In a late game stunner, Wake Forest got to finish with a winning record after surviving the Memphis Tigers and their late-game offensive reawakening to claim their third straight bowl win, a first for Wake Forest.
Memphis head coach Mike Norvell already this postseason lost his offensive and defensive coordinators to Auburn and Northern Arizona.
He also lost his All-American junior running back Darrel Henderson, who declared for the NFL draft a week prior to the game.
It was primed for an upset, and at the very least, a much more challenging game for the Tigers overall.
Now, Norvell has also lost all three bowl games he’s coached at Memphis.
Memphis appeared excellent in the first quarter, pounding out each of their 94 yds on the ground against an ironclad Wake Forest defensive line.
Tony Pollard, a transplant wide receiver and Memphis’ rush leader for most of the game, ran up 109 yds on 17 carries for the day, including a 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter and another blistering 97-yard kickoff return to score on Memphis’s second possession of the 2nd quarter.
His first kick-six all season, he’d finish the day with 318 all-purpose yards, an impressive feat for a player on the same team as two 1,000-yard halfbacks.
One of those backs, Patrick Taylor, rushed for another 110 yds and a touchdown on 30 carries plus a receiving touchdown.
Both defenses remained strong and impenetrable up front but their secondaries habitually gave up massive passes and runs all game. Consistency on the back end was a problem that remained throughout the game for Memphis, with the lone exception coming when Chris Claybrooks took an interception back 37 yards for a touchdown to open the second quarter.
The second half saw Wake Forest’s defensive secondary stepping up to deflect several would-be darts from Brady White and coming away with an early interception on the Tigers first possession of the 3rd quarter.
Memphis secondary instead continued to flounder into the third, allowing for a back-breaking 48-yard catch by Alex Bachman early in the 3rd. Things seemed to tighten up towards the end of the quarter, but too many yards had already been put down by Wake Forest.
The last nail came with Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman’s pass late in the 4th quarter to Bachman for 49 yds to put them on the Memphis 21, then another bullet to Bachman put the Deacons on the one, where Newman would scrable in for the eventual game-winning touchdown, his third rushing TD for the night.
A crucial aspect of Wake Forest’s victory was quarterback Jamie Newman’s ability to read the defense on rushing plays, hesitating before each handoff, eyeing gaps in the D-line that he could exploit. The Memphis defense couldn’t contain Newman’s hesitating read option, and it showed every snap of the ball that went to him.
Newman, in his fourth ever start as a Demon Deacon, proved more than just an excellent replacement for Sam Hartman, but a versatile threat for the Demon Deacons. He would finish with 234 yds passing and 101 yds rushing, with three total touchdowns and the MVP award for the game.
It was an impressive first half for Memphis, but blown calls and dropped balls in the second half of play did away with the Tigers chances of a bowl victory, with their losing streak now at four years.
Returning home to Memphis, an off-season of reassembling and reflection is undoubtedly in order for Coach Norvell, who’s bowl record now drops to 0-3. Wake Forest ends their turn-around season with a 7-6 record and a third straight bowl win for the program, finishing in high spirits.
Photo by Cory Swiford, article by John Glenn