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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Football

State of the AAC: Navy remains undefeated in conference; SMU survives upset as league play in full swing


Junior quarterback Clayton Tune dives into the end zone for a 5-yard rushing touchdown against BYU | Courtesy of UH athletics

Junior quarterback Clayton Tune dives into the end zone for a 5-yard rushing touchdown against BYU. | Courtesy of UH athletics

After a slow start to the 2020 football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Athletic Conference is finally taking off.

With conference matchups in full swing across the AAC, here’s a look at how teams fared this past weekend:

UCF (2-2, 1-2 AAC) vs. Memphis (2-1, 1-1):

A shootout at the Liberty Bowl with nearly 19,000 fans in attendance left UCF, the preseason AAC favorites, with a bitter defeat, falling 50-49 to Memphis on Saturday night.

After being up 35-14 with 11 minutes left in the third quarter, the Knights got outscored 36-14 by Memphis, whose comeback was capped off by junior receiver Calvin Austin III’s four-yard touchdown catch to put the Tigers up by one with just over a minute remaining in the game.

Despite their second half meltdown, UCF kicker Daniel Obarski had a chance to win the game for the Knights but pulled a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right.

Tempers flared on the sideline after the missed kick as Obarski attempted to shove a fellow teammate in a heated confrontation. 

The Tigers’ dominant second-half performance was powered by senior quarterback Brady White’s 486 passing yards and seven touchdowns, six of which were passing and one was a rushing score. 

On the other side, sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for 601 yards and five touchdowns while also rushing for a score to lead the UCF offense.

The Knights look to bounce off their second straight loss this upcoming Saturday at home against Tulane while Memphis looks to regain their standing in the AP Top 25 at home facing Temple.

Navy (3-2, 3-0) vs. ECU (1-3, 1-2):

Navy finds themselves above .500 for the first time this season, avoiding yet another fourth-quarter collapse against the ECU Pirates this past Saturday afternoon.

The first half was a defensive duel between the Midshipmen and Pirates as the teams headed into halftime deadlocked at 13.

Navy’s option offense proved fruitful in the third quarter as it led to touchdowns from fullbacks Nelson Smith and Jamale Carothers, which gave the Midshipmen a 27-13 lead entering the fourth quarter.

ECU responded with a running attack of its own as freshman running back Rahjai Harris broke off for an 80-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the fourth quarter to bring the Pirates within seven.

The Pirates continued to chip away at Navy’s lead, hitting a 39-yard field goal with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter to cut their deficit to four.

Despite the fact that ECU’s defense stepped up and shut out Navy in the fourth quarter, the slow offense of the Midshipmen was enough to eat up the six final minutes of the game and secure a 27-23 victory

The Midshipmen take on Houston at home this weekend hoping to remain high in the AAC standings as the season takes full form, while the Pirates hope to use this week to rest before traveling to Tulsa to take on the Golden Hurricanes next Friday at 8 p.m. 

USF (1-4, 0-3) vs. Temple (1-1, 1-1):

Temple secured both its first conference and overall win of the season by defeating South Florida, which dropped to 1-4 on the year, 39-37.

This back and forth game featured two prolific air attacks with sophomore USF quarterback Jordan McCloud passing for 182 yards and three touchdowns and Temple’s senior quarterback Anthony Russo throwing for 270 yards and four touchdowns.

After a tight first half, USF built a quick 11-point lead early in the second half.

Down 31-20 late in the third quarter, Temple scored 18 straight points, highlighted by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Russo to senior receiver Branden Mack to put the Owls up eight points late in the fourth quarter.

USF responded to Temple’s touchdown with a one-yard rushing touchdown by freshman Leonard Parker with one minute left in regulation to get the Bulls within two points of Temple. USF tried to tie the game with a two-point conversion but failed to, securing a 39-37 Temple victory.

The Owls looks to keep their momentum going this weekend when they travel to Memphis to take on the Tigers, while the Bulls will try to fight again for their first conference win at home against Tulsa.

No. 16 SMU (5-0, 2-0) vs. Tulane (2-3, 0-3):

The undefeated SMU Mustangs survived a tough battle on the road against Tulane, pulling away in overtime to win 37-34.

The SMU air attack led by senior quarterback Shane Buechele gave the Mustangs the consistent offensive production needed to keep up with the Green Wave’s balanced attack as the two traded blows throughout the game.

The Green Wave entered the fourth quarter facing a four-point deficit, which they quickly erased when senior quarterback Michael Pratt rushed for a seven-yard score to give Tulane a 31-27 advantage.

Midway through the fourth quarter SMU retook the lead on a Buechele touchdown pass.

Tulane answered back with a 27-yard field goal late in the quarter, sending the game into overtime.

In overtime, a 34-yard Chris Naggar field goal was all that was needed to keep the Mustangs undefeated season alive.

The Green Wave hopes to bounce back up to .500 this weekend against UCF while the Mustangs continue their playoff push in a top 20 matchup against Cincinnati in primetime.

No. 12 BYU (5-0) vs. Houston (1-1, 1-1):

A matchup that featured a duel between two of the country’s top-producing quarterbacks resulted in a 43-26 victory for BYU over Houston.

BYU, led by junior quarterback and Heisman hopeful Zach Wilson, got off to a quick start building a 14-3 first quarter lead, highlighted by a 78-yard touchdown from Wilson to junior receiver Dax Milne.

After finding themselves with an early deficit, Houston made adjustments and put together a strong second quarter behind a pair of passing touchdowns by junior quarterback Clayton Tune to give the Cougars a 20-14 lead at halftime.

Houston kept the offensive attack going on their opening drive of the third quarter.

Beginning on their own two-yard line, Houston drove the ball the length of the football field and the drive was capped off on a five-yard rushing touchdown by Tune, who avoided a sack and eluded multiple defenders on his way to the endzone, which extended the Cougars lead to 26-14.

The rest of the game was dominated by BYU as they put together strong offensive and defensive performances to pull away late, turning a 26-14 second-half deficit into a 43-26 victory to remain undefeated and hand Houston their first loss of the season Friday night.

Both quarterbacks had a stellar night as Wilson threw for 400 yards and four passing, while Tune passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for a score.

Houston will look to regroup and get back in the win column this Saturday when they travel to take on Navy.

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