The Cincinnati Bearcats (6-2, 3-1 AAC) methodically pulled away from the Memphis Tigers (1-6, 0-4 AAC), notching a 34-21 win at the Liberty Bowl Wednesday night. The Bearcats dominated far more than the score indicates: Cincinnati nearly doubled the Tigers' offensive output, outgaining Memphis 437-232. The Bearcats also kept the Tigers to just 2/11 on third down, and forced two turnovers.
Memphis opened the scoring when a short Cincinnati punt and solid return from Joe Craig gave the Tigers a short field. Paxton Lynch connected with Tevin Jones on a seven-yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers the early 7-0 lead. Cincinnati answered back with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Jordan Luallen. The Bearcats took the lead ten minutes later. Zach Edwards recovered a Memphis fumble at the Tigers 19 yard line, and Ralph Abernathy gashed the Memphis defense on a touchdown run in the first play of the Cincinnati drive.
Cincinnati scored another touchdown on its first series of the second half, with a Tion Green plunge extending the Bearcats' lead to 21-7. The Tigers answered back with their best drive of the night to that point, going 70 yards in 12 plays. A Lynch touchdown pass to Brandon Hayes brought Memphis back within seven points of the lead.
The Bearcats remained opportunistic. After the teams exchanged a series of unsuccessful drives, Deven Drane picked off a Lynch pass at the Memphis 25-yard line. Brendon Kay connected with Anthony McClung on a touchdown pass three plays later, but kicker Tony Miliano missed the extra point.
A late Memphis touchdown drive capped by a Brandon Hayes 31-yard touchdown run brought the Tigers back within six, but Cincinnati methodically ran down the clock. Memphis defensive lineman Cory Jones earned a late ejection with a hit to the head of Brendon Kay, extending Cincinnati's final drive with the 15-yard targeting penalty. Green sealed the game with a three-yard touchdown run with less than 90 seconds to play.
Box Score Hero: Kay was the clear choice for player of the game, completing 27 of 35 pass attempts for 321 yards and a touchdown. It was a season high in passing yardage for Kay, and marks the fifth time in six starts that he has totaled 240 or more yards passing,
Rankings Ramifications: Neither team is entering the Top 25 any time soon, but Cincinnati's win earns the Bearcats bowl eligibility and keeps the Bearcats on the fringe of the AAC title race.
But Did They Cover? Cincinnati entered as a three-point favorite and covered comfortably.
For More On This Game: Down the Drive covers the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Next Week's Schedule: The Bearcats host SMU next Saturday at Nippert Stadium. Memphis gets Tennessee-Martin in the Liberty Bowl.