After avoiding pressure from redshirt-junior defensive lineman Haason Reddick, Paxton Lynch began running toward the sideline.
While on the move to his right, Memphis’ junior quarterback had his left foot grabbed by sophomore defensive back Sean Chandler, bringing him down for a four-yard loss.
Lying on his stomach, Lynch punched the grass twice and slammed his hands while the Owls celebrated a third quarter defensive stop in their 31-12 victory Saturday against Memphis, the No. 21 team in the College Football Playoff Rankings, at Lincoln Financial Field.
“People were excited to play,” Reddick said. “We knew we had a job to do. We were fighting for a conference championship, and we came in here and handled business.”
The Owls’ defense held Memphis without an offensive touchdown for the first time since Sept. 27, 2014 in the Tigers’ 24-3 loss to the University of Mississippi.
“It’s big, especially the way we played the last two weeks,” defensive coordinator Phil Snow said. “Last week was really disappointing so for these guys to come back the way they did … it’s hard to do.”
Memphis, who totaled 13 first downs, had 232 yards of total offense Saturday, their lowest total of the season after averaging 541 yards of total offense in previous 10 games.
The Tigers also came into Saturday’s contest averaging 43.7 points per game, which was No. 6 out of 128 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
In the team’s previous 10 games this season, the Tigers had not been held under 400 yards of total offense. The team’s lowest total was 425 yards in a 24-17 victory Oct. 2 against South Florida.
“We have a great defensive system,” coach Matt Rhule said. “We have great defensive players, and they united today, and they worked together and, you saw the results.”
Lynch, who came into the contest after averaging 329.2 yards per game, totaled 156 yards passing. The Owls’ defense was the third unit to hold the junior quarterback under 300 yards passing this season, which Snow credited to his defensive backs.
“It comes down to the players making plays, and they did that today,” Snow said. “Our two corners were outstanding. [Senior] Tavon [Young] to the field is hard to throw against, and they had a lot of throws in other games to the field. They didn’t get anything.”
In the Owls’ previous three games, the team allowed 108 total points and 1,420 yards of total offense.In the first seven games of the season, the unit allowed 102 points and held opponents under 20 points five times.
“From last week, we thought about the process and the details more,” redshirt-junior linebacker Avery Williams said. “Everyone was locked in and focused on their job and did it to the highest level.”
In the team’s 44-23 loss to South Florida Nov. 14, the Owls’ defense allowed four touchdowns of 20 or more yards and two in the 60-40 win Nov. 6 against Southern Methodist.
Saturday, the Owls’ defense allowed two plays of 20 or more yards.
“Everyone settled down and played the defense,” Rhule said. “It sounds stupid, but it’s not. … We played the same defense. We did the same things, and we don’t change. Our guys responded.”
With the win Saturday, if the Owls win their final game next Saturday against Connecticut, the team will represent The American’s East Division in the conference’s inaugural championship game Dec. 5.
If Temple loses and South Florida defeats Central Florida Thursday, the Bulls will represent the East in the championship game.
“It will be exciting to basically have a championship game to see if we can win or not and to see if we can win the league,” Rhule said. “It will be really fun.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise