7:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Memphis 5.5-, Over/Under: 71.5
The American Athletic Conference takes centerstage tonight as the undefeated, No. 15 SMU Mustangs battle division rival, No. 24 Memphis from Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. Look out world, for 2019 marks the return of Southern Methodist (8-0, 4-0 in AAC), who for the first time in decades has found themselves undefeated and among the nation’s ranked teams. Of course, that’s not an exaggeration, folks, for this is the first time that the Mustangs have enjoyed a place in the AP Poll since 1986, when the program was in it’s heyday. While we all know what happened to them after that brief period of success and decadence, it’s been a LONG time coming since this club from Dallas resembled anything close to a formidable opponent; SMU has opened the season with eight consecutive victories for the first time since 1982, when they were 11-0-0 en route to an 11-0-1 finish. Furthermore, this current eight-game winning streak is their longest since matching that mark during the 1984-85 seasons and surpasses their win total of the previous two years combined. Credit to their Head Coach, Sonny Dykes, who in his second year with the school has steered his charges to a perfect start, already surpassing his win total from the previous term, and one away from passing the team’s highwater mark of eight, which has only been met on two occasions since 1989, following the NCAA’s infamous Death Penalty ruling, forcing the school to disavow the program for two full years. As he has throughout his career on the sidelines, Dykes has cultivated a dynamic offensive attack, averaging a whopping 43.0 Points per Game (6th Overall) on 504.1 Total Yards, including 301.4 Yards through the air, and another 202.8 Yards on the ground. The Passing Game in particular has taken flight with Shane Buechele (63.2%, 2,325 YDS, 8.1 Y/A, 20 TD, 7 INT) under Center, making the most of his opportunity following his transfer from Texas, where he spent the first three years of his collegiate career. When we last saw him, he and his teammates narrowly escaped a midweek clash with instate rival, Houston, with a 34-31 victory on the road. The visitors raced out to a 21-7 lead midway through the Second Quarter, though gave the Cougars virtually every opportunity to get back into the contest, with the hosts closing the gap to a mere three points late in the Fourth Quarter. The Offense was a bit uneven in this one, with Buechele completing 20-of-38 Passes for 203 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, while fifth-year Senior Tailback, Xavier Jones (165 CAR, 884 YDS, 5.4 Y/C, 14 TD), rushed for 133 Yards and a pair of scores on Twenty-Two carries, punctuated by a career-long 62-Yard score, with Receivers, James Proche (61 REC, 692 YDS, 11.3 Y/R, 9 TD) and Kylen Granson (22 REC, 355 YDS, 16.1 Y/R, 3 TD), accounting for Eighty-Three and Seventy-Six Yards respectively, with a Touchdown apiece. However, the key to victory was the Mustangs’ ability to take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes, with the Defense exploiting them on multiple occasions; SMU forced Three Turnovers, racked up Seven Sacks for a loss of Fifty-Three Yards alongside Thirteen Tackles for Loss, all the while Houston couldn’t get out of their own way in committing Eleven Penalties for a loss of 129 Yards. For those looking for a reason to take this rising program seriously, look no further than this matchup with Memphis, who has beaten them rather soundly on five consecutive occasions, by an average margin of 35.2 Points. Furthermore, in their last two trips to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Southern Methodist has conceded Sixty-Six and Sixty-Three Points. With that said, last year’s meeting in Dallas was much closer, with the visitors pulling away in the Fourth Quarter of a sloppy game that featured Five Turnovers and a wealth of Penalties (17 for 176 Yards). Though they remain undefeated, SMU’s grip on the West Division is far from ironclad, with both Memphis as well as Navy trailing them by a single game in Conference play.
Meanwhile, there are a number of teams with the American Athletic Conference looking to knock SMU off of their unbeaten pedestal, chief among them being Memphis (7-1, 3-1 in AAC), who is currently breathing down the back of their neck. Of course, this primetime meeting with the Mustangs very nearly lost a considerable amount of it’s luster thanks to the Tigers’ narrow 42-41 escape from Tulsa, who gave them everything they could handle over the course of sixty minutes. Though they led by as many as Fourteen Points on a few occasions, Mike Norvell’s charges struggled to put away the Golden Hurricanes, who rallied back in relentless fashion, even taking a 38-35 lead midway through the Fourth Quarter. Another Field Goal extended their lead to 41-35 with just over five minutes left to play, though that ultimately proved to be enough for the visiting side to put together one, final, decisive Drive. As they had throughout the affair, Memphis didn’t need a lot of time to move the football, traveling Sixty Yards in just Three Plays, running off a mere forty-one seconds off the clock before Redshirt Freshman Tailback, Kenneth Gainwell (137 CAR, 979 YDS, 7.1 Y/C, 11 TD), rumbled into the End Zone for what would eventually be the game-winning score. The Underclassman had himself quite a night, rushing for a career-high Three Touchdowns along with 149 Yards on Twenty-Four Carries, including a 20-Yard Touchdown to open the game’s account in the First Quarter, and a 62-Yard dash midway through the third stanza. Fifth-Year Junior Quarterback, Brady White (69.0%, 2,161 YDS, 10.3 Y/A, 20 TD, 4 INT), a former Transfer from Arizona State, completed 15-of-25 Passes for 277 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, hooking up with his favorite target, Damonte Coxie (37 REC, 529 YDS, 14.3 Y/R, 3 TD) on five occasions for 112 Yards. And with all that said, Tulsa still had an opportunity to win the game, driving Sixty-Three Yards to the Memphis 12-Yard Line, though their Place Kicker, Jacob Rainey subsequently missed the ensuing 29-Yard Field Goal as time expired. Indeed, the Tigers should count themselves fortunate, for they managed to overcome a performance in which their opponent totaled a season-high 584 Yards of Offense on Thirty-Three First Downs, rushing for 275 Yards and Four Touchdowns, while they committed a pair of Turnovers themselves and possessed the football for a mere 23:55. The Defense will need to get themselves together in time for tonight’s tilt with the Mustangs, otherwise this particular meeting will likely devolve into yet another shootout for the two parties involved. Norvell’s troops were solid throughout the first four games of the term, relinquishing a respectable 15.8 Points on 263.0 Total Yards, but have since seen those figures balloon to 30.3 Points on a miserable 487.0 Total Yards over the following four outings. If they can’t find a way to corral the ‘Stangs, then look for the aforementioned Gainwell to play a large role in the proceedings; in his first season as the team’s Starting Tailback, the Frosh has been nothing short of productive amassing 1,419 Yards from Scrimmage, the most in the NCAA. He’s become an integral part of Norvell’s Passing Game, hauling in Thirty-Four Receptions for 440 Yards and Three Touchdowns, with those former two figures ranking second on the team. Any hopes that Memphis has of representing the West Division in the AAC Championship Game will hinge on tonight’s outcome, for with a victory they will have beaten both Southern Methodist and Navy, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker against both schools.