Two weeks ago Memphis began its toughest stretch of the season against Navy, and the Tigers have faced disaster ever since. The team was blown out by Navy, and then followed that up by blowing a 20-point fourth quarter lead on the road at Houston. Now the Tigers enter the final test in the difficult three-game slate, and it’ll take a complete performance to avoid a three-game slide at Temple.
The Owls (8-2, 5-1 AAC) have been one of the surprises of the college football season, starting the year off with seven straight victories including a season-opening 27-10 domination of Penn State, but they’ve fallen off since. Temple picked up its first loss three weeks ago in a closely fought contest against No. 4 Notre Dame, 24-20, and last week the Owls lost again, this time in blowout fashion to conference foe USF.
What makes the matchup dangerous for Memphis is that Temple is a very defensively focused football team, and since the Tigers are so reliant on offense it could cause problems if the Tigers are unable to put points on the board.
“They have a tough nosed, blue-collar football team and they will lineup and try to run over you,” Tiger head coach Justin Fuente said. “They play really fantastic defense and are really solid on special teams. I know they tumbled a little bit in last week’s game and I know it was disappointing to them. So, I know that (head coach Matt Rhule) will have them ready to play.”
It’s somewhat difficult to predict how stiff Temple’s defense will be when Memphis travels to Philadelphia on Saturday, because the once elite defensive unit has been nowhere to be found in recent weeks.
In the first eight games of the season the Owls were holding opponents to an average of 15.75 points per game. Currently, that number would be good for ninth in the entire country in scoring defense. But after yielding only 126 points in those first eight contests, Temple’s defense coughed up 84 combined points to SMU and USF in the last two weeks. Even more concerning is that both SMU and USF have relatively mediocre offenses, both ranking in the 60s in scoring offense.
If Temple’s defense returns to the form it had at the beginning of the year then the Tigers could be in trouble, but otherwise Paxton Lynch and company could easily have a field day and go off for at least 40.
On offense, the Owls are led by junior quarterback P.J. Walker, who has been much improved this season after a sophomore campaign in which he threw 15 interceptions. Walker has thrown for 15 touchdowns to 5 picks this year. However, he’s still been pretty inefficient, completing only 56.2 percent of his passes. Memphis’ Paxton Lynch on the other hand, is completing 68.7 percent of his throws.
But what the Owls may not have in passing efficiency, they make up for on the ground with junior running back Jahad Thomas. Thomas has been one of the best running backs in the American Athletic Conference this season, rushing for 1,035 yards and 15 touchdowns so far this year. Only USF’s Marlon Mack has rushed for more yards in the conference this year, and among running backs no one else has more touchdowns.
The receiver to look out for is senior Robby Anderson, who’s caught a team-high 41 passes for 601 yards and six touchdowns. Anderson is the Owls’ top target, but the Memphis defense has already faced several more talented wide receivers this season such as Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell who are among the nation’s elite. Theoretically this should better prepare the defense for Anderson, but seemingly every week an opposing receiver goes off for a huge game against the Memphis secondary, so that will be a matchup to watch.
With the loss to Houston on Saturday Memphis is out of the conference championship hunt, but a win against Temple will halt the losing skid and give the Tigers a chance to achieve 10 wins in the regular season.
Memphis and Temple are scheduled for kickoff at 11 a.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 21 of 28 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers’ 16-13 win over Temple last season.