Memphis (1-6) at SMU (3-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 27, 3:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ford Stadium (30,000) -- University Park, Texas. Television: Time Warner Texas. Home Record: Memphis 1-3, SMU 2-2. Away Record: Memphis 0-3, SMU 1-2. Neutral Record: Memphis 0-0, SMU 0-0. Conference Record: Memphis 1-2, SMU 2-1. Series Record: Memphis leads 3-1. .
GAME NOTES: Coming off an offensive explosion, the SMU Mustangs will try to ride that momentum into a home contest against the Memphis Tigers in Conference USA action this weekend at Ford Stadium.
SMU had a weekend to remember, posting a 72-42 win over Houston. The win was the second of the season for the Mustangs in conference play and was fueled by a six-interception game by the SMU defense. The 72 points are an SMU record and the nine takeaways (SMU recovered three fumbles as well) were the second most in a game for a Mustang squad.
The Tigers were decidedly less productive in a 35-17 loss to UCF last weekend. It was the second straight loss for Memphis which has just one win in seven tries this season. Over the last three games the Tigers have struggled with only 38 combined points. Memphis has had just four wins total over the last three seasons, including two seasons of just one win.
Memphis won the first three meetings before last season but SMU put an end to that short winning streak with a 42-0 rout in Memphis last year. The win was highlighted by a 136-yard, three-touchdown performance from running back Zach Line and was the first shutout for SMU since 1998.
The offensive woes for Memphis in recent weeks is nothing new for the Tigers. Thus far Memphis has managed 298.6 yards and 18.1 points per game. Those are the second and third worst marks in C-USA, respectively. Memphis has been unable to sustain drives converting on only 31.4 percent of its third down attempts, which is better than only UTEP in the conference.
Memphis is a run-first offense that relies on a stable of backs to move the ball. Jai Steib has taken on the bulk of the responsibility with a team-high 58 carries for 212 yards. Steib has replaced Jerell Rhodes (224 yards) who was lost indefinitely earlier in the season. There are three other players with at least 30 carries this season on the roster.
Jacob Karam has been at the forefront of the Tigers' passing attack, which ranks above only Southern Miss in the conference. Karam has thrown for 1,061 yards, while completing a solid 61.5 percent of his passes. He has not been able to turn that into many scores, with just six touchdown passes this season. Karam has limited his turnovers though with just two interceptions.
The passing game is reliant on the efforts of receivers Keiwone Malone and Marcus Rucker. Malone has caught a team-high 34 passes for 351 yards and two scores, while Rucker has 21 catches for a team-high 388 yards and a three TDs. No other player on the team has more than 11 receptions or 125 yards.
Defense has been a bit more of a strength for Memphis with the team ranked fourth in the CUSA in total yards allowed. Still, surrendering 413 yards per game is certainly not ideal and it has led to Tigers' opponent to post 32.1 points per game this season. Memphis has been particularly weak in disrupting opposing passing attacks with only 14 passes defended and three interceptions, both the worst marks in the league.
Charles Harris is the team-leader in tackles with 58. Martin Ifedi (6.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks), Terry Redden (4.5 tackles for loss) and Ricky Hunter (4.0 tackles for loss) have been effective in stopping opposing ball carriers in the backfield.
Even with one of the most productive running backs in the conference in Line, SMU has passed for more than twice as many yards (1,785) as it has run for (806). Line has accounted for nearly all of that production on the ground with 717 yards and five touchdowns on 150 carries. No other ball running back has more than 10 attempts. Line is second in the conference in yards per game (102.4).
The more productive passing game, at least in terms of yards, is led by quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who has thrown for 1,658 yards this season. However Gilbert has a efficiency rating of just 98.0 and has completed only 50.8 percent of his passes. Worse still is Gilbert's penchant for turning the ball over, as he has 13 interceptions on the year compared to 11 touchdown passes.
Where Gilbert has succeeded is in spreading the ball around, with four different receivers having at least 20 receptions and 250 yards. Jeremy Johnson leads all receivers in receptions (46), yards (465) and his tied for touchdown receptions (three). Darius Johnson is the second option with 33 receptions for 345 yards and three scores.
Like Memphis, SMU has also been victim to a number of large offensive numbers by the opposition, as teams are racking up 432.4 yards and 28.6 points per game. What SMU has been able to do very effectively on defense is force other teams to make mistakes. After the nine-takeaway performance against Houston, SMU has now forced 25 turnovers this season, which is tops not only in the conference but in the nation.
Randall Joyner and Kenneth Acker have each nabbed three interceptions this season, while Joyner has led the team with 54 tackles. Taylor Reed (6.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks) and Margus Hunt (60.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks) have been effective up front as well.
While it is unlikely that SMU can duplicate the tremendous effort it had against Houston, the Mustangs clearly have the ball-hawks on defense to prey on weak offenses. With Memphis' less than stellar offense, the Mustangs should be able to push their conference record to 3-1.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 32, Memphis 10
10/24 10:37:17 ET