With the Appalachian State loss to Georiga Southern in the Sun Belt Conference Thursday night, SMU is now the only undefeated team left in the Group of Five. The Mustangs now get possibily its toughest test of the season–at least so far–when they travel to play Memphis. The Tigers themselves have New Year’s Six aspirations as they have just one loss and with a win in this game could control its destiny to get their shot at the AAC crown and the coveted bowl game.
The game is getting national attention as the highlighted game not only of the G5 but all of college football with ABC televising the game in the Liberty Bowl and ESPN’s College Gameday hosts its show from Memphis.
Memphis holds an 8-3 series edge over SMU. The Tigers have won five in a row over the Mustangs but those were against a lesser SMU team.
SMU (8-0, 4-0 AAC) at Memphis (7-1, 3-1 AAC)
When: Wednesday, October 9th, 7:30 pm EDT
Where: Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.
TV/Streaming: ABC/WatchESPN (subscription required)
SMU is off to its best start since 1982 when the likes of Eric Dickerson and Craig James were running the Pony Express. The Mustangs need just two victories to post the school’s first double-digit win total since 1984. Second-year Coach Sonny Dykes didn’t inherit a total rebuild from prior Coach Chad Morris (who left SMU for the head job at Arkansas two years ago). The transfer additions of players like QB Shane Buechele and WR Reggie Roberson have been a big reason why the Mustangs are undefeated and in the mix to be the best G5 team this year. Roberson, however, stayed home in Dallas with an injury so the Mustangs are a little undermanned in this game.
The arrival of Big 12 Texas transfer Buechele is one of the biggest reasons for SMU’s improvement in 2019. He leads all AAC quarterbacks by averaging 290.6 passing yards a game and is completing 63.2 percent of his throws. The junior has tossed 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He also has added two more scores on the ground. With Buechele heading the Mustang offene, SMU is averaging 43 points a game and six yards a play.
RB Xavier Jones has rushed for 884 yards and 14 touchdowns and ranks among the AAC’s best at his position. Ke’Mon Freeman and TJ McDaniel have combined for over 500 yards and provide quality depth behind Jones. WR James Proche leads the team with 61 catches and nine touchdown grabs in 2019. He ranks second (692) to Reggie Roberson (803) in receiving yards this season.
Considering SMU’s firepower on offense, this team does not need a shutdown defense to win. However, the Mustangs have made progress on this side of the ball over the last two years and rank sixth in the AAC in scoring defense (27.8 ppg). The SMU defense is also holding teams to 5.2 yards per play and has generated 36 sacks through eight games. However, the Mustangs have been vulnerable to big plays (11 of 40 yards or more).
Key Player: QB Shane Buechele without Roberson as a weapon in this game will need to use more of depth of weapons. He will also need to use the run game to his advantage and not just the running backs behind him but his own legs to keep the offense going. This game is likely to be high scoring so Buechele and the offense need to get touchdowns on their drive and not settle for field goals
The Tigers are 3-1 in conference play, but one of those three wins has come against Navy. That means if the Tigers beat SMU on Saturday night, they’ll have the divisional tiebreaker over both of their closest competitors within the AAC West. The Tigers one loss came at Temple by a score of 30-28 in a game they could have won but mistakes cost them down the stretch.
Memphis has scored at least 42 points in three out of its last four games and has only been held under 30 points once over the last seven contests. Similar to SMU’s offense, the Tigers are capable of moving the ball both through the air and on the ground. RB Patrick Taylor was slated to be the top back this season after Darrell Henderson departed for the NFL. Taylor started strong with 128 yards against Ole Miss in the opener but has missed the last seven games due to injury. Kenneth Gainwell has emerged in Taylor’s absence as one of the top freshmen in the nation with 979 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Gainwell is averaging a healthy 7.2 yards per rush and leads all running backs in the AAC with six rushes of 40 or more yards. Taylor’s status is uncertain once again this week so Gainwell should again be the top rusher for the Tigers this week.
With QB Brady White throwing for 2,161 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, SMU’s defense won’t be able to devote all of its defensive attention to the ground game. White torched Tulane for 358 yards and five touchdowns in a key AAC showdown just two weeks ago. Damonte Coxie (37 catches), Antonio Gibson (13), Kedarian Jones (19) and Calvin Austin (six) round out a solid group of weapons on the outside.
The Tiger defense is holding teams to 23 points a game and ranks third in the AAC in pass efficiency defense. Memphis also gets after the quarterback as it has 16 sacks through eight games.
Key Player: RB Kenneth Gainwell has performed well this season but as a freshman, he will have to highten his game this year and also not have the national game exposure get to him. Expect the SMU defense to key on the run as well so he will need to be able to break some tackles and get some tough yards on short yardage plays. The Tigers likely will start with the running game to open the passing game and how well Gainwell does will be a key to the whole offense.
Fearless Prediction: As mentioned earlier, this game has been one sided towards Memphis over the past five years. The Tigers are the two-time defending AAC West Division champions and have a very capable team again this year. The Mustangs are the new kids on the block and have not had any type of game like this in its recent history. With the home field though, I think the Tigers continue the win streak over the Mustangs and cause a little chaos in the Group of Five with two teams that were undefeated losing this week. Memphis 45 SMU 38
Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football is the Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.
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