Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
Time: 11 a.m. C.T.
Spread: Houston -4
Houston has re-emerged on the college football scene after defeating no. 5 Louisville last week in a dominating 36-10 win. The Cougars have recovered from their midseason slump losing to SMU and Navy and are 9-2 with a no. 20 spot in the college football playoff rankings. Memphis had a strong start to the season (5-1) but the Tigers have slipped losing three of their last five games.
The Tigers seemed to have an answer for the loss of Paxton Lynch to the NFL last season with junior quarterback Riley Ferguson. Ferguson threw for 2,917 yards and 24 touchdowns this season leading Memphis to bowl eligibility. Well, the bad news is that Ferguson sustained an injury to his midsection early in the game last week against Cincinnati. Ferguson likely will not play against the Cougars on Friday. Junior running back Doroland Dorceus will have to carry the load on offense against a very tough Houston defensive line. Dorceus had a season-high two touchdowns last week in a blowout 34-7 win against Cincinnati.
The Tigers will have a hard time defending a dynamic quarterback for Houston, Greg Ward Jr. This Memphis squad allows 426.2 yards per game and if they have any plans of winning they will have to force Houston to run the ball. Houston’s rushing offense has been struggling with only 130 yards rushing in the last two games combined and Memphis is tied for sixth in the nation with 14 total interceptions. If Memphis can keep Ward on the ground then the Tigers could pull off the win at home.
If the Cougars are planning on continuing their domination they will have to rely on their strong defensive attack. Houston’s defense held Louisville to 101 yards rushing and sacked Heisman frontrunner, Lamar Jackson, 11 times. Memphis is 14th in the nation in sacks allowed (29) which is ideal for the attacking Houston defensive line led by true freshman Ed Oliver. Oliver is 4th in the nation in tackles for loss (19) and has five sacks this season. Houston is also ranked no. 2 in rushing yards allowed per game (93.5) which can be a major factor in this game due to the injury of Riley Ferguson for Memphis.
On offense, Greg Ward Jr. can lead this team to another dominating win on the road if he can throw the ball on a Memphis team that allows 220 yards per game. The Cougars may have defeated a top five team, but the win basically confirmed that coach Tom Herman will be heading to a power five school at the end of the season. The Cougars’ hopes for a New Years’ Six bowl game were most likely diminished last week since Navy clinched the AAC West. The Cougars will still plan on finishing strong and potentially finding themselves in a respectable bowl game.
All in all, this game will be decided by the play of the Memphis offensive line. With a backup quarterback most likely in for Memphis, the offensive line will have to protect the running game to get points on the board against a ruthless Houston defensive line. If they can’t, you will see plenty of Memphis blues on the field.
Prediction: Houston 31-Memphis 16