FACTS & STATS: Site: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (59,308) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: SMU 1-2, Memphis 1-2. Away Record: SMU 0-2, Memphis 0-2. Neutral Record: SMU 0-0, Memphis 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 0-1, Memphis 0-2. Series Record: Memphis leads, 3-2.
GAME NOTES: Two schools will vie for their first American Athletic Conference victory on Saturday when the SMU Mustangs square off with the Memphis Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The Mustangs had an open week following their 55-52 triple-overtime loss to Rutgers in week six. The setback was the third in a row for SMU and dropped it to 0-1 in the conference standings. The only win coach June Jones's squad has been able to pick up this season was a 31-30 victory in a nail-biter against FCS foe Montana State. SMU did not expect to have an easy road back to the postseason as 11 of its first 12 opponents are from a BCS-automatic qualifying conference. The Mustangs' first five opponents have a combined record of 22-7.
The Tigers' offensive woes continued last week as they were held without a touchdown for the first time in second-year coach Justin Fuente's tenure and lost, 25-15, to Houston. Memphis has now lost three of its last four games despite playing strong defense through the entire stretch, which includes its 31-7 rout of Arkansas State at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Fuente's team other two home games resulted in losses to Duke (28-14) and UCF (24-17).
Memphis holds a 3-2 all-time series advantage over SMU with four of the previous meetings taking place when both schools were a member of the Conference USA. The Mustangs coasted to a 44-13 victory in Dallas last season to mark their second straight decision at the expense of the Tigers.
The Mustangs were overmatched in their early season bouts against Lone Star State rivals Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU and were outscored, 131-53, in those games. While the team has tried to overcome double-digit deficits, Garrett Gilbert has posted impressive numbers. The senior quarterback became the first player in the BCS era to complete at least 35 games in each of his team's first three games of the season and has kept up his momentum to rank second nationally in completions per game (34), third in passing yards (355 ypg) and fifth in total offense (370.6).
Garrett finished the high-scoring thriller against Rutgers as the school's new single-game record holder in completions (45), attempts (70), passing yards (484) and total touchdowns (seven). He is leading the ACC in passing with 355 yards per game.
Gilbert utilized three of his favorite targets during his record-setting performance. Jeremy Johnson was unguardable as he made 18 receptions for 217 yards and three scores. Darius Joseph tallied 10 catches for 40 yards and a touchdown, while JaBryce Taylor had 94 yards on just three catches. Johnson is atop the AAC leaderboard for the season in receiving yards (127) and catches (10.4) per outing. Joseph has reeled 49 total receptions, just three less than Johnson.
The passing numbers have led to only 85.8 rushing yards per game for SMU. It finished its shootout against the Scarlet Knights with 484 passing yards to 74 rushing yards. Traylon Shead was the only player other than Gilbert to rush more than once and compiled 69 yards with a 4.6 average per attempt.
The Mustangs went into their game against Rutgers allowing more than 40 points per game and although the Scarlet Knights finished with 55, they had only 35 at the end of four quarters. SMU's defense could not come up with stops on crucial plays as Rutgers converted 9-of-18 third-downs and scored on all six of its red zone chances.
The Mustangs are not only ranked last in the conference in scoring defense, their allowed average of 43.2 ppg is 13 points higher than the ninth place USF Bulls. They are second to last in total defense at 445.8 ypg. Kevin Pope has registered a team-best 45 tackles including eight for loss.
SMU's defense will get a break this week as it faces the Tigers, who relied on freshman Jake Elliot for all of their points last week. Elliot has converted his first 10 career field goal attempts making him one of only two kickers in the nation without a miss and at least 10 attempts.
After being held to just 15 by the Cougars, Memphis is ranked seventh among AAC schools with 19.2 points and 367.7 yards of total offense per outing.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch leads the offense from under center. Lynch has completed 58.3 percent of his attempts for 995 with two touchdowns to four interceptions. He finished last week 21-of-41 for 222 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers. The Tigers lost four fumbles as a team and were penalized 12 times for 86 yards. Brandon Hayes was effective with 72 yards on 12 carries, but Marquis Warford lost to fumbled and tallied just 24 yards on the same number of attempts. Hayes is the fifth-leading rusher in the conference at 75.8 ypg.
Memphis will continue to play in close games as long as its defense holds up. Houston was averaging 534 ypg entering last week's tilt, but was limited to only 247 yards, including just 38 rushing by the Tigers. Fuente's defense ranks 11th nationally in total defense (305.2 ypg) and 12th in rush defense (91 ypg). Martin Ifedi ranks third in quarterback sacks among FBS players with a 1.3 per game average (6.5 sacks in five games). He is tied for fourth in tackles for loss with a 2.0 TFL per game average (10.0 through five games).
This should be an interesting clash between the offensive-minded Mustangs and defensively-dominant Tigers. Memphis is a young team that could turn the corner at any moment, especially once Lynch fully adjusts to the speed of the college game. Gilbert will be tough to defeat if he keeps racking up yardage at such a high rate and avoids turnovers once again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 28, Memphis 20
Saturday, October 19, 12 p.m. (et)