tigers on yet another jaunt down the field, wrapping it up with a 22-yard toss to Kylan Watkins for a touchdown. The Tigers then woke up their kicker, Riley Patterson, who converted the extra point, making it 49-44 UCF with just under four minutes left in the contest.
A failed onside kick gave UCF the ball at its 40, but (DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?) the Tigers held on downs(!) and got the ball back at their own 15 with 2:38 remaining. Eighty-five yards to glory. No problemo? Or nah?
On a fourth-and-three at midfield, White found Tahj Washington on a shovel pass that went to the 5-yard line. Tigers, first and goal, with less than two minutes left. Two plays come up short. Third and goal at the four. Then White hit Calvin Austin on a quick rollout and Memphis took the lead for the first time in the game! No problemo™! The two-point conversion failed, and the Memphis defense was faced with one last challenge with 1:08 remaining in the game.
UCF took over at its 25, needing only to get into field goal range for a game-winning try. They got to the Tigers' 23-yard line. With 24 seconds left, UCF lined up for a 40-yard field goal. They missed! Memphis won! Hell of a deal. I need a drink.
The gaudy stats are here.