Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium - Memphis, TN
Date: Saturday, October 19
Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Records: Memphis 5-1 (1-1 AAC), Tulane 5-1 (2-0 AAC)
Line: Memphis -4.5; O/U 59.5
All-Time Series: Memphis leads 22-12-1
Last Meeting: Memphis 24, Tulane 40 (September 28, 2018)
Quick Hits: Both Memphis and Tulane know this week is a must-win in order to stay ahead in the tight AAC West race. The Tigers, like the Green Wave, are 5-1 on the season. Unlike their counterparts from New Orleans, though, they enter this game on the heels of a hard-fought loss at Temple last week and that might just be the best thing for them. Now that the pressure of that first defeat is out of the way, Memphis can just focus on football.
The Wave’s only flub thus far came at the hands of then-No. 10 Auburn, a forgivable defeat to say the least. These guys are fresh off a 42-point shellacking of UConn and have their sights set on a massive road win this week. For the first time in what seems like forever, Tulane is on the precipice of bowl eligibility in mid-October but they have aspirations much higher than that. Willie Fritz’s bunch wants their first-ever berth in the AAC Championship and win on Saturday would go a long way in realizing that goal.
One-loss meets one-loss, talent meets talent, conference contender meets conference contender. Get ready for a doozy in Memphis.
From Tulane’s Perspective: Tulane will go as far its rushing attack goes. It’s been no secret that the Wave’s bread and butter has been its punishing ground game. The unit that is composed of the speedster Corey Dauphine, the bruiser Darius Bradwell and the nifty sophomore Amare Jones is the fourth best in the country, averaging 288.0 yards per contest via the run. Facing a Memphis defense that is allowing just over 180 yards per contest will be a challenge though. Don’t be surprised if Tulane’s explosive quarterback calls his own number if the going gets tough. Justin McMillan is second on the team in rushing with 301 yards and six touchdowns.
McMillan, however, isn’t just a one-trick pony. For as well as he can carry the ball, he isn’t to shabby at throwing it either. He’s already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season and has tossed eight TDs and only two interceptions. He will need to continue his stellar play this Saturday against the Tigers D that is surrendering just 165.7 pass yards per game. If he gets stymied by DBs Sanchez Blake Jr. and La’Andre Thomas then Tulane will have a tough time winning this one. Thomas and Blake have combined for two interceptions and 69 total tackles this year.
The good news for the Green Wave is that they too have a pretty solid defense. This group has authored seven sacks and a staggering 31 tackles for loss and have shown no signs of slowing down. Defensive end Patrick Johnson leads the way with three sacks and five tackles for loss. If he and teammate Cameron Sample can disrupt Memphis quarterback Brady White then life becomes a bit easier for the Greenies.
On the back end, Tulane will have the talents of safeties Chase Kuerschen and P.J. Hall. The duo have a combined two picks and 54 tackles. Hall is also responsible for one of the team’s two defensive touchdowns this season with a 30-yard pick six to his name.
If this game is as close as we think it might be and it all comes down to a kick, then the Wave should feel pretty confident in their guy. Junior Merek Glover, who was just given a full athletic scholarship last week, has yet to miss a try this year whether it be PAT or field goal. He is 4-of-4 on field goals and a perfect 28-of-28 on extra points. The kid has been nothing but money.
From Memphis’ Perspective: Like we said with Tulane, quarterback play will be critical for the Tigers. If White repeats his performance against Temple it won’t bode well for Memphis. Last week he lost two fumbles and threw an interception, accounting for three of the team’s four turnovers. White cannot afford to grant this Tulane offense extra opportunities. Ball security is key for not just him, but everyone, if the Tigers want to get back in the win column this week.
Last year, despite their loss to the Wave, Memphis was still able to gash Tulane on the ground thanks in large part to superstar back Darrell Henderson. Henderson, though, is now long gone to the NFL but it seems as though the Tigers have barely missed a beat. Kenny Gainwell has put up 726 yards on 95 carries this season and is responsible for seven scores. Last week against Temple, he averaged 5.6 yards per tote and finished above the century mark for the fourth time this year. Expect another heavy workload for the standout freshman.
Defensively, Memphis needs to focus on McMillan whom we’ve already established is a game changer. Linebacker J.J. Russell will play a huge part in that game plan. Russell is second on the team in tackles (34) and leads the club in tackles for loss (five). He even has a sack under his belt. If he can keep McMillan and Tulane’s other dynamite runners contained then Memphis’ chances will go up tremendously.
The X factor in this game may very well come down to special teams and that’s good news for the Tigers. Dynamic return man Antonio Gibson is averaging 26 yards per runback on kickoffs and has 286 yards on just 11 returns. He hasn’t broken one loose for a touchdown yet but it feels like he’s right on the cusp of doing so.
Final Thoughts: This game is as big as they come for both teams. The loser will have a very rocky road to the AAC title game while the winner inches that much closer. It won’t come easy for either team and, quite honestly, it shouldn’t. We’re now entering the “big boy football” portion of the season where the contenders will break away from the pretenders.
In fact, Tulane is plagued with the nation’s fifth toughest remaining schedule as their final six opponents are a combined 26-9. And Memphis doesn’t have a cakewalk either with SMU, Houston and Cincy still on the docket. All we can really say to both of these teams right now is this: show us what you’re made of. It all starts Saturday night.
Prediction: Tulane 34 - Memphis 35