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Memphis 34, Cincinnati 24: 5 things learned from Tigers clinching their third AAC West crown

Commercial Appeal Memphis logo Commercial Appeal Memphis 11/30/2019 Evan Barnes, Memphis Commercial Appeal
a group of men playing a game of baseball: Memphis' Antonio Gibson (14) looks to move the ball past Cincinnati's Ahmad Gardner (12) on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, during a game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. © Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal Memphis' Antonio Gibson (14) looks to move the ball past Cincinnati's Ahmad Gardner (12) on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, during a game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis.

It was a risky call. One that a coach only makes trusting his team in a close game.

Facing second-and-7, Memphis football coach Mike Norvell dug deep in his bag of tricks and called a reverse flea flicker. Brady White handed it off to Patrick Taylor who flipped it to Kedarian Jones. Jones tossed it back to White, who threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Damonte Coxie.

On a night when Memphis' offense struggled, it was a perfect trick to push the Tigers to a 34-24 win over Cincinnati Friday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

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No. 18 Memphis (11-1, 7-1 AAC) swarmed the field to celebrate its third consecutive AAC West championship and set a single-season record for wins. Here's what we learned:

Tigers offense comes alive in the fourth quarter

Besides White's trick play touchdown to Coxie, Antonio Gibson sealed the deal with a 29-yard touchdown run with 3:16 left.

Despite an offense that looked anemic in the red zone all game, Memphis scored twice in the fourth quarter to finish off the Bearcats after a scoreless third quarter.

Memphis' second-half defense shows up big

Memphis' defense looked awful on stopping No. 19 Cincinnati (10-2, 7-1) on third downs. But after halftime, the Tigers found renewed life.

The Tigers opened the third quarter by forcing a three-and-out, an interception by Jacobi Francis, a forced fumble by Jonathan Wilson and a turnover on downs. In the fourth quarter, Memphis forced a three-and-out after a late Brady White interception.

Memphis' defense forced three takeaways and finished with 15 tackles for loss.

Seniors step up on Senior Day

Start with Bryce Huff, who had a stellar day with 3.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Add in Kedarian Jones' 9-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.

Finish it off with Gibson's 29-yard touchdown run and the Memphis seniors led a historic night for the Tigers, who won their 500th game in program history.

Tigers lose TJ Carter early

The only downside? Carter went down on the second defensive play of the game and had to be carried off the field.

He didn’t return and his status remains to be determined. Given how rough Memphis' secondary looked giving up big plays against Cincinnati, it’s a huge loss for a Memphis defense without one of its top players.

Let’s do it again next week

If folks loved Round I between Memphis and Cincinnati, Round II will be even bigger next week for the AAC championship.

Memphis will host next Saturday’s game (2:30 p.m., ABC) against this same Cincinnati team. Now that the Tigers have won more games than any team in school history, it’s time to see if they can win the school’s first outright conference championship since 1969 and likely earn a spot in the Cotton Bowl.

Want to stay informed on the latest Memphis Tigers football news? A Commercial Appeal subscription gets you unlimited access to the best inside information and updates on local preps sports, and the ability to tap into sports news from throughout the USA TODAY Network's 109 local sites.

You can reach Tigers football beat writer Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at evan.barnes@commercialappeal.com.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis 34, Cincinnati 24: 5 things learned from Tigers clinching their third AAC West crown

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