MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Amid all the very-public speculation about where he will be coaching his next game, Tom Herman still was able to motivate his Cougars.

He just didn't get the result he wanted.

In what might be the sought-after coach's final game with No. 18 Houston, Riley Ferguson threw a 10-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in a wild fourth quarter Friday to lift Memphis to a 48-44 win over the Cougars.

Herman guided the Cougars (9-3, 5-3 American Athletic Conference, No. 20 CFP) back from a 17-point halftime deficit.

''We had a decision to make at halftime on whether we were going to give up and give in or if we were going to come out in the second half and fight. Our guys fought,'' Herman said. ''Obviously it wasn't quite enough, but I think our guys have a lot to be proud of in terms of how they fought in the second half.''

Asked by ESPN before the game to address reports that he might be close to a deal with another school, Herman said, ''Honestly, don't believe anything that you read.''

Greg Ward gave Houston a 44-41 lead with 1:29 remaining with his fourth TD toss, a 3-yard pass to Chance Allen.

But Memphis (8-4, 5-3) drove 72 yards in five plays and snapped a six-game losing streak against Houston after Ferguson found Anthony Miller for a 10-yard touchdown reception with 19 seconds left. The teams combined to score 31 fourth-quarter points.

''What a game. I'm just so very proud of this football team, this coaching staff and everybody associated with our program,'' said Mike Norvell, the first Tigers coach to lead Memphis to bowl eligibility in his first season. ''I'm so glad the game went the way it did with the ups and the downs, because that provided us with another opportunity to show the heart and the character and how our guys would respond.

''Houston has a terrific football team. But today our guys would not be denied,'' he said.

Ward was spectacular, completing 47 of 67 passes for 487 yards. He also rushed for a team-high 65 yards.

Memphis struck early against a Houston defense that stifled then No. 3-ranked Louisville and Heisman candidate Lamar Jackson in a 36-10 home win last week.

The Tigers scored touchdowns on all three of their first-quarter drives, with Ferguson going 12 of 13 for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the quarter. His 67-yard pass to Phil Mayhue gave Memphis the early lead before Doroland Dorceus made it 14-3 with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Houston held Louisville to 312 total yards and 18 first downs in its win over the Cardinals last week. By the end of the first quarter Saturday, Memphis had amassed 222 yards and three touchdowns.


HOUSTON: Perhaps all the rumors about Herman were a distraction, Houston struggled early on defense and allowed 555 total yards.

MEMPHIS: Memphis was already bowl eligible for the third straight year, marking just the second time in program history it will play in three consecutive bowl games.


Houston lost to a team it was favored against for the third time this year, and it could fall out of the Top 25 a week after its dominant win against Louisville.


HOUSTON: Linell Bonner was the main recipient of Ward's huge passing game, finishing with 17 receptions for 235 yards and a touchdown. ''Yeah, he's got a knack for getting open in zones and closing catches. He was a huge factor in the game,'' Herman said of Bonner.

MEMPHIS: Miller had 15 receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Before catching the winning touchdown, Miller had a 35-yard touchdown reception that put the Tigers ahead 41-37 with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.


HOUSTON: The Cougars will wait to find out what bowl they're headed to and whether they're losing they're losing Herman. ''The 10-win goal is still there,'' Herman said. ''I'm not sure the timing of any loss hurts any worse, but these guys have so much to be proud of. They've earned 22 victories in the course of two seasons, 3-0 against Top 25 teams, 2-0 against Top 5 teams. So there's a lot to hang our hat on.''

MEMPHIS: The Tigers were already out of the running to make the AAC title game, and will wait to find out where they'll play in the postseason. ''Every bowl game is a reward,'' Norvell said. ''Wherever we have the opportunity to go, we're gonna be extremely grateful and we're gonna prepare to go be victorious. That's eight wins. We didn't sign up for that. We want to maximize every opportunity, so the next step in front of us is to finish as bowl champions.''


''We had a slant by Anthony Miller, and it was man (defense). I like Anthony Miller on any corner in the nation. Try and guard him. Good luck. Just threw the ball to him and he did the rest,'' Ferguson said about hooking up with Miller for the winning touchdown.

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC is strictly prohibited.