Commentary Sports

Q&A: Cougars face toughest challenge yet in Memphis Tigers

UH currently sits in a tie atop the West Division of the American Athletic Conference. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

When the Cougars host the Memphis Tigers on Saturday they’ll be looking to move to 10-0 this season. | File photo/The Cougar

The match up we’ve all been waiting for, and the conference rival that the Houston football team has been patiently eyeing since the start of the season, is here.

Before losing to the United States Naval Academy, conference-foe University of Memphis was the only other team in the American Athletic Conference who remained undefeated overall.

Now that Houston is the lone survivor, the Tigers will look to snap the Cougars’ winning streak inside TDECU Stadium this Saturday.

The Cougar spoke with Omer Yusuf, sports editor and Memphis beat writer for The Daily Helmsman, about whether or not the Tigers can put an end to Houston’s perfect season.

The Cougar: Does this Memphis defense have what it takes to contain dynamic QB and playmaker Greg Ward Jr.?

Omer Yusuf: The Tigers’ defense has not shown anything that leads me to believe they can contain Greg Ward Jr. on Saturday. The effect of losing eight starters to graduation last season has shown early and often. Though Memphis’ defense has made enough plays to help the team win eight of its nine games so far this season, they are tied for 80th in points allowed, giving up more than 28 per game. Good offenses have had success against the Tigers early and often, I don’t expect that to change Saturday.

TC: How different is the skill set of quarterback Paxton Lynch in comparison to Greg Ward? Why is he a threat toward the Cougar defense?

OY: Greg Ward Jr. is the definition of a dual-threat quarterback, while Paxton Lynch is definitely more of a pocket-passer in comparison to Ward. However, Lynch is athletic for a 6-foot-7-(inch) quarterback and can run the ball effectively when asked to do so. Lynch is a threat to the Cougar defense because he makes the Tigers’ offense run. Everyone is better on the offense because of Lynch and his ability to spread the ball around — and accurately — to his receivers, tight ends and running backs. He’s been one of the best quarterbacks in college football this season, the Navy game withstanding.

TC: Memphis is ranked number one in the AAC in scoring offense. Do you foresee the Tigers being able to put up big numbers at Houston, or will the Third Ward defense be a nightmare for the Tigers?

OY: While I always expect the Tigers’ offense to always put up points, this will be by far their toughest road test of the season. I think the nightmare scenario for this offense came last week in the form of the Navy offense. They were able to sustain long drives and keep the Tigers’ offense off the field. Houston is a more conventional offense, and that should help. The Cougars’ defense has a knack for creating turnovers, which Lynch and the Tigers know all about from the past couple of seasons. That will be one of the keys for Memphis to win this game: to limit the turnovers.

TC: What is the biggest edge that Memphis has on Houston?

OY: If this game had occurred before the Navy game, I would say the Memphis offense. Now, I’m not so sure. I think the Tigers are still a really good team, but I’m not sure they have any edges on Houston. I think they can match up with them well, but there’s no particular area where I think Memphis has a super-strong advantage.

TC: Do you think the Tigers will be out for blood after falling to Navy in last week’s matchup? Do you believe their chances to win at TDECU Stadium are greater now than before?

OY: I think they will be hungrier, given the way they lost and how it snapped such a fantastic winning streak. Their chances of winning may have been tougher if they were undefeated, I will admit as much, but going into an undefeated team’s stadium is always a tough challenge.

TC: What is your prediction for Saturday’s game?

OY: I think Memphis – and the Tiger offense – (will) bounce back and defeat Houston 38-35. Lynch will be eager to make up for his sub-par performance against the Cougars last season, and the Tiger defense will make just enough plays to win this game for Memphis, and keep them in the AAC title chase.

[email protected]

Leave a Comment