WHEN: Saturday, November 5, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. CT
WHERE: Gerald J. Ford Stadium – Dallas, TX
SERIES: Memphis leads 5-3
LAST MEETING: Memphis won 63-0 on November 28, 2015
LINE: SMU +3
While SMU’s most impressive win still remains their victory over Houston, the Mustangs’ come-from-behind win against Tulane showed the resiliency, growth and character of the team. SMU continued their stellar play from the week before in the first half at Tulane, and their defense stepped up considerably against the triple option. In the second half, Tulane began to move the ball well and found the end zone enough to take the lead. But after struggling for much of the second half, Ben Hicks led the offense on back-to-back scoring drives, including big third and fourth down conversions to pull ahead and never look back.
The defense also made a few important stops on third and fourth downs as well. Looking to this weekend’s homecoming matchup against Memphis, the Mustangs will look to make up for last year’s embarrassing 63-0 loss in the final game of the season.
As one of the better teams in the AAC, Memphis plays well on both sides of the ball. Behind junior transfer quarterback Riley Ferguson, the Tigers average nearly 40 points a game. His main target, Anthony Miller, is coming off of a career game, and can beat out over the middle or deep down the sideline. Their running game, which is also impressive, is led by a trio of backs all averaging over 6 yards per carry. Doroland Dorceus, Patrick Taylor Jr., and Darrell Henderson all have at least 40 carries, and can all provide a change of pace.
On the defensive side of the ball, Memphis is one of the top teams in the country in takeaways, and a lot of it starts with their ability to get after the quarterback in blitzing situations. That group is led by junior Genard Avery and his five TFLs. Coach Craddock called Avery one of the best players they will face all year, and his ability to get after the quarterback on the edge helps the secondary get their turnover opportunities. Avery, who also has two interceptions, can also make plays out in coverage.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Memphis Running Backs vs. SMU front seven: Memphis’ trio of running backs has been impressive all season long, but so has SMU’s front seven. If SMU can stop the Tigers’ run game, that will help them get off the field on third downs, as well as prevent the Tigers’ from controlling the game clock. But if the Tigers can run like they have all season, more unneeded pressure will be put on Hicks and SMU’s offense to score.
KEYS TO THE GAME
With so many weapons, it will be tough for SMU to completely shut down Memphis’ offense, so their own offensive possessions will be important. The Mustangs’ offensive line needs to be able to handle the blitz, and Hicks needs to make smart decisions like he has shown he can. Defensively, stopping the Tigers’ running game on first and second down will be huge to force Ferguson into long third down situations. Also, considering his recent success, getting at least one takeaway from Ferguson would help the Mustangs out in a big way.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
When Memphis is on Offense: Because of how good SMU’s secondary has been, don’t be surprised to see the Tigers test the Mustangs’ front seven more with their stable of running backs. If they can control the ground game, they can control the clock and possession.
When Memphis is on Defense: While Memphis is known for dialing it up on third downs and blitzing situations, you may see them try to get after the quarterback more with an inconsistent offensive line and a redshirt freshman throwing the ball.
When SMU is on Offense: Like in past games, this offense will rely heavily on Ben Hicks. Coming off of an impressive final two drives, it will be important for Hicks to remain sharp and keep the ball out of the hands of this Memphis secondary that already has 11 interceptions on the year.
When SMU is on Defense: This defense will face one of the more balanced offenses they’ll see this season. Ferguson can air it out if he wants, so limiting his big plays will be important, but keeping the Tigers’ trio of running backs in check is just as crucial.
Pony Stampede Predictions
Billy: 31-21 SMU
Patrick: 27-24 SMU
Scott: 42-35 SMU
Demo: 35-28 SMU
Hatts: 35-28 Memphis
Phil: 34-31 SMU