Date: Tuesday, December 20
Time: 6:00 pm CT
Location: Boca Raton, Florida
Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: ESPN Radio
Betting Line: WKU -6.5, O/U 80
Live Stats: Gametracker
Series History: Tied 2-2. Memphis won the last meeting 42-0 in 1956.
Football on a Tuesday is fantastic. A Tuesday match up between the 9th and 37th ranked offenses in the nation (per S&P+) is more than we honestly deserve. Western Kentucky will seek to put a cherry on top of their 2016 conference championship with their third straight bowl win while Memphis will aim to match their win total from an impressive 2015 season.
An 8-4 regular season record sure isn’t bad for a supposed rebuilding year. Head coach Justin Fuente departed from Memphis last offseason to succeed the legendary Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. To make matters worse, Fuente’s replacement would be left without a quarterback after standout Paxton Lynch was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos after skipping out on his senior season in Memphis.
Enter Mike Norvell. A young offensive mind, Norvell started his career as a wide receivers coach at Tulsa before earning offensive coordinator duties at Pitt and Arizona State. While Norvell no longer has the righteous cornrows of his playing days at Central Arkansas, he’s clearly established himself as a future superstar in the coaching ranks.
One of Norvell’s first moves as Memphis’ head coach was reaching out to a Power Five castaway to find a potential replacement for Lynch. Riley Ferguson passed for nearly 3,000 yards at Coffeyville Community College in 2015 but his future in football seemed in serious jeopardy in 2014. Ferguson took Norvell up on his offer and promptly surpassed his gaudy JUCO stats, passing for 3,326 yards and 28 touchdowns in his first season with the Tigers.
Ferguson’s primary target this season has been junior wide receiver Anthony Miller. The 5’11” wideout has totaled 1,283 yards through the air while the Tigers’ running back trio of Doroland Dorceus, Patrick Taylor Jr., and Darrell Henderson have combined for 1,764 yards on the season, all rushing for 5.7 yards per carry or better.
The Tigers’ defense can hold their own as well. Memphis is ranked 55th in the nation in points allowed per game but they’ve faced some of the most efficient offenses in FBS such as Tulsa (11th in points per game), Navy (18th in points per game), and South Florida (7th in points per game).
Memphis isn’t great against the run but they do boast a strong secondary that has the Tigers’ defense ranked 44th in the nation in 3rd down situational defense despite a passing down sack rate of just 3.1%. Only four teams have done a worse job of getting to the quarterback in passing situations this year.
Junior defensive back Jonathan Cook leads the way on defense with 74.5 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, and one interception on the year. Memphis has a clear nose for the football as eleven different defenders have come down with an interception for the Tigers this year for a total of 15 picks. In a game like the one we’re expecting in Boca, just one more interception this season might be enough to squeak out with a victory.
The back-to-back Conference USA Champs enter the Boca Bowl without the guy that guided them to such an impressive feat as Jeff Brohm is in West Lafayette running Purdue.
Interim head coach Nick Holt was a curious decision to lead the program in this game as his time as a defensive coordinator hasn’t been the best. For all of the accolades the Tops have achieved in the past four years one could say that it’s been despite their poor defense.
Although Brohm has left the program WKU still has the players on offense to put up some gaudy numbers in the Boca Bowl. Anthony Wales has rushed for 24 touchdowns and 1376 yards this year. Mike White has passed for over 4000 yards with 34 touchdowns and six interceptions. Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris each have over 1200 receiving yards and with 16 and 13 touchdowns respectively. The offense ranks 9th in S&P+ and has averaged 45.1 points per game.
The Tops ran through C-USA for the most part as C-USA teams didn’t have the firepower on offense to threaten them. But their toughest opponents (Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech) exposed how bad they are defensively. MTSU and La Tech scored over 40 points and were able to do whatever they wanted via the passing game.
Jared: First to 60 wins it? Seriously, I like the Tigers to pull the upset. Memphis finished the regular season strong and are one of the few teams in the country that can match WKU in a shoot out. I think the Tigers’ opportunistic secondary will cause Mike White some frustration and make enough third down stops to come out on top.
Cyrus: Pointsapalooza! That’s what I expect in the Boca Bowl. WKU doesn’t have Brohm but they have a senior laden team that won’t let WKU get caught up in the South Florida weather. The Tops will be ready for this game. However, I like Memphis in this one. The Tigers have been flying under the radar all season and I expect them to perform like they did against Houston when they quickly jumped on the Coogs. The Tigers outscore the Tops 55-42.