HOUSTON – Memphis needed a bye week to exhale after showcasing its lethal offense during a huge win on national television, and looks to continue its quest for a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday afternoon at Houston. The 18th-ranked Tigers totaled 514 yards of offense in a 54-48 victory over previously-unbeaten SMU on Nov. 2 and own the inside track to the West Division title.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2. LINE: Memphis -10.5
“We’ve played in a lot of big games this season,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell told reporters at his weekly press conference. “This is definitely a big game for us. We’ve put ourselves in position here in the last quarter of the season where every snap is meaningful, every rep (in practice) is meaningful. It’s a challenge.” Norvell and the Tigers won’t take the game for granted against the Cougars, who have dropped three of the last four contests while being competitive with SMU (34-31) and Central Florida (44-29) in the last two - both losses. Houston has received 268 yards rushing from senior running back Mulbah Car the past two games and sophomore quarterback Clayton Tune has had his moments, but wins have been elusive for first-year coach Dana Holgorsen after two of his top players decided to redshirt early on. “I think there’s a mental fatigue aspect of what we’ve been going through,” Holgorsen told reporters. “It’s pretty taxing when you’re competitive, when you’re handcuffed and limited, but you’re competitive and you just come up short against ranked opponents. … So hopefully the bye week and the weekend got everybody in a good place and we’ll be able to finish the season strong.”
ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-1, 4-1 AAC)
Junior quarterback Brady White has been stellar most of the season, throwing for 2,511 yards and 23 touchdowns (four interceptions) while leading the AAC in completion percentage (67.5). Junior Damonte Coxie is White’s top target with 44 receptions for 672 yards and senior Antonio Gibson (19, 481) accumulated a school-record 386 all-purpose yards last time out against SMU. Freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell leads the ground game with 1,067 yards along with 12 touchdowns and senior Patrick Taylor Jr., who ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2018, is close to a return after being out since the season opener with an ankle injury.
ABOUT HOUSTON (3-6, 1-4)
Tune, who stepped in when Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list member D’Eriq King decided to delay his senior season until 2020, has completed 55.5 percent of his passes with six TDs and five interceptions. Car took advantage of increased workload the last two games, but junior Kyle Porter leads the team in rushing yards (525) while senior Patrick Carr (301) may return after missing a month with a knee injury. Top receiver Keith Corbin joined King in redshirting after four games, but the Cougars still have talent at the position with junior Marquez Stevenson (36 catches, 666 yards, six TDs) and sophomore Jeremy Singleton (19, 319, three).
1. Memphis TE Joey Magnifico became the school's all-time leader in receiving yards (1,061) at the position last time out versus SMU.
2. Houston junior S Grant Stuard leads the team with 73 tackles, but managed a season-low three in the last game against UCF.
3. The Tigers have won the last three meetings, including a 52-31 triumph last season at home, but the Cougars lead the all-time series 15-12.
PREDICTION: Memphis 48, Houston 28