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Tigers hold off USF, 24-17

After giving up a 12-play, 95-yard touchdown drive on its opening possession to USF Friday, the Memphis defense, for the third consecutive week, looked like it could be in for a long night.

However, the Tiger defense once again showed their resiliency and gave up only 10 points in the final 52:31. As a result, Memphis overturned its third 10-point deficit of the season as a late interception by senior safety Reggis Ball ensured Memphis defeated USF 24-17 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, Friday night.

Memphis is now 5-0, and has extended their program record-winning streak to 12 games, which is now tied for the second-longest winning streak in the FBS with TCU. Tonight’s victory also means Memphis will go an entire calendar year without losing a single game.

Though the Tiger offense, one that came into the game averaging more than 53 points a game, struggled to find its rhythm for two-and-a-half quarters.

Although Paxton Lynch and company showed up when they needed to most. For the fourth consecutive week, Lynch threw for more than 300 yards (305) and his three touchdowns, on the night, saw him surpass Tiger great DeAngelo Williams (55) for second all-time on the total touchdowns responsible list. Lynch now has 57 career touchdowns for the Blue and Gray.

USF opened the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Darius Tice, which gave the Bulls an early 7-0 lead.

In between a 36-yard field goal miss by Jake Elliott, USF scored again as Bulls’ kicker Emili Nadelman converted a 31-yard field goal, and Memphis, for the third time in five games, faced a double-digit deficit.

Lynch and the Tigers' offense eventually found the endzone as Lynch found running back Sam Craft for a 20-yard touchdown reception which cut the Bulls' lead to 10-7. 

That seemed to be the only positive for Memphis in the first half, one that saw safety Dion Witty and wide receiver Mose Frazier both ejected for targeting penalties. Since both ejections occurred in the first half, both will be available for the entire game versus Ole Miss in two weeks.

The second half started much better for Memphis. Elliott bounced back from his earlier miss as his 49-yard field goal tied the game at 10 with 9:37 left in the third quarter.

Lynch and the Tigers finally took their first lead of the game, late in the third quarter, as the redshirt junior ran it in from three yards out. Lynch’s first rushing touchdown of the season gave Memphis a 17-10 lead.

Memphis' running game, for the second week in a row, failed to get going as they ran the ball 39 times for only 120 yards. Doroland Dorceus, however, found his way via the passing game as he took a screen pass from Lynch for a 55-yard touchdown to give Memphis a 24-10 lead, and essentially put the game away.

Memphis' defense shutdown the USF offense for large periods in the second half. Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers could not beat Memphis with his arm as he completed 17 of 26 passes for just 199 yards.

Though Bulls running back Marlon Mack rushed for 105 yards against the Tigers, USF as a team ran the ball 43 times for 178 yards. Most of which came in the first half. 

USF finally answered Memphis’ 24-0 scoring run with 1:47 left in the game when Flowers’ 23-yard touchdown pass to Elkanah Dillon cut the Tigers' lead to 24-17. Nevertheless, it was not enough to stop the Tigers from going into their matchup against Ole Miss with a 5-0 mark.

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