Replay: Not as Memorable as UCF Had Hoped

Sometime some day when future UCF football fans are flipping through the Knights' record book, they'll marvel at some of the things that happened Saturday at the Liberty Bowl.
They'll be amazed that the Knights gained that gaudy total of 798 yards.
That's more yards than any NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision team managed in any single game in the entire 2019 season.
They'll envision how sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel proved virtually unstoppable when it came to throwing the ball against Memphis—his 601 passing yards setting a school and conference record. That number was surpassed only one time during that same entire 2019 campaign.
They'll note how Gabriel's brilliance translated to three UCF receivers—Marlon Williams, Jaylon Robinson and Ryan O'Keefe--totaling at least 173 receiving yards in the game, something that had never happened in Knight history. One of O'Keefe's receptions Saturday--a particularly timely 93-yarder—is the longest in UCF history.
As of this morning, UCF leads the nation in total offense (636.3 yards per game) and passing (439 yards per game), Gabriel has thrown for more passing yards than any other quarterback in the country—and Williams leads the country both in catches per game (11.3) and receiving yards per contest (144.8).
But, despite all that, neither Gabriel nor Williams, Robinson or O'Keefe are likely to have many warm feelings about their time in Memphis.
That's because, after UCF built a 35-14 third-period lead, Memphis concocted the greatest comeback in its football history, despite allowing more yards than it had in any game in its history.
The Tigers ultimately prevailed 50-49—in a game in which the two teams' combined total yards (1,501) eclipsed the figure from any other game in the history of the American Athletic Conference.
Offensive shootouts are hardly rare in the AAC. In fact, even after Memphis' victory, the Tigers rank 77th and last in the country in pass defense, allowing 458 yards per outing.
You have to go back to 2016 to find a game where two teams together gained more yards (The quarterbacks in that contest were Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma and Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech.).
It was only the second college football game in the last 20 years in which both quarterbacks threw for at least 450 yards, threw at least five touchdown passes and did not throw an interception.
Ultimately, that was the problem for the Knights. While Gabriel set a personal high with his five TD passes, his Tiger counterpart, Brady White, threw for six (each of them also added a running score). White set a Memphis record with his 486 passing yards.
With punts and defensive stops at a premium, this one came down to who possessed the football last. UCF could not put points on the board on either of its last two drives, after notching TDs on seven of its first 11 possessions.
Consider this: UCF finished with nine drives of 71 or more yards. Memphis had seven of at least 70 yards. Only twice all day did the Knights go three and out and punt, both in the second half. The second of those came in the game's final three minutes—and led to Memphis' game-winning 85-yard TD march.
The fourth period alone featured four consecutive TD drives by the two teams combined, all of them at least 70 yards in length.
Each team had a single turnover (lost fumbles)—and both those plays came inside the other team's five-yard-line. The result might have changed if those don't cancel each other out.
Gabriel completed his first eight passes (for 96 yards), suggesting the sort of afternoon it would be. And, when the visitors took the second-half kickoff and marched 75 yards to score and build a 35-14 lead, it looked like the Knights maybe have created enough of a margin to prevail.
Give the Tigers credit for not agreeing. UCF rolled past the 500-yard mark less than four minutes into the third period. But Memphis put up 381 yards of its own in the second half. White completed 20 passes after intermission for 293 yards. In the final period alone Memphis ran off 32 offensive plays for 223 yards, 213 of them by White through the air.
The team that leads the country in offensive plays per game—UCF—ran off 96 Saturday. The Tigers managed 95. It was a full-blown offensive explosion, one that Memphis never led until 1:08 remained in the game. Even then, Gabriel directed his team 53 yards in 49 seconds for a final chance to take back the advantage.
The Knights certainly knew the Tigers were capable of rebounding—because Memphis came back from 21 points down two weeks earlier against SMU, only to fall on a late field goal.
This crazy game featured six combined two-point conversion attempts (each team scored on two of those) and 10 fourth-down plays (Memphis converted all five of its gambles).
Maybe the best indication of the points and yards required on this afternoon came early in the second period when Memphis went for it (and converted) on fourth down and a yard to go at its own 18-yard line.
This is relatively new territory for the Knights. UCF (2-2 overall, 1-2 in AAC play) hasn't lost consecutive games since 2016.
"Adversity is not what defines you," said UCF coach Josh Heupel in a quiet Knight locker room after it ended.
"What defines you is how you handle it. There are a lot of things we've got to do better in every single phase of the game, every phase.
"There is one thing we continued to do—we continued to fight. We talked about playing each round and answering the bell and competing our butts off. I do think we did that. We've got to be smarter and do a lot of different things better everywhere.
"But, who are we individually and collectively? Who are we?
"Everybody will be watching us. Collectively, together, we've got to be a little bit better. We've got to be on the right side of the one play that makes a difference."
UCF is likely to continue producing outsized numbers. That's what the Knights  do.
It's now about creating a collection they'll want to remember.