Memphis Tigers (8-1, 5-1) vs SMU Mustangs (6-4, 3-3)
Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 11 a.m. CT
TV Channel: ESPNews
Spread: Memphis -13
Series: 6-3 Memphis (’16 Memphis 51-7)
No. 21 Memphis can clinch a berth in the AAC championship game with a win over SMU Saturday. Memphis has dominated the last three matchups with SMU, beating the Mustangs by an average margin of 48 points (!). The Tigers have reeled off five straight wins after losing to UCF in their conference opener, they sit at 8-1.
SMU on the other hand is looking to make this series a bit more competitive. They are 6-4, 3-3 in conference, the Mustangs’ best season in five years and they are one win away from clinching their first winning record in the AAC. They are coming off a two-game losing streak.
These are two high powered offenses; both teams average close to 500 yards and 40 points per game. Do not expect this to be a low scoring affair. The Tigers and the Mustangs are led by their QBs: Riley Ferguson (218-359, 2881 YDS, 27 TD, 7 INT) and Ben Hicks (218-371, 2849 YDS, 24 TD, 7 INT).
For SMU, it’s been quite the opposite as three of the Mustangs’ four losses have come on the road. In those losses, however, SMU was competitive, leading both TCU and Houston early on. Then, you have last week’s loss to Navy as time expired despite a furious comeback. It is important to note the only road win this season for SMU came by three points over Cincinnati.
One of the reasons for those struggles is their big play defense. SMU has desperately needed to have a top-10 offense because their defense is one of the worst in FBS at giving up big plays. They’ve given up 30 plays of 20+ yards just in their last four games, and when you give up that many big plays you’ll wind up in nailbiters even with a great offense (sup Todd Graham).
They’ve been rather Jekyll and Hyde on defense this season, as evidenced by the fact that they have only surrendered 33 second-half points in their last four games, but they’re 2-2 and haven’t held anyone under 28 total points.
Memphis has yet to lose at home (5-0), but it has been tested. Three of those five home wins have been decided by eight points or fewer. If this one is close, it’s a situation the Tigers are familiar with and have been able to thrive in, at least at home. It’s definitely strange to think back to them getting dominated by UCF.
It’s surprising that Memphis’ offense is as successful as it is, considering they’re so one-dimensional. The passing offense is good but not elite, which is shocking since they don’t do anything well in the run game except all of their big plays are really big plays. They are a bottom-25 offense in every rushing metric except they’re average in how often they get big plays and really good at having their big run plays be very big run plays.
Their defense struggles, but it’s mostly in short-yardage situations and goal-line defense. Obviously, they’ve played in games where this has only mattered so much, because when you trail by multiple scores you’re going to spend a lot less time worrying about your success rate on third and short.
This game has two possible outcomes I think; in both scenarios, Memphis finds their offensive and defensive rhythm first, and gets out to a 2-3 score lead. But in one scenario SMU makes a mad comeback and winds up in a one-score game, and in the other they get some offensive momentum but never really shut down Memphis enough and wind up scoring big but losing big. Yeah, I think I like that one better.
Memphis Tigers 54, SMU Mustangs 35