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Friday, September 22, 2023


Five things to look for versus Memphis


Greg Ward Jr. was named the starting quarterback against Memphis in 2014. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar


Two top 25 ranked AAC teams will play each other in hopes of continuing the chase of a College Football Playoff spot.  In the College Football Playoff rankings, the University of Memphis Tigers are ranked No. 21 while the Houston Cougars are ranked No. 24.

This game will be crucial for both teams due to the fact that whoever loses will most likely be pushed out of the CFB rankings. After being taken down by Navy 45-20 last week, Memphis comes into TDECU stadium hoping to prove to the CFP committee that they are still worth a ranked position on the list.

Houston sees this game as a way to show that they are a real threat that deserves to be moved up higher than No.24. This already sounds like the perfect screenplay for major football fans.

Memphis will definitely come to play with a chip on their shoulder after Navy snapped their 15 game win streak. Houston will be hungry to continue their dominance throughout the AAC, especially while playing at home. There are five major matchups to look between the two teams.

Houston’s rushing offense versus Memphis’s rushing defense

Houston is ranked seventh in the nation in rushing offense with 273 yards per game. Memphis allows 147.1 rushing yards per game. This matchup should be a huge factor in the game as Memphis will be forced to play against the run. Junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. thrives on designed run plays and that should be expected to continue, but with Memphis most likely stacking the box, expect running back Kenneth Farrow to be fed much more in the rushing game than Ward. The threat of Memphis attacking the rushing offense shouldn’t deter the Cougars from sticking to their usual run-heavy game plan, but it won’t be a surprise to see Ward throw the ball a tad bit more to try to keep the defense honest.

Memphis’ rushing offense versus Houston’s rushing defense

Memphis’ rushing offense has been a second thought throughout the year while Houston has thrived in stopping the run all season.  The Tigers are ranked No. 39 in rushing offense with 194.6 yards per game and the Cougars’ eighth ranked rushing defense is only allowing 99.4 yards per game. Even though Memphis flourishes in the passing game, it will still be beneficial for Houston to stuff the run early in order to force the Tigers to play one-dimensional.

Houston’s secondary versus Memphis’ passing offense

Houston’s secondary has improved from a liability in the early part of the season to a strength of the defense in recent games. Against Vanderbilt, the Cougar secondary stayed locked down to receivers all game long, allowing the front seven to force an abundance of quarterback pressures, sacks and turnovers.

If the group can do the same against Memphis’ receiving core, it will create a huge advantage and allow the defensive front seven time to once again place overwhelming pressure on Memphis’ junior quarterback Paxton Lynch. This will be a very hard feat to accomplish as Lynch has been one of the more prolific quarterbacks in the NCAA all season. He is ranked No. 8 in the nation with 3014 passing yards and averages 334.9 passing yards per game, good for No. 6 in the nation. Lynch has also thrown 19 touchdowns with only two interceptions all year for a passer rating of 164.5, ranking him 10th in the nation.

Can Houston Force Turnovers?

The key to Paxton Lynch’s success this season is that he is not giving up turnovers. His two interceptions are an extremely low number for a player that has over 300 passing attempts on the season. If Houston wants to make an impact on his game play, they must force turnovers.

The front seven must force bad throws with heavy pressure in order to give themselves a chance at forcing interceptions. If they can do that, as well as force fumbles, the Cougars should keep the game in their favor.

Control on third down conversions

Memphis and Houston are ranked seventh and eighth respectively on third down conversions. They are evenly matched on offensive third down sets, with Memphis averaging 49 percent of their conversions whereas UH is averaging 48 percent. Similarly on defense, Memphis allows an average of 36 percent of opponent conversion opportunities and Houston allows 34 percent. This game may truly come down to who wins the third down battles and who can force punts.

This game looks to be a great matchup in the AAC and is expected to make a big impact in the CFB rankings. Expect a close game all the way through the fourth quarter. This could come down to the last drive of the game for either team. Football fans are definitely in for treat.

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