Start Time: 12:00 PM EST, Wednesday, December 30
Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama
Records: Memphis: 9-3. Auburn: 6-6. Memphis leads the overall series 2-0.
Live Stats: here.
Line: Memphis +2.5. Over/Under: 63.5.
When Memphis has the ball:
For Memphis, it is the Paxton Lynch show. Everyone else is just along for the ride. Lynch is connecting on 68.8% of his passes and leads a passing game that is top 26 nationally in S%P+, success rate, and IsoPPP. That spells trouble for the Auburn defense that is one of the most generous pass defenses in the nation. Auburn is giving up a successful pass play nearly 47% of the time. Memphis is #11 nationally, succeeding on 49.1% of their passing plays. Expect Memphis to be successful on a high percentage of their pass plays.
Unlike Auburn, Memphis is at their best when spreading the ball around. Mose Frazier, Phil Mayhue, and Anthony Miller all have 44 or more catches on the season. They account for 51.8% of all passing targets on the season. Miller in particular is a big play threat, averaging 15.6 yards per catch while boasting a catch rate of 72.1%.
That is where the Auburn pass defense steps in. No one claims that they are great versus the pass, but they are top three nationally in limiting big plays. They do an excellent job of forcing an offense to slowly move the ball downfield until they can capitalize on a mistake. Their 13 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles show that they can exploit teams getting impatient on offense with turnovers.
With a quarterback like Lynch, Memphis rarely has to rely upon the running game to pull out a win. Facing Auburn, the run game must make some sort of an impact. Doroland Dorceus is the leading rusher, but they have the ability to throw out a couple of bigger backs in Jarvis Cooper and Sam Craft. If Memphis can limit negative rushing plays versus a defensive line rotation that is full of players over 280 pounds, the offense should put up lots of points.
When Auburn has the ball:
It all depends on which quarterback is tacking the majority of the snaps for Auburn. As of right now, redshirt freshman Sean White looks to be back from a knee injury in time for this game. He is listed as the starter, but I would expect to see Jeremy Johnson also get some snaps at quarterback in this game. Johnson a slightly more accurate passer, but White has the ability to get bigger chunks on his completions. White has completed 19 fewer passes, but has 24 more passing yards on the year.
The player to watch in the passing game is senior wide receiver Ricardo Louis. The 6-2 receiver has been targeted on nearly 30% of all pass attempts on the season. That is 47 more targets than anyone else on the team. The problem with those totals is the fact that he only catches 55.6% of passes in his directions.
With no one else within 17 receptions of Louis, expect to see lots of passes thrown his way. Marcus Davis and Melvin Ray should be able to give support to a passing game that could shine versus a poor Memphis defense. Expect Reggis Ball, Chris Morley, and the rest of Memphis' secondary to have their hands full all afternoon.
You would expect that Auburn, led by head coach Gus Malzahn, would be able to run the ball all over everyone. That is not the case this season for one reason: the lack of explosive plays. Auburn is top 50 nationally in every advanced rushing statistic except for IsoPPP. Not only are they not top 50, they are bottom five nationally.
Just look at Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. They have solid yards per carry averages, but they are not hitting the homeruns that are a staple of Malzahn offenses. The matchup to watch is on third and short. Memphis is one of better teams in the nation at stopping the power run (#5 nationally), while Auburn is top five nationally in short yardage power rushing success. Something will have to give.
This is one of the games that is so hard to pick because you never know if Auburn, a team that was picked by some before the season to play for the national title, will even care that they are in a bowl. Memphis will be pumped up in what could be the last time we see Paxton Lynch at Memphis. In many ways, this game is the end of one era and start of another for Memphis. I think they come out wanting to win this game more. Memphis 31, Auburn 24.