Start Time: 7:00 PM EST, Saturday, November 14
Location: TDECU, Houston, Texas
Weather: 68 degrees with 0% chance of rain
Records: Memphis: 8-1. Houston: 9-0. Houston leads the overall series 14-9.
Live Stats: here.
Line: Houston -7. Over/Under: 72.
Well the Cougars are still undefeated and the initial reaction from the TDECU Stadium on Saturday night was one of relief and excitement as the University of Houston moved to 9-0 for just the second time in school history. The 33-30 win over Cincinnati kept Houston as one of six unbeaten teams and the only one from outside the P5 after Navy handled Memphis, 45-20, removing some of the luster of the looming showdown this Saturday.
The Tigers come to town needing a win while the Cougars have their biggest game and all their goals in front of them for the taking. The Cougars found a way to win last week against a talented but flawed Cincinnati Bearcat team and the level of competition has gone up again this week as they take on their first ranked opponent of the season.
The Tigers are licking their wounds and are down but not out as they are still in the hunt for the AAC West division. Memphis will have the choice here to bow down or bow up and it all starts on defense for the Tigers…
When the Cougars have the Ball
Memphis comes off a game in which their rush defense, a supposed strength, was exposed to the tune of 374 yards on the same day the Cougars offense gained 266 yards. Normally this would mean more for the offense but with the major differences in schemes between Navy and Houston this doesn’t help as much as they would hope.
The Cougars will see the film though so expect them to add a few more option wrinkles to their weekly gameplan, especially within the first 15 scripted plays to get a feel for whether or not Memphis fixed what plagued them a week ago. Before last week’s debacle, the Tigers had been stout against the run, allowing only 2.6 yards per carry over their last three games.
Through the air, the Tigers have been feast or famine as they have either given up 200 yards or less or 400 yards plus. Strangely, out of their 9 opponents, not a single one has finished between 200-400 yards passing. The Cougars will look to finish on the high end of that as they have thrown for at least 200 yards in every game but one this season.
The Cougars bring a top 10 offense to the table that can hurt you in a myriad of ways. They will need to find what works on this Saturday in November and do a better job taking care of the ball as Senior Quarterback Greg Ward has turned the ball over four times in the past two games. Despite their shortcomings, Memphis still ranks in the top half of the league in total defense and turnover margin, both of which are a product of the outstanding Tiger offense.
When the Other, Lesser Cat Team has the Ball
The longer the Cougars can hold the ball the less time it will be in the hands of Memphis stud Quarterback, Paxton Lynch. Lynch is far and away the best quarterback the Cougars have faced this season and the best passer in the conference, if not the country as he has thrown just two interceptions against 19 touchdowns.
The Houston secondary will have their hands full once again and to make matters worse, they will be without their top cornerback William Jackson who appears to be out with a minor knee injury. The undersized Cougar secondary struggled last week with Cincinnati’s lanky receivers but, fortunately for Houston, the Tiger’s top receivers stand 6’1 or shorter.
If the Cougars want to win on the defensive side of the ball, they will need to make Memphis one dimensional which oddly enough means to force the ball into Lynch’s hands. The key for Houston will be to slow down a running game that is setup via the pass and force Lynch to hold on to the football.
Expect Cougars defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to have some exotic blitzes planned this week and the Cougars will do their best to hit Lynch as much as possible early (maybe even a few questionable ones) in hopes of slowing him down. If they are able to hit Lynch enough, those shots will start to take their toll over the course of the game but it won’t be easy for the ‘3rd Ward Defense’ as the Tigers are only allowing 1.3 sacks per game
In order to win, Houston will need to pressure the quarterback and increase their league leading turnover margin despite the fact they will be missing arguably their best defender. The Coogs also need to win the turnover battle by a wide margin and the excitement inside the TDECU stadium should help as the first true sellout of the season is expected. Memphis could come out flat as the Tigers might be down after losing control of their season last week.
As a proud Cougar alumni, I am obviously biased, which is why I believe the final score will be 44-37… Memphis.
The Tigers hold the Cougars to a few field goals early that come back to bite them and the Cougars can’t get that one last stop.
Boy, I hope I’m wrong.