Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The No. 21 Louisville Cardinals host the Memphis Tigers in an American Athletic Conference duel at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Including this contest there are still three games left on the schedule for Memphis. The Tigers have won back-to-back games, including their first league victory over South Florida (23-10) last weekend. The recent surge has the Tigers at just 1-4 in conference action, but at 3-6 overall, it would take three straight wins for the Tigers to have a shot at the postseason, with no matchup presenting more of a challenge than this week's with the Cardinals.
"They are where we want to be. In my opinion, much in the way we felt about UCF - the type of program when you watch them as a coach, you see a team that can run the ball and throw the ball and plays great defense and is solid on special teams," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said of Louisville. "Those are programs that we aspire to be like."
As for Louisville it only has a test at Cincinnati left following this matchup. In its first 10 games, Louisville has earned a 9-1 mark, with a 5-1 ledger against the rest of the AAC. The Cardinals have bounced back from the 38-35 loss they suffered against UCF in mid-October with three straight victories, including their 20-13 win over Houston last weekend. This contest is the final home game of the year for the Cardinals, who have five wins in six games on their home turf.
"We're 9-1 so where we end up is our fault," Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said. "We feel like we're BCS but if we don't get there we'll be comfortable wherever we go. If we end up with a great record, that's fine with me."
There is some familiarity between these programs as they used to battle it out in Conference USA before Louisville moved to the Big East. The two squads are conference rivals once again this season, though next year the Cardinals move to the ACC. Louisville won the last meeting, 56-0 during the 2010 season and owns a 23-19 edge in the all-time series.
Memphis is one of the least effective offensive squads in the conference. The Tigers average just 330.4 yards of total offense per game, while ranking eighth in the league in scoring (20.7 ppg).
What really hurts the team is a lack of production from the passing game. Paxton Lynch is the man under center for the Tigers but he has rarely been able to carry the offense. Against South Florida last weekend Lynch threw for a season-low 69 yards on 6-of-13 passing. Lynch has thrown for over 200 yards in just two games this season and has six touchdown passes against eight interceptions. Lynch has completed nearly 60 percent of his pass attempts, but has just 1,581 yards to show for it.
When Lynch is able to complete passes they tend to fall into the hands of Joe Craig (32 receptions, 293 yards), who leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. Mose Frazier (16 receptions, 275 yards, TD), Tevin Jones (22 receptions, 272 yards, TD) and Sam Croft (17 receptions, 212 yards) provide a few other options.
The Tigers' ground game is paced by running back Brandon Hayes. Against USF, Hayes rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. He scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season in the game and pushed himself over the 700- yard mark for the season. Hayes has rushed for 100 yards twice this year and has had fewer than 70 yards just twice. Marquis Warford (302 yards, TD) serves as the backup.
Martin Ifedi headlines the play on defense for the Tigers. Ifedi has racked up 10.5 sacks this year, which has him second in the league in the category. With Ifedi anchoring the front seven, the Tigers have managed to rank third in the league in total defense (337.1 ypg) and points allowed (20.6 ppg).
Led by Teddy Bridgewater the Cardinals are one of the better offensive teams in the AAC. The Cardinals are scoring more points than any team in the conference (36.6 ppg), while ranking third in the league in total offense (466.3 ypg).
Against Houston, Bridgewater didn't exactly amaze but he was efficient with his passes and still led his team to victory. Bridgewater threw for a season- low 203 yards in the contest and did not have a touchdown pass but he completed 19-of-29 passes and was not intercepted. Bridgewater has done a sensational job of keeping his mistakes to a minimum with a 70.9 completion percentage this year and just three interceptions over 309 pass attempts. Bridgewater has totaled 3,048 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
It is difficult to say whether Bridgewater benefits from having a skilled receiving corps or if the Louisville receivers are made better by his passing. Either way there has been plenty of production from the unit. DeVante Parker (36 receptions, 600 yards, eight TDs) reasserted himself as Bridgewater's go- to option against Houston as he had four receptions for 72 yards. Parker leads the team in receiving touchdowns and is tied for the lead in yards. Damian Copeland (42 receptions, 600 yards, four TDs) lines up opposite Parker, while Eli Rogers (36 receptions, 460 yards, four TDs) and Gerald Christian (23 receptions, 364 yards, four TDs) also work into the game plan.
The Cardinals are also fortunate enough to have a number of skilled rushers. Dominique Brown (650 yards six TDs) is the primary option. Brown rushed for 137 yards and two scores on a season-high 27 carries against Houston, which didn't leave a lot of work for Senorise Perry (499 yards, six TDs). Perry had just 17 yards on seven attempts. The backfield is a bit less dynamic with Michael Dyer sidelined the past three weeks. Dyer is questionable again this week for undisclosed reasons.
A team doesn't earn nine wins with just dominant offense very often. Louisville is no exception as it is currently leading the AAC in total defense (238.8 ypg) and points allowed (10.8 ppg). Louisville is actually second in the country in total defense and the only team in the league to be surrendering fewer than 300 yards per game. Marcus Smith (12.0 sacks) leads the league in sacks, while Preston Brown (74 tackles, 4.0 sacks) and Lorenzo Mauldin (9.0 sacks) also contribute to a stellar front seven. Meanwhile, Calvin Pryor (57 tackles, three INTs) and Terell Floyd (34 tackles, four INTs) anchor the secondary.