Headed into Wednesday night's game against Cincinnati, the University of Memphis knew at least three things: they would have their hands full against the Bearcats (5-2); the game would get air time on ESPN2; and a victory would do measures for the national identity of the Tigers (1-5).
Well, two out of three isn't bad, as Memphis rallied late but could not overcome Cincinnati (6-2, 3-1), falling 34-21 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Memphis won the toss and elected to defer. On its first drive, Cincinnati faced a 4th and 2 deep in Memphis' territory and decided to try and assert its will. They failed.
Some may have viewed the move as a little disrespectful, but it became apparent through the course of the game that the Bearcats' decision was based more on the inability of its kicker to make field goals than malicious intent.
Deep in Cincinnati territory on their second possession, the Tigers were faced with 4th and 1 and decided to go for it. The bold move paid off three plays later with sophomore wide receiver Tevin Jones hauling in a touchdown on a seven-yard throw from quarterback Paxton Lynch.
Cincinnati answered on its first drive of the second quarter, knotting the score at 7-7. A fumble inside the 20-yard line by Memphis true freshman running back Marquis Warford led to another score for the Bearcats, who lead 14-7 at the half.
Both teams scored touchdowns in the third quarter and the Tigers looked like they might have a chance to pull out a win on national television as the game headed into the fourth quarter. Another untimely turnover short-circuited that thought.
Lynch, a red-shirt freshman, was forced out of the pocket early in the fourth quarter and threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted. The unfolding scenario clearly called for him to just throw the ball out of bounds.
Tigers head coach Justin Fuente has said many times that, "the Tigers' margin of error is not very big." Memphis simply isn't good enough to beat teams when they turn the ball over twice deep in their own territory, go 2 for 12 on third down conversions, and drop countless passes throughout the game.
"This is a big mountain we are climbing," said Fuente. "To build this program and take a step up in competition is a tremendous challenge. We don't need to lose sight of the challenge."
Fuente continued, "It is a different dynamic and our guys have expectations now on our level of play, but they also understand where we are and where we are trying to get to."
Note: Memphis takes on UT-Martin on Nov. 9 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.