Both Memphis and Missouri head into Week 8’s battle of Tigers looking to rebound from losses of varying magnitudes. The visitors suffered a heartbreaking 31–30 loss at the hands of UCF, winners of 19 consecutive games dating back to last season. The hosts, meanwhile, put up 10 points on Alabama in the first quarter, only to watch the Crimson Tide tally 26 unanswered for a 39-10 win in Tuscaloosa.
The two sides have met only three times, all within a span of 10 seasons but not since 1999. The road team has won two of the three matchups, with Missouri' taking the most recent meeting 27–17 in Memphis in 1999.
Memphis came oh-so-close to shattering UCF’s second consecutive dream season before the Knights stormed back and squeaked out a one-point win. The Tigers had built a 30–17 lead at halftime, only to watch the Knights hold the hosts scoreless in the second half while putting up 14 points of their own. Darrell Henderson really shouldered the load for Memphis, rushing 31 times for 199 yards and a touchdown. Brady White was 17-for-29 passing for 209 yards, adding nine yards and a rushing touchdown on four carries.
Since a 3-0 start to the season that saw the Tigers average nearly 44 points per game, Missouri has been mired in a tailspin over its last three games. The per-game scoring averages have since dropped to 34.2 points per game (season) and 24.7 over the last three games. That loss to Alabama also was particularly frustrating in that the Tigers hung with the nation’s top-ranked Tide for the first 15 minutes. Alabama head coach Nick Saban then seemingly flipped a switch in the final 45 and kept Missouri stuck in the mud, with Drew Lock completing only 13 of his 26 passes for 142 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The running game wasn’t any better, totaling 70 yards on 35 carries.
Memphis at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Memphis -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Memphis' two-headed monster
It’s certainly nice to feature the leading receiver in the conference, and an even better achievement to trot out the nation’s leading rusher in the starting backfield. When both of those are in the same huddle, which they are for Memphis in Damonte Coxie and Henderson, that is one potent attack. The former’s 552 receiving yards lead the American, while the latter has amassed an FBS-best 1,133 rushing yards through just six games (161.9 yards per game). Stopping one is difficult, stopping two is borderline impossible with the way both are playing right now.
2. Missouri's porous pass defense
Labeling this unit as “Swiss cheese” would be polite. Only six teams in the FBS have allowed more passing yards, with the Tigers giving up 300.7 per game through the air alone. Of those six who have been worse, only Houston (5–1) has a winning record, with the other five — UConn, Ohio, Louisiana Monroe, Illinois, Kent State — combining for an 11–21 record thus far. White didn’t have a stellar game against UCF, but anything competent will be fine against this defense.
3. Pass catchers in Hall's absence
Senior Mizzou wide receiver Emanuel Hall was getting a lot of attention in the first few weeks of the season, and rightly so. Hall opened 2018 with back-to-back games of 171 yards, tallying two touchdowns against Tennessee-Martin and another against Wyoming before a four-catch, 88-yard showing at Purdue. But Hall has missed the last two games with a groin injury and will be out for a third straight week against Memphis. So who will step up in his place? Jalen Knox has been the top receiver the last two weeks but has caught only five passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. Watch to see if Drew Lock continues to spread the ball around or if he is able to build a connection with Knox or any other targets.
Both teams enter this matchup with the capacity to put up a lot of points, as they’ve shown already on numerous occasions to start the season. Missouri started strong but has seen its record even out after three straight losses. Memphis, meanwhile, has a chance to show that its near-win against UCF was no fluke — two of its three conference losses have been by one point — and that it is on the rebound with five games remaining.
Prediction: Memphis 44, Missouri 30
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.