WHO: The surprising 4-3 Memphis Tigers will be hosting the 1-6 Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Halloween night. The Tigers are 2-1 in American Athletic Conference play and technically still in the race for a conference title, while Tulsa is 1-2 in conference and has lost six straight.
WHEN & WHERE: Friday night, 8 p.m. ET at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
LINE: Memphis is currently listed as a whopping 24-point favorite.
F/+: Memphis is 47th, while Tulsa is 116th.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: A loss would all but bury Memphis' chances of a conference title, and would put quite a bit of unwanted pressure on the Tigers to win a couple more games down the stretch for bowl eligibility. Tulsa, meanwhile, is looking for any sort of spark to snap their losing streak and get some momentum going down the stretch. In their last game, the Golden Hurricane blew a 27-7 halftime lead and lost to USF.
TELL ME MORE: Memphis has a very simple formula to success: keep games close with a stingy defense--particularly a nasty front seven-- and a stellar special teams unit (fourth in special teams F/+). From there, the Tigers rely on massive sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch to make enough plays to win the game. Lynch, who stands all of 6'7", 230, has done a fine job this season of completing his passes and avoiding turnovers, which is usually enough. He's coming into his own as a passer, though, as recent 300-yard outings in blowout wins at Cincinnati and SMU would indicate. Apart from a three-interception misstep against Houston, he's been efficient against good defenses and quite good against bad defenses.
This bodes pretty awfully for Tulsa, who are giving up 40.7 points per game and recently spotted 35 and 38 to spotty offenses in Temple and USF, respectively. Any hope for the Golden Hurricane to keep pace probably lies on the arm of quarterback Dane Evans, who's throwing for upwards of 275 yards per game while trying to compensate for Tulsa's leaky D and lack of a decent run game. Evans is good, but mistake-prone-- he's thrown nine picks to 12 touchdowns this season -- and he'll need to have a stellar outing to give his team a chance. He's got an absolute weapon on the outside in receiver Keevan Lucas, the recipient of 40 percent of Evans' passes for an impressive eight touchdowns.
In the event that Tulsa can shut down Lynch, the Tigers are averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground and have a nice stable of backs, with four different players over 45 carries and 200 yards apiece.
TULSA WILL WIN IF... The defense can fluster Lynch, and the Evans-Lucas combo proves unstoppable. It's unlikely that the Golden Hurricane D shuts down the Tigers, but if they can force Lynch into a few turnovers and create a short field for Evans, they've got a shot. Evans will probably need to account for an unholy amount of yardage through the air, but he's done that before, and Tulsa's always got a big play in the wings with Lucas at receiver.
MEMPHIS WILL WIN IF... They control the ball and get pressure on Evans. The Tigers' offense is balanced enough that they should be able to move the ball without much trouble. As long as they avoid turnovers and don't let Tulsa beat them deep, they should be in good shape.
WHAT'S PROBABLY GOING TO HAPPEN: After near misses against Temple and USF, Tulsa is hungry for a win, and Memphis is far from a juggernaut. But the Tigers are likely the most balanced team in the AAC, and they've got too many weapons for the Golden Hurricane to shut down. If Lynch struggles, the running game can pick up the slack. If the offense is off to a slow start, the defense should keep them in the game. The 24 point spread is rather large, but Memphis should win this one by a couple touchdowns.