CSJ 2020 Montgomery Bowl Preview: Florida Atlantic vs. Memphis

Florida Atlantic vs. Memphis
When: Wednesday, December 23rd, 7:00 PM EST
Where:  Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.
TV/Streaming: ESPN, WatchESPN

Two programs that won their respecitive conferences hope to end their season with a win this year when Florida Atlantic faces Memphis in the first ever Montgomery Bowl, which is a replacement this year of COVID-19 for the what would have been the first Fenway Bowl (in Boston, Mass.).

Memphis won the AAC title last year and were the Group of Five representative in the New Year’s Six Bowl game (Cotton Bowl) where the Tigers fought hard but fell to the Big Ten’s Penn State.

Florida Atlantic won the Conference USA title a year ago and defeated SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl in what actually was another home game for the Owls.

This year, both schools had new coaches win in Ryan Silverfield for Memphis and Willie Taggart for Florida Atlantic and both had results that wish were better.

After a 5-1 start, FAU dropped its final two games of the regular season. Memphis closed the year by winning four of five, although three of those wins came by three points or less. 

The Owls are 4-0 all-time in bowl games and ironically won its first bowl ever against Memphis in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl. That meeting was the only time the two teams have met historically.

Memphis has lost its last five bowl games and last won a bowl game was in 2014 versus BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl.

Below is a quick comparison, along with the NCAA rankings for each statistic:

Florida Atlantic Owls (2nd C-USA East, 5-3 Overall, 4-2 C-USA)

Unlike past years where the Owls have been a powerful offensive squad under former Coach Lane Kiffin, FAU now has raised its defensive side and really has carried the team this season. The Owls are allowing just 175.6 passing yards per game —11th-best nationally — with six touchdowns in eight games. 

FAU led Conference USA in sacks per game and tied for the lead in total sacks with 25. LB Leighton McCarthy moved from defensive end to outside linebacker as a senior this year. He responded to the move with 40 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and seven quarterback hurries to lead this side of the ball. The secondary also has a star in Montgomery native in senior CB Zyon Gilbert, who will have their hands full against the strong passing attack of the Tigers.

Offensively, FAU ranked just 10th out of 13 Conference USA teams in total offense and were next to last in points scored.

The Owls though seemed to have settled in with freshman QB Javion Posey. After a great first game in FAU’s fourth game against Western Kentucky and first start in Game 5 against rival Florida International, Posey has struggled since at least in the passing game. Fortunately for FAU, Posey also has the ability to use his feet as he leads the team with 401 yards on the ground.

The Owls will be without top RBs BJ Emmons and Malcolm Davidson, who have combined for 414 yards and three touchdowns this season. James Charles will be tasked with most of the carries once again. Charles is second on the team — behind quarterback Javion Posey — in rushing yards (347), and first in touchdowns with four.

Key Player: LB Leighton McCarthy

The Owls defense is the best chance for a victory. The Memphis offense is very good so McCarthy and the rest of his defensive teammates will need to hold down the Tigers with negative plays of sacks and tackles for losses to go with getting some turnovers for Owls to have a chance in this game.

Memphis Tigers (T-3rd AAC, 7-3 Overall, 5-3 AAC)

Memphis is almost is the complete opposite of FAU this year–very strong offense and at best average defense.

The offense starts with senior QB Brady White, who has 3,010 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He holds the school’s career marks for passing yards and touchdowns and is the Tigers’ winningest starting quarterback with 24 victories.

White has a trio of receivers that all produced well this year. WR Calvin Austin III ranks second in the AAC with 1,025 yards receiving and is tied for the conference lead with 10 touchdown catches. Freshman WR Tahj Washington proved to be a big-play threat with 18.2 yards per reception — good for fourth in the AAC. Senior TE Sean Dykes is a good safety valve and he had 581 receiving yards receiving and seven touchdown catches.

Memphis started the season without RB Kenneth Gainwell, who was last year’s AAC freshman of the year as he opted out due to COVID-19 reasons. Without him, Memphis ranked just d 10th in rushing yards per game.

The Tiger defense has been a bend but not break type of squad this year. Despite allowing a whopping 448.7 yards per game, they gave up 29.7 points per contest. Another big reason the defense allowed as little points as they is it forced 18 turnovers.

Key Player: QB Brady White

White likely is playing in his last game and would like to go out with a bang and give the Tigers is first bowl victory of his Memphis career. The FAU defense will likely give him some fits but the best for him is to not force anything and throw interceptions as the FAU offense likely will struggle and give Memphis plenty of chances.

Fearless Forecast:

The battle of a top defense against a top offense and then the visa versa on the other side is what we have here. The question will be which will come out on top. Defenses usually do in these cases but I think the Memphis offense is too special to let that happen in this one and also the FAU offense is going to make the Memphis defense look good. I like the Tigers to break the Owls undefeated bowl streak and end their own bowl losing streak. Memphis 31 Florida Atlantic 17