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Previewing the Cougars’ big matchup against Memphis


Junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. will be in an intense duel with his opposite from Memphis, Paxton Lynch, on Saturday evening. | File photo/The Cougar

This season’s biggest game for the American Athletic Conference will take place Saturday at TDECU Stadium when the 9-0 Houston Cougars host the 8-1 University of Memphis Tigers.

This will be the first time two College Football Playoff-ranked AAC schools meet, as the Cougars come into Saturday at 24th and the Tigers at 21st in the  rankings.

This matchup harbors major ramifications, both for the conference and nationally as the college season wanes into its last weeks.

Both teams will be fighting for a chance to play in the inaugural AAC championship game, likely against Temple University.

The Tigers entered last week No. 13 in the first CFP rankings. They were the front-runner to represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl, before suffering a loss to Navy that snapped a 15-game winning streak, the third longest in the nation.

In that loss, Memphis struggled to resemble the same offensive steamroll, scoring a season-low 20 points, 28 below its average. It also uncharacteristically turned the ball over three times, which was half of its season total of six.

Meanwhile, the Cougars continued their success last week in a hard-fought 33-30 victory over the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.

Last Meeting

Houston won at Memphis 28-24 on Oct. 11, 2014

Key Matchup: Memphis Offense vs Houston Defense

This game features two deadly offenses that each have a tendency to put large totals on the scoreboard, but the Houston defense is better equipped to do something about it.

The Tigers score the most points-per-game in the American Athletic Conference and have been held to less than 30 points only twice this season.

Houston’s defense allows 18.7 points a game, while giving up just under 100 yards on the ground and 268 yards through the air.

The Cougars also lead the nation with a plus 16 turnover differential and 25 takeaways total.

This only adds more intrigue to the matchup with Paxton Lynch, who has thrown just two interceptions this season out of 327 pass attempts.

Players to Watch: Paxton Lynch and Greg Ward Jr.

Each possession for both teams has potential to go the entire field with these two leading the charge.

Both quarterbacks have led their respective offenses to FBS top 10 rankings in scoring and total yards. You would be hard-pressed to find a better quarterback matchup in week 11.

Up until Memphis’ disappointing performance last week, Paxton Lynch performed like a Heisman candidate. The 6-foot-7-inches, 245-pound quarterback has driven up his draft stock all season, completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,014 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Lynch has thrown at least 305 yards in eight straight games and is facing a Houston secondary that allowed 523 passing yards to Cincinnati last week.

Greg Ward, however, has also had a groundbreaking season, earning a Heisman consideration.

Ward has been the ultimate dual-threat for the Cougar offense. He ranks third in the nation for both rushing touchdowns, with 16 so far, and completion percentage at 70.4 percent. He is the only player in the country to average over 200 passing yards per game and over 90 rushing yards per game.

Bottom Line

This game will be an absolute treat to watch from beginning to end, particularly for fans who enjoy watching great offenses collide in what will most likely turn out as a ‘last-team-with-possession-wins’ shootout.

Considering the massive implications of this game for the rest of the AAC’s season and beyond only adds fuel to the fire of what will undoubtedly be a great game.

So, get your popcorn ready. This is going to be fun.

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