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Memphis (2-6) at South Florida (2-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 16, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Raymond James Stadium (65,857) -- Tampa, Florida. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: Memphis 2-4, USF 1-4. Away Record: Memphis 0-2, USF 1-2. Neutral Record: Memphis 0-0, USF 0-0. Conference Record: Memphis 0-4, USF 2-2. Series Record: South Florida leads, 3-2.
GAME NOTES: After failing in their first four tries, the Memphis Tigers will once again attempt to attain their first American Athletic Conference victory as they take on the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium.
Memphis stepped out of league play last week and picked up a much needed, 21-6, win over FCS foe Tennessee-Martin to snap a four-game losing streak. The Tigers' only positive outcome against an FBS opponent came on Sept. 21 when they downed Arkansas State by 24 points. Coach Justin Fuente's squad picked up only a single decision through its first nine games last season before it reeled off three-consecutive victories to finish 4-8 overall. His second season at the helm of the program has not been much better as it has compiled a 2-6 record to this point. The Tigers have been competitive despite the lack of wins. They have been outscored by an average of only 8.5 points per game in AAC action.
The Bulls are also 2-6 entering Saturday despite owning a 2-2 mark in league play. Coach Willie Taggart is in his first year in Tampa after compiling a 16-21 record in three seasons at Western Kentucky. Taggart went 2-10 in his inaugural year with the Hilltoppers, who he then led to the biggest turnaround in Sun Belt Conference history in 2011 before an appearance in the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl. It appeared that type of improvement was taking place at his new school this season when USF notched back-to-back wins over Cincinnati and Connecticut, but it has suffered consecutive losses to Louisville (34-3) and Houston (35-23) since the brief winning streak.
This will be the sixth meeting in history between these schools. The Bulls are leading the all-time series 3-2 thanks to their 41-14 rout of Memphis in the 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl.
The Tigers' lack of success this season has primarily been due to their struggles on the offensive side of the ball. They are netting the third fewest points per game in the conference at 20.4 and are also the eighth most productive unit in terms of total yards of offense with just 341.5 ypg. Although last season's starter and former Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam has been on the active roster all season, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch has been under center for Memphis in 2013. Lynch has shown flashes of potential, but has been ineffective overall with only 1,522 yards and six touchdowns against seven interceptions. While the rookie quarterback has been able to connect on 60.3 percent of his throws, his average of 10.2 yards per completion is the lowest among the AAC's regular starting signal callers.
In last week's win over UTM, Lynch was steady as he finished 15-of-22 passing, for 189 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Sam Craft led the Tigers with 83 receiving yards on three catches. Joe Craig has managed to reel in a team-high 31 receptions, however he is hardly a big play threat due to his average of 9.2 yards per catch. Senior tailback Brandon Hayes is the team's consistent workhorse as he ranks second in the AAC in both carries (132) and rushing yards (625).
Memphis has been able to keep its opponents from running off to lopsided victories due to its strong defensive play. It is allowing only 21.9 points and ranks 16th nationally in total defense with an allowance of 338.6 ypg. Junior cornerback Bobby McCain has five takeaways in six games played this season. In last week's win over UT Martin, McCain registered a pick to end the Skyhawks� final possession of the game with just over a minute left in regulation.
This matchup will most likely be a low-scoring affair as the Bulls have the lowest scoring average in the AAC at 15.4 ppg and are third to last among FBS schools with only 256 total ypg. Only eight of the squad's 12 TDs have come courtesy of the offensive unit. USF set a new season-high in its most recent outing with 364 yards of total offense.
The Bulls have not had consistency at the quarterback position, as four different players have made an appearance under center. That may change after last week as true freshman Mike White delivered the best passing performance USF has seen in 2013, completing 26-of-41 attempts for 311 yards and a pair of scores. The 6-4 freshman set a season-high with completions to 10 different targets before he was picked off on his final throw of the game. Tight end Mike McFarland caught both scoring passes, while Andre Davis finished with a season-high 134 yards on nine receptions.
Senior tailback Marcus Shaw is pacing the conference in rushing average with 97.7 ypg and is producing 5.6 yards per touch. Although USF had its strongest offensive performance of the season, Shaw did not experience his usual success against Houston as he was limited to only 34 yards on 18 carries.
The Bulls' defense held its own against Houston, which is one of the top offenses in the league. The Cougars tallied only 388 total yards and committed a pair of turnovers. USF came up with one of the takeaways in the red zone as Matt Joyce forced a fumble that freshman Johnny Ward recovered in the Bulls' own end zone for a touchback. In addition to jarring the ball loose to prevent a score, Joyce registered a team-best nine tackles including 1.5 TFL. DeDe Lattimore is pacing the defensive unit with 64 total stops this season. He and Ryne Giddins have combined for 33.5 sacks during their careers.
If White can duplicate his performance from his debut as a starter, USF should be able to fend off the Tigers, who are clearly overmatched in their first year in a major conference. Memphis will be a much tougher team to move the ball against, but out-dueling Lynch is not an insurmountable task.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 20, Memphis 17
11/14 15:05:41 ET