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Week 11 AAC notebook: UTSA rolls, Memphis and Tulane survive stunning close-calls

Three teams with unblemished records remain heading into the penultimate week of the regular season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 Rice at UTSA Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re headed into Week 12 and the AAC standings feature quite a schism.

There are four clear contenders and then everything else. Tulane, SMU, and UTSA all feature perfect 6-0 conference records, while Memphis is one step behind at 5-1 with its lone loss coming to Tulane in October.

That sets up plenty of late season drama for the league, especially with an SMU at Memphis matchup looming Week 12, followed by UTSA traveling to Tulane for a Week 13 showdown.

All 14 AAC teams were in action this weekend.

  • SMU 45, North Texas 21
  • Tulane 24, Tulsa 22
  • South Florida 27, Temple 23
  • Memphis 44, Charlotte 38
  • Navy 31, UAB 6
  • East Carolina 22, Florida Atlantic 7
  • UTSA 34, Rice 14

The AAC kicked off Week 11 with a Friday night matchup between departing member SMU and first-year member North Texas. The Mustangs, led by their usual stout defense, scored 28 unanswered in the second half to notch their sixth consecutive victory. The 45-21 thrashing was SMU’s seventh win by at least 18 points this year, and by factoring in margin of victory, nobody is playing better football in the conference than the Mustangs at the moment.

A win is a win, although style points matter for the College Football Playoff rankings and a potential New Year’s Six appearance. Other AAC contenders like Tulane and Memphis did not collect those style points in Week 11, while UTSA garnered some. Here’s a full rundown of highlights from Saturday’s action.

Tulane ends up in another one-score game, finds a way

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Tulane
Tulane RB Makhi Hughes rushed for 131 yards, his sixth consecutive 100+ yard game, in the 24-22 win over Tulane.
Matthew Dobbins-USA TODAY Sports

Tulane resides in the most desirable position in the conference. The Green Wave are ranked No. 23 in the College Football Playoff standings, and thanks to recent struggles from Mountain West contenders Air Force and Fresno State, they essentially control their own destiny for a second-straight New Year’s Six appearance.

All Tulane does is win. The Green Wave have won eight-straight games and their lone loss transpired in Week 2 against Ole Miss in a game star quarterback Michael Pratt missed due to a knee injury. And still, Tulane led 17-7 and was deadlocked at 17 apiece after the third quarter. But even though the Green Wave haven’t lost since that early September afternoon, they continue to survive close calls every week — regardless of the caliber of competition.

The largest margin of victory Tulane has attained against an AAC opponent all season is 12 over UAB, and that was a 5-point game with under a minute remaining when Tulane gambled on a critical 4th and 9 and threw a 32-yard sealing touchdown pass. Saturday seemed to be the perfect time to break the trend of close finishes as Tulane hosted a Tulsa team falling on hard times.

Instead, the result was Tulane’s closest AAC game yet. The Green Wave escaped with a 24-22 victory over the Golden Hurricane, which have now dropped five consecutive game. Tulane fended off a tying 2-point attempt with three minutes remaining to avoid overtime. It was the Green Wave’s fourth consecutive one-score game — defeating 3-7 North Texas by seven, 4-5 Rice by two, 2-8 East Carolina by three, and 3-7 Tulsa by two.

But just like those other close games, Tulane was in control for much of the afternoon. The Green Wave jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead but never scored an offensive touchdown after the opening stanza. Tulane ran the ball extraordinarily well as Makhi Hughes recorded his FBS-leading sixth consecutive 100-yard game with 131 yards on 6.9 per attempt. But they struggled to move the sticks on third downs through the air, providing plenty of opportunities to Tulsa’s offense which unleashed its best passing performance of the season.

Tulane never let Tulsa touch the ball with a chance to take the lead in the second half, and eating up critical clock has been one strength of this Green Wave team. Knowing how to win games by any means is crucial, and Willie Fritz’s squad has that trait mastered. Regardless of margin of victory, if Tulane does the same against Florida Atlantic and UTSA, the AAC Championship Game will set up shop in New Orleans the first weekend of December.

Roadrunners roll Rice en route to sixth-straight win

UTSA has won six consecutive games and controls its own destiny for the AAC Championship Game with South Florida and Tulane remaining.
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UTSA is one of the hottest teams in America right now. The Roadrunners started the season a disastrous 1-3 after shortcomings in non-conference play, but Jeff Traylor’s team now has a realistic opportunity to compete for the AAC title in its inaugural year in the conference. The Roadrunners haven’t faced the stiffest competition during this six-game win streak as all six victims are currently below .500, but they’re doing what they should — five of those six wins were by at least 14 points and the other one featured a 17-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Roadrunners hosted a shorthanded Rice squad at the Alamodome and left zero doubt in their eighth-straight win in the annual series versus the Owls. UTSA only led 10-7 at halftime but a dominant third quarter completely turned the tide for the remainder of the night. UTSA registered three touchdowns in less than six-and-a-half minutes of game clock, headlined by a 50-yard punt return by Chris Carpenter. Robert Henry and Rocko Griffin also punched in short rushing touchdowns in a quarter on a night where the run game thrived. Griffin and Henry combined for 144 yards and the team out-rushed Rice, 199-47.

Rice was bereft of starting quarterback JT Daniels due to a concussion suffered in Week 10 against Tulane, so the Owls started AJ Padgett for the first time in 2023. Padgett made his collegiate debut against the Roadrunners last November and started the final two games of 2022 including the LendingTree Bowl. The backup posted 182 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception, but UTSA consistently overwhelmed him with pressure from start to finish.

The Roadrunners collected six sacks, and as usual, the leader of the movement was outside linebacker Trey Moore. Moore produced two sacks to maintain his spot as No. 2 in the FBS in the category with 14.0 on the year. Four other Roadrunners contributed to the sack effort and the team tallied 10 tackles for loss. It was that effort which caused Rice to punt on its first four possessions of the first half and its first three of the second half.

Thanks to excellence in all three phases of the ball, UTSA is now 7-3 and controls its own destiny to an AAC Championship Game appearance. Should a combination of the Roadrunners winning out and SMU dropping a game occur, the Alamodome can be the hosting site of a conference championship game for the third-straight season.

Memphis survives near-scare to Biff and the 49ers

NCAA Football: South Florida at Memphis
Memphis RB Blake Watson delivered three touchdowns in his return from injury, including the game-winner in OT to defeat Charlotte.
Stu Boyd II-USA TODAY Sports

Not many people expected the most thrilling AAC contest of Week 11 to be the one between Memphis and Charlotte. Ryan Silverfield’s Tigers entered 7-2 with a pair of relatively close losses to ranked competition, and they defeated everything else on the schedule. Meanwhile the 49ers led by first-year head coach Biff Poggi entered 3-6 with close wins over Tulsa and East Carolina but double-digit defeats in every other FBS game this year.

There were uncertainties for Memphis prior to Saturday as starting quarterback Seth Henigan and No. 1 running back Blake Watson both left the prior game against South Florida due to injuries. However, both returned and were stellar for the most part. Henigan delivered 329 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns while Watson attained 124 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, contributing plenty as both a rusher and receiver.

But Memphis almost lost this game. The Tigers trailed at halftime but regained control when leading tackler Chandler Martin recorded a 60-yard pick six in the third quarter. After Martin’s momentum-swinging play, Memphis failed to stop the Charlotte offense. Running back Hahsaun Wilson, who attained 198 yards, punched in his third rushing touchdown of the day with 7:46 left to hand the 49ers a 38-28 lead, and AAC title hopes seemed finished for the Tigers.

However, Memphis has prior experience with scoring rapidly. The Tigers notched a full game-winning touchdown drive in just 46 seconds of clock to beat North Texas. This time, Henigan led the troops 75 yards down the field in five plays, connecting with Watson to cut the deficit to three. After forcing a quick three-and-out, Henigan guided the offense back into Charlotte territory but this time, Tanner Gillis sunk the tying 41-yard field goal.

Memphis actually had the chance to win in regulation as Geoffrey Cantin-Arku intercepted Trexler Ivey on Charlotte’s attempt to score in the final 35 seconds of regulation, but Cantin-Arku fumbled the ball back to the 49ers on the runback, thus forcing overtime. Memphis made quick work of the overtime period, stopping Charlotte on three plays and a shanked 37-yard field goal ensued. The Tigers decided to place the ball in Watson’s hands for the win, and the running back took five carries for 25 yards and the clinching touchdown in overtime.

Memphis won its fourth consecutive game and notched at least 44 points in all four victories. On the flip side, the Tigers defense allowed 37.8 points per game in those wins, and that aspect must be improved during the final stretch of the regular season. A critical matchup against SMU transpires next Saturday, and Memphis will get hosting duties for this high-stakes clash.

East Carolina defends and kicks way to first FBS win of 2023

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Brigham Young
ECU kicker Andrew Conrad sunk 5-of-5 field goal attempts in the 22-7 win over FAU. All five attempts were 40 yards or greater.
Christopher Creveling-USA TODAY Sports

And then there was one. Kent State is now the only team without an FBS win in 2023.

Entering Saturday, there were three teams holding this unwanted label. One was Sam Houston of the CUSA. The first-year FBS member finally reversed its season of bad luck and took out Louisiana Tech in 42-27 fashion to improve to 2-8.

The other was East Carolina. The Pirates watched a significant amount of talent depart from a successful 2022 season where they went 8-5, so it was clear 2023 would be Mike Houston’s most difficult rebuilding project yet. ECU picked up a 44-0 win over Abilene Christian of the FCS in Week 4, but the team hadn’t been able to replicate that feeling against FBS competition. Strides were evident, however, as the team remained competitive for much of the UTSA game in Week 9 and only lost by three points to a ranked Tulane squad in Week 10.

Week 11 was ECU’s breakthrough. The Pirates knocked off AAC newcomer Florida Atlantic 22-7, relying on that same Blake Harrell-led defense which nearly contributed to an upset over Tulane. ECU dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting Florida Atlantic to 21 yards on 31 attempts. Five different Pirates notched a sack and the team produced 10 tackles for loss as a whole, denying the Owls from breakaway runs all game. The pass defense stepped up simultaneously, limiting quarterback Daniel Richardson to 151 yards on 36 attempts and star safety Julius Wood recorded his second interception of the season.

The offensive performance left more to be desired, as ECU managed one first quarter touchdown stemming from a blocked punt and never reached the end zone for the remainder of the contest. But kicker Andrew Conrad proved as reliable as ever, sinking all five field goal attempts — and all five were at least 40 yards (46, 47, 43, 46, and 40). Fittingly, Conrad was the AAC Special Teams Player of the Week, outscoring Florida Atlantic with his leg alone and leading ECU to a win it strived for all season.

AAC standings after Week 11

Team Conf W Conf L Conf PCT Overall W Overall L Overall PCT Points Pts Against Differential PPG PAPG Avg Diff
Team Conf W Conf L Conf PCT Overall W Overall L Overall PCT Points Pts Against Differential PPG PAPG Avg Diff
Tulane 6 0 1.000 9 1 0.900 282 196 86 28.2 19.6 8.6
SMU 6 0 1.000 8 2 0.800 405 164 241 40.5 16.4 24.1
UTSA 6 0 1.000 7 3 0.700 315 246 69 31.5 24.6 6.9
Memphis 5 1 0.833 8 2 0.800 397 289 108 39.7 28.9 10.8
Florida Atlantic 3 3 0.500 4 6 0.400 256 258 -2 25.6 25.8 -0.2
South Florida 3 3 0.500 5 5 0.500 301 356 -55 30.1 35.6 -5.5
Navy 3 3 0.500 4 5 0.444 177 193 -16 19.7 21.4 -1.8
Rice 2 4 0.333 4 6 0.400 311 292 19 31.1 29.2 1.9
UAB 2 4 0.333 3 7 0.300 283 374 -91 28.3 37.4 -9.1
Charlotte 2 4 0.333 3 7 0.300 189 267 -78 18.9 26.7 -7.8
North Texas 1 5 0.167 3 7 0.300 334 375 -41 33.4 37.5 -4.1
Tulsa 1 5 0.167 3 7 0.300 227 341 -114 22.7 34.1 -11.4
Temple 1 5 0.167 3 7 0.300 208 349 -141 20.8 34.9 -14.1
East Carolina 1 5 0.167 2 8 0.200 181 230 -49 18.1 23.0 -4.9