Saturday night's American Athletic Conference matchup between the Memphis Tigers and Tulsa Golden Hurricane pits two teams that probably wish they could burn last week's tape.
For Memphis (3-2, 0-1 AAC), they built a three-score lead over Temple in the first half, but allowed quarterback D'Wan Mathis to complete a career-high 35 passes as they squandered a double-digit advantage for the second consecutive week. Both sides of the ball contributed to the loss for the Tigers as the offense sputtered after a strong first quarter and the defense allowed 481 yards to a Temple offense that ranked ninth in the AAC coming into the week.
At least Memphis was competitive, unlike Tulsa (1-4, 0-1), which was blown out 45-10 at the hands of Houston in its worst performance of the season. Nothing went right for the Hurricane as they rushed for just 31 yards, turned the ball over three times, allowed four sacks, and were penalized nine times for 119 yards. This was Tulsa's first conference defeat since Houston beat them in November 2019, snapping a seven-game win streak.
Memphis at Tulsa
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: Tulsa -3.5
When Memphis Has the Ball
As can be the case at times when turning over the entire backfield to freshmen, mistakes will happen, and that's what occurred with the Tigers against Temple as running back Brandon Thomas put the ball on the ground for the second straight week. The redshirt freshman has been one of the offensive bright spots for Memphis this season, averaging 102 yards per game on the ground, but was effectively benched and gave way to Rodrigues Clark, who led the team with 92 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Head coach Ryan Silverfield indicated that Thomas would remain one of the team's lead backs, but expect Clark to see more work moving forward.
True freshman quarterback Seth Henigan looked poised for the majority of the game against Temple, throwing for 305 yards and two touchdowns against the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the country, but the offense continues to hit roadblocks later in games. Receiver Calvin Austin III continues to be Memphis' safety valve on offense as he sits fourth in the country, averaging 127 yards per game with seven receiving touchdowns. Tulsa has fallen all the way to 92nd in pass defense, allowing 250 yards per game through the air, but still has one of the most talented safeties in the conference in Kendarin Ray, who leads the team with 32 tackles.
When Tulsa Has the Ball
The results against Houston were just one example of the long-standing issues that have plagued this Tulsa offense all year long. Coming into the week, the offensive line had not lived up to expectations despite returning all five starters, as they had already allowed 10 sacks and were 125th in Line Yards created. That was exemplified against Houston when there was very little room for the running backs, quarterback Davis Brin was under duress all game, and they were called for multiple holding penalties. Tulsa now leads the country in penalty yards per game called against them, averaging around 10 flags a game.
Things won't get any easier this week against a Memphis defense that ranks second in the conference by Houston in run defense, limiting opponents to just 3.56 yards per carry on the ground. Linebacker JJ Russell leads the country with 61 total tackles, while defensive back Quindell Johnson ranks 16th after tallying 15 stops against Temple. Brin and the passing game should have a bounce-back performance against a Tigers secondary that ranks 129th in the country at defending the pass, allowing 343 yards per game.
Passing yards aplenty are to be expected here with both teams ranking 90th or lower against the pass and two quarterbacks averaging over 290 yards per game through the air. Tulsa has had the far more difficult schedule to date and is at home, but it's a bit surprising to see them listed as the favorite since Memphis could very easily be 5-0 at this point had it not been for two second-half breakdowns in consecutive weeks. Memphis' balance on offense and Tulsa's propensity for turnovers and penalties will be the difference in this one.
Prediction: Memphis 31, Tulsa 30
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— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.