This game was an absolute thriller, especially if you are fond of points and scoring. Cincinnati racked up a school-record 752 total yards of offense with 620 yards through the air. Freshman Hayden Moore, filling in for the injured Gunner Kiel, passed for a school-record 557 yards passing, four touchdowns and two interceptions, completing 31 of 53 passes. The three turnovers downed the Bearcats again, but it was, all in all, an impressive game for the Bearcats (well the offense anyway).
For a game hyped up to be an offensive showcase, the defenses sure came out strong. Memphis received the opening kickoff, but it only took two plays for the game to see it's first turnover with Leviticus Payne stripping the ball from Sam Craft. Linebacker Eric Wilson recovered the fumble, setting up Kiel and the Bearcats' offense with the ball on the Memphis 36. Pushing the up-tempo, Kiel moved Cincinnati the rest of the way quickly with his arm and his legs. He had a nice 15-yard run to set up his own 4-yard touchdown run at the pylon.
For the first time this season, the momentum felt clearly on Cincinnati's side and the defense continued to fly around the ball, forcing a rare Memphis three-and-out. Up 7-0 and with the opportunity to do more, Cincinnati's offense took the field, but the turnover issues bit the Bearcats again. After moving 21 yards down the field, Kiel dropped back and threw out towards the sideline. Before it could get to the intended target, Memphis' Arthur Maulet broke on the ball, picked it off and ran it 59 yards for the pick-six, swinging the momentum back in the Tigers' favor.
Give credit to Kiel and the Bearcats' offense, they came back out and pieced together a nice 13-play drive, eating 5:27 off the clock. Cincinnati could only manage a field goal, but nonetheless, retook the lead, 10-7.
It was only a matter of time before the Memphis offense got going and on the second play of the next drive, Paxton Lynch hit Austin Miller in stride for 82 yards and a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 14-10 lead. Just like that, Memphis' offense was heating up.
Cincinnati's next possession was highlighted by Kiel's injury where he ran, started going down for a slide and was hit to the upper body, causing him to hit the ground hard.
Gunner Kiel was the victim of a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit. He was not moving. https://t.co/JIA3aphwg2— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 25, 2015
He hit the ground, rolled over and didn't move. The trainers came out and tended to him, ultimately bringing out the stretcher. Kiel was taken to the hospital. That said, everything we have heard has been positive since. He is reportedly moving well and conscious.
Enter Hayden Moore.
The freshman came in, took care of the ball and helped move the Bearcats into field goal range. Facing a 27-yard field goal, Andrew Gantz' kick was blocked, leaving the score at 14-10 in favor of the home team.
Facing the very real possibility of going down two scores with a freshman quarterback, the Cincinnati defense stepped up in a big way, forcing a three-and-out and actually forcing the Tigers to lose yardage on the drive. Moore capitalized with a quick, beautiful 68-yard touchdown throw to Chris Moore in stride, giving Cincinnati the 17-14 lead.
Not to be outdone, Lynch led the Tigers 77-yards down the field in 3:08. Cincinnati allowed a 26-yard run to Jarvis Cooper, who is a tank at running back, and ultimately allowed a 9-yard touchdown run by Mose Frazier.
Once again, Moore showed promise on another nice drive, leading the Cincinnati offense 43 yards in nine plays. H. Moore showed great poise and composure at the beginning of the drive, hitting Max Morrison, Tshumbi Johnson and Alex Chisum on the drive for big gains. However, the Cincinnati offense stalled out at the Memphis 32 with three straight incompletions that were a little off-target. Gantz knocked through the 49-yard field goal to pull within one.
After another forced three-and-out, Moore, again, led the Bearcats into field goal range, setting up Gantz for another field goal, this one 32 yards out. It was another impressive drive for Moore. After drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty, Moore seemed to hit his stride and had the Bearcats clicking.
Memphis was quick to respond with their offense hitting the big plays. This time it was Lynch hitting Roderick Proctor for 61 yards and then handing it off to the power-back Cooper, giving the Tigers a 28-23 lead.
Showing great poise, Moore drove the Bearcats 75 yards in six plays for another touchdown. The drive was highlighted by Moore hitting C. Moore for 45 yards and then hitting Shaq Washington for a 21-yard touchdown.
Cincinnati and Memphis traded possessions and went into halftime with the Bearcats up, 30-28. Cincinnati entered the half with 21 first downs to Memphis' 6 and 420 total yards of offense. Using big plays for points, Memphis only had 264 total yards at half. Cincinnati dominated time of possession, holding the ball 20:06 to the 9:26 Memphis had the ball.
After the offensive fireworks of the first half, you'd expect more to start the second half, right?
Cincinnati's first possession ended in a punt after three plays and Memphis did the same, coming up just short of a first down. Cincinnati's next possession was more of the same with a quick first down before eventually stalling out and then punting again.
Memphis' next possession was dominated by the Cincinnati defensive front, sacking Lynch on second down and then sniffing out a draw play on third down.
Cincinnati's next drive ended with an impressive interception by Memphis' Reggis Ball, who pulled down the ball despite Chisum trying to jar it loose.
Lynch took no time to get the Memphis offense moving, hitting Miller for a 17-yard gain and Phil Mayhue for 15 yards as the Tigers moved down the field into the redzone. However, Cincinnati's defense held tough with their backs against the wall and held the Tigers to a 40-yard field goal. Memphis took the lead, 31-30.
Moore took the next Bearcats' drive back into the redzone behind some good throws in the face of pressure. Memphis was dialing up the blitzes, but Moore did a great job of standing in the pocket and getting it out on time. The drive wasn't perfect for Moore, but he had a couple nice throws down the field to Morrison and to the outside, letting guys like Washington pickup yardage after the catch. The unfortunate theme that seemed to be developing was an inability to convert possessions into touchdowns, having to settle for another Gantz field goal. Gantz was 3-for-4 with the one block early.
Lynch used the following drive to show why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, beating the Cincinnati defense through the air and with his legs. The Memphis offense used 10 plays to move 73 yards downfield and Lynch capped off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Alan Cross, giving Memphis a 38-33 lead.
Following an illegal block penalty on Cincinnati, the Bearcats' offense began their next drive at their own 7. After two short runs, Moore let loose. He led the Bearcats down the field with passes to Chisum, C. Moore, Washington, Johnson, McKay and finished the drive with a beautiful 40-yard bomb to Morrison for the touchdown. A failed 2-pt conversion and Cincinnati led, 39-38. It was the 10th lead change.
It didn't take long for the 11th lead change, as Memphis drove 75 yards in 2:55 behind Lynch. Lynch was perfect on the drive, throwing for 41 yards and running for 22 yards on the drive alone. The drive finished with a 5-yard touchdown run by Craft.
Of course, the scoring didn't end there. Moore came back on the field and didn't miss a beat. Tion Green kicked off the drive with a 17-yard run before Moore hit Morrison and C. Moore for nice gains of five and 23, respectively. Moore then hit Morrison for another pretty 30-yard touchdown pass. Cincinnati and Memphis were tied, 46-46.
Memphis took the ball back and the offense began humming downfield with Lynch at the helm. At the Cincinnati 35, and in field goal range, Memphis faced 4th and 2 with just over three minutes to go in regulation. Memphis decided to go for it, but Lynch couldn't connect with Frazier, who was open.
Cincinnati took over with around three minutes remaining. After a 16-yard throw to McKay, the Cincinnati offense couldn't move any further with Moore unable to connect with Morrison, Nate Cole or Chisum, forcing a punt.
With 2:30 left, Memphis got the punt, setting up for a late drive for Lynch. On the first play, Lynch hit Proctor and the ball appeared to be stripped by Cincinnati's Mike Tyson. It was called a fumble, recovered by Cincinnati, on the field, but after review, the call was reversed.
Not sure about that one.
Memphis took the ball back and quickly drove down the field and punched in a 3-yard touchdown run by Craft.
Cincinnati got the ball back with around a minute remaining and 80-yards to go. Moore hit Washington for 16 yards, then Chisum for 19. After a timeout, Moore found Washington again for 21 yards, putting Cincinnati at the Memphis 19. The final play of the game would come right after when Moore dropped back, was pressured and tried to get rid of the ball instead of taking the sack with two timeouts remaining. The ball hit Green, but deflected in to the air and a Memphis defender picked it off, sealing the game.
1st Downs: Cincinnati - 38, Memphis - 22
Total Yards: Cincinnati - 752, Memphis - 570
Passing Yards: Cincinnati - 620, Memphis - 412
Rushing Yards: Cincinnati - 132, Memphis - 158
Penalties: Cincinnati - (11-101), Memphis - (9-100)
Turnovers: Cincinnati - 3, Memphis - 1
Possession: Cincinnati - 33:43, Memphis - 26:17
Cincinnati played a tough game. The defense struggled against a Memphis offense that racked up 570 total yards of offense themselves. Lynch finished 24 of 36 with 412 yards passing, two touchdowns and 52 yards on the ground. Cincinnati's three turnovers, again, were killers.
Moore didn't look like a freshman until the very end and there is a lot to like about the offensive performance, but this game will have lasting effects. Cincinnati drops to 2-2 on the season and 0-2 in the AAC (although still only 0-1 in the AAC East Division). Additionally, Kiel, C. Moore, Andre Jones, Johnny Holton and Zach Edwards all went down with injuries. And now, the Miami Hurricanes will come visit Nippert Stadium next week, for another Thursday night clash.