Sometimes you don't regress to the mean -- you crash into it. Through 47 minutes of regulation, Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch was the most valuable player. He had completed 17 of 29 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns, one pick, and no sacks. Average yards per attempt: 8.5. Memphis had taken control with its defense, and Lynch had given the Tigers enough offense to offset the early damage BYU had done.
The Tigers led by 10 points, 38-28 ... and then Lynch lost his mind. In the face of a minor pass rush, he threw off of his back foot into coverage and was intercepted near midfield. Five plays later, it was 38-31. Memphis fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and BYU scored (with help from a refs not noticing Paul Lasike was down) to tie the game. Then Lynch threw a dreadful pick six to give BYU the lead.
Including a sack, Lynch's final 18 attempts resulted in seven completions and 52 net yards. Average per attempt: 2.9.
Memphis won anyway, because of defense, a field goal bomb, and the fact that two of Lynch's seven completions came on fourth down late. Keiwone Malone helped Lynch bail himself out, first by plucking an iffy ball away from a defender to keep the drive alive, then by catching a touchdown pass that might not have been intended for him.
In the first nine minutes of the game, Memphis and BYU combined for gains of 10, 33, 18, 47, 16, 10, 33, 25, 11, and 47 yards. Both offenses came out with aggression and unexpected looks downfield, and it paid off. I wrote in my preview that the defenses held most of the advantages, and the offenses combined for 262 total yards and four touchdowns in those first nine minutes before the defenses settled down.
Both teams averaged under 5.0 yards per play. Despite the crazy start, both defenses ended up doing their jobs. So to get to 103 points, you needed three things: turnovers, overtime, and lots of possessions.
Check, check, and check. Not including one-snap, end-of-half situations, these teams split 42 possessions. That is two full Stanford games. The Tigers and Cougars combined for nine turnovers and 15 punts and still put together 16 scoring drives (13 in regulation).
In Monday's preview, I mentioned that both teams want to use some tempo and how that could mean both quick scores and quick failures. We saw that and everything else.
But seriously I think that FG would have been good from 90— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) December 22, 2014
If this game had been played in an open space instead of an actual stadium, Jake Elliott's 55-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first overtime period might still actually be in the air.
My first reaction to Elliott's kick was straight out of Major League: I thought it was too high to actually stay in the air for 55 yards. Only ... it kept rising.
Unofficially, the story changed when BYU's Tejan Koroma (No. 56) gave Memphis' Martin Ifedi (No. 97) a little bit of a shove after the game. Ifedi responded with a bigger shove.
Until then, this was a "why we love bowl games" afternoon. BYU and Memphis had just put on an entertaining game full of plot twists, big plays, and big mistakes. Keiwone Malone had made huge catches, and defenders like Memphis' Jackson Dillon and BYU's Alani Fua had redefined the game as a slugfest (metaphorically) after a high-octane start.
But after DeShaughn Terry's interception sealed the victory for Memphis, Koroma (a center) and Ifedi (a defensive tackle), who had been battling all game, battled a little bit more. And then things got ugly.
This was an impressive brawl, one that crossed the "boys will be boys line" and got a little bit dangerous, with sucker punches and swung helmets. It was probably the scariest brawl we've seen in a bowl since the 2003 Hawaii Bowl brawl between Hawaii and Houston. As with that one, it came after a few days of trash talk and multiple overtime periods, and it has already generated some apologies.
We expect better of our athletes, even in the face of a difficult loss. We intend to fully review this matter. I apologize to Cougar Nation.— Tom Holmoe (@TomHolmoe) December 23, 2014
(The responses are ... interesting? Enlightening? Predictable?)