Gian­notto

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page -

punted three straight times on their ini­tial three drives af­ter half­time ended.

Things be­gan to feel aw­ful thanks to one nau­se­at­ing play, when UCF coach Josh He­u­pel went for it on 4th-and-1 from his own 29-yard-line and ended up with a 71-yard touch­down run.

It be­gan to get down­right wacky once Mem­phis and UCF traded fum­bles three times in a span of less than two min­utes bridg­ing the third and fourth quar­ters.

The Tigers be­gan to feel help­less when UCF quar­ter­back McKen­zie Mil­ton threaded a pass be­tween three Mem­phis de­fend­ers for a long third down con­ver­sion, and then car­omed over two more for a touch­down run.

The game ended with a 32-yard Mem­phis touch­down erased by one penalty, and a last-ditch drive halted by an­other. UCF 31, Mem­phis 30. Mem­phis is now 0-3 against Mother Na­ture this sea­son.

This time, she washed away the Tigers' pass­ing game, washed away a large seg­ment of the fans that showed up at Lib­erty Bowl Me­mo­rial Sta­dium and, even­tu­ally, washed away an up­set that would have res­onated through­out col­lege foot­ball.

The na­tion's long­est ac­tive win­ning streak is in­tact at 19 games. The AAC's best chance for a play­off team, and a Heis­man Tro­phy fi­nal­ist, are still alive.

Mem­phis' hopes of com­pet­ing for an­other di­vi­sion ti­tle prob­a­bly aren't.

It was all so de­flat­ing, es­pe­cially be­cause of how fan­tas­ti­cally fun the first half felt.

It was the sort of en­vi­ron­ment ev­ery col­lege foot­ball fan dreams about.

A sea of 38,831 blue-clad Mem­phis fans didn’t come close to fill­ing the Lib­erty Bowl, but the place sure sounded close to full ev­ery time the Tigers made a big play.

Penny Har­d­away was there. So was DeAn­gelo Wil­liams. Even the Medicine Man made a rare re-ap­pear­ance, lead­ing the Mem­phis faith­ful in a “T-I-G-ER-S” chant be­tween the first and sec­ond quar­ter.

It was a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, an­other re­minder of how far this foot­ball pro­gram has come over the past decade.

By that point, tail­back Dar­rell Hen­der­son al­ready had 115 rush­ing yards, de­fen­sive line­man John Tate IV had two sacks and quar­ter­back Brady White had strut­ted into the end zone for an 11-yard touch­down run.

It capped a scor­ing drive that fea­tured one fourth-down con­ver­sion and an­other third-down con­ver­sion in which White pre­tended to look toward the side­line for a play call be­fore the ball was snapped di­rectly to Hen­der­son.

Mem­phis coach Mike Norvell was pulling out all the stops with a top-10 team in town for the first time since 2009. UCF faced its big­gest deficit since its 18-game win streak be­gan.

The Tigers scored on ev­ery drive be­fore half­time, us­ing pre-snap mind games with line­men lined up as re­ceivers and White lined up a a re­ceiver.

They fed Hen­der­son more than they ever had, and he romped over an op­pos­ing de­fense just like he has against ev­ery­one else this sea­son. The de­fense kept stuff­ing UCF on third down. It was as fine a half as any­body could have imag­ined, given the op­po­nent and the mag­ni­tude of this mo­ment.

The en­tire ESPN Game­day crew picked UCF to win. Kirk Herb­streit said the Tigers weren't fast enough, or tough enough, to com­pete with the un­de­feated Knights.

But in true Mem­phis fash­ion, the Tigers were de­fy­ing what the out­siders ex­pected. It looked like lots of peo­ple, in­clud­ing this colum­nist, would end the day with egg on their face.

It seemed, at least for a few bliss­ful hours, that chat­ter sug­gest­ing this sea­son couldn't be just as thrilling as last year were pre­ma­ture. And now? Now, all you can re­ally re­mem­ber is the col­lapse that will haunt the rest of this sea­son.

THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL MARK WE­BER,

Mem­phis quar­ter­back Brady White (right) scram­bles past the Cen­tral Florida de­fense dur­ing ac­tion in Mem­phis, Tenn., Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 13, 2018.

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