Memphis (1-3) vs. Houston (4-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 12, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: BBVA Compass Stadium (22,039) -- Houston, Texas. Television: ESPN News. Home Record: Memphis 1-2, Houston 1-0. Away Record: Memphis 0-1, Houston 2-0. Neutral Record: Memphis 0-0, Houston 1-0. Conference Record: Memphis 0-1, Houston 1-0. Series Record: Houston leads, 11-9.
GAME NOTES: Coming off a bye week, the Houston Cougars will try to move to a perfect 5-0 when they battle former Conference USA rival Memphis in an American Athletic Conference showdown at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Memphis nearly pulled off an upset in its AAC opener against UCF but a costly fumble by Marquis Warford late in the fourth quarter led to the game-winning touchdown for the Knights in the 24-17 decision. The Tigers were 4-4 in league play a year ago while still a member of C-USA and are off to an 0-1 start this year.
As for Houston, the Cougars are in good company in the AAC. Other than No. 8 Louisville, Houston is the only squad in the league that has not suffered a loss. With wins in all four games the Cougars are 4-0 for just the eighth time in program history. Houston was on a bye last weekend but had won its first four games by an average of 23.5 points per game.
Although both of these teams were members of Conference USA a year ago they did not meet in the last two seasons. The last meeting came in 2010 when the Cougars rolled to a 56-17 victory to move to 11-9 in series play.
When you are a team averaging only 19.2 points per game, turnovers late in games can be devastating. That is certainly the case for Memphis, which is ranked seventh in the conference in scoring and total offense (372.2 ypg).
Paxton Lynch leads the offense from under center. Lynch had one of his better games against UCF when he threw for a season-high 279 yards. However, on the year, Lynch has struggled more often than not with just 773 yards and four interceptions to just two touchdown passes. Lynch has also been sacked 10 times.
The main weapons Lynch gets the ball to are receivers Tevin Jones and Joe Craig. Jones is the team-leader in receiving yards (170), while Craig is the leader in receptions (13) for 168 yards. Tight end Alan Cross (seven receptions, 53 yards, two TDs) doesn't get a ton of receptions but has been useful in the red zone.
In terms of running the ball, the Tigers are fortunate to have a pair of talented backs. Brandon Hayes is the workhorse with 307 yards and two scores on 60 carries. Hayes has been at his best in recent weeks with 187 yards and two scores in the last two weeks. Warford (251 yards, TD) is a fine backup.
Where there is hope for Memphis is on defense. The Tigers are holding foes to just 19 points and 319.8 yards per game, ranking in the top four in the conference in each category. Memphis has been particularly effective in getting to the quarterback, with 14 sacks, trailing only Louisville and Rutgers for the most in the conference.
Leading the way for the defense is Martin Ifedi (5.5 sacks), who is tied for the league lead in quarterback takedowns.
Houston is the top offensive team in the AAC to this point, averaging 534 yards per game, scoring a healthy 43.5 points per game.
Carrying the Cougars is quarterback John O'Korn. The freshman has done a solid job under center since replacing incumbent starter David Piland. O'Korn is completing 63.5 percent of his pass attempts for 933 yards and 10 touchdowns and has been intercepted only once. In the Cougars' last game, a 59-28 win over Texas-San Antonio, O'Korn threw for career-highs in touchdowns (four) and yards (312).
O'Korn has certainly been helped by the play of Deontay Greenberry, who has brought in 35 receptions for 530 yards and three touchdowns. Greenberry leads the conference in yards per game (132.5) for the Cougars, who have also gotten contributions from Daniel Spencer (17 receptions, 223 yards, three TDs) and Xavier Maxwell (15 receptions, 144 yards, two TDs).
Ryan Jackson is a versatile running back that works well in the Cougars' system with his ability to make plays in the passing game. Jackson has rushed for 384 yards and four touchdowns and also has 10 catches for 120 yards and two scores through the air.
On the defensive side of things, Houston shows some weaknesses. The Cougars are allowing just 20 points per game but teams are also picking up more than 400 yards per contest. While those numbers themselves aren't horrible, the Cougars have struggled to create pressure with just five sacks this season, while recording the fewest tackles for loss (16) in the conference. However, Houston has forced 14 turnovers in just four games.
This should be a real test of just how effective O'Korn can be as a signal caller. The Tigers' front seven, especially Ifedi, will give the freshman problems but Jackson's ability to run the ball will open up the field. If Houston can keep up the pace it prefers, the Tigers will fall behind early.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 41, Memphis 27
10/09 10:39:31 ET