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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Football

Gridiron Spotlight Week 12: Memphis can set up mini-playoff for West Division


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If UH wins and SMU loses, the game between Houston and Memphis would decide the winner of the American Athletic Conference’s West Division. | File Photo/The Cougar

There is only one answer when trying to determine the most impactful non-UH game this weekend, and that honor goes to the matchup between the SMU Mustangs and the Memphis Tigers.

As a result of the Cougars’ head-to-head loss to SMU and an upset loss to Temple during Homecoming Week, Houston no longer controls its own destiny in the race for the American Athletic Conference Championship.

The Mustangs now sit in the driver seat of the West Division, despite having a worse overall record than the Cougars.

This means that in addition to Houston winning its final two regular-season games, the team needs at least one loss by SMU to set up a date with either UCF or Cincinnati for the AAC title. That starts this weekend when SMU hosts a 6-4 Memphis team.

Despite the Mustangs being at the top of the table in the West, the Tigers come into this game as nine-point favorites, per ESPN. There is a good reason for this — Memphis is better than SMU in virtually every statistical category.

The Tigers score nearly 45 points per game, which ranks No. 6 in the nation and is more than 12 points per game better than the Mustangs. Memphis’ attack is spearheaded by junior running back Darrell Henderson.

Henderson ranks No. 2 in the country with 1,446 rushing yards this season, which is about 100 yards behind the leader. The kicker is that Henderson has virtually the same production, but he has done it on 70 fewer attempts by averaging a ridiculous 9.2 yards per rush.

While the Tigers have a better defense than the Mustangs, that is not saying much.

Memphis gives up over 400 yards per game to opposing teams, and its rush defense in particular is lacking by ranking No. 71 in the FBS. This is what SMU will need to exploit in order to have a shot at winning.

Both teams sport virtually equal passing attacks, but the Tigers differ in that it is much more effective on the ground than its Mustang counterparts.

Memphis rushes for almost exactly 140 more yards on a per-game basis than SMU. It is this balance than can potentially keep the Mustangs off balance and allow the Tigers to attack from different levels of the field throughout the game.

There are no guarantees in sports, and this is especially true in football. If there were, the games would become unnecessary.

Luckily for Cougar fans, you never know what a football game may bring. This uncertainty is what Houston will look to, as it will be watching to see if conference-rival Memphis can knock off an SMU squad that handed the Cougars one of their three defeats.

The Cougars take the field Thursday night against Tulane, but Friday night, all eyes will be on the pivotal clash between the Mustangs and the Tigers. There is a solid, statistical chance that by Saturday morning, the Cougars will once again control their own destiny in the AAC West.

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