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Memphis-Houston preview: 3 Keys to Victory for the Tigers as they seek bowl eligibility

<p>Coming off a massive win against SMU last week, the Tigers are looking to become eligible for a bowl game this weekend as they take on the ECU Pirates.</p>
Coming off a massive win against SMU last week, the Tigers are looking to become eligible for a bowl game this weekend as they take on the ECU Pirates.

As the Memphis Tigers (5-5, 2-3) head into Friday night’s contest against the 24th ranked Houston Cougars (8-1, 7-0), Memphis seeks to become bowl eligible once again. They fell last Saturday to East Carolina 30-29 in overtime in their first opportunity to gain entry into a bowl game. This week, the Tigers go on the road with the chance to hand Houston their first conference loss of the season. For that to occur, several factors must lean in favor of the Tigers for them to emerge victorious. 

Here are 3 keys to victory for the Tigers, and how they must go about executing their game plan to leave Houston with a win. 

Running game needs to show up: 

To say the least, the Memphis Tigers’ inability to establish the run in the last few games impacted the team’s efficiency on the offensive side of the ball. Brandon Thomas, the team’s leading rusher with 669 yards, has been proven ineffective due to injury. In his last 3 games, Thomas has rushed for 78 yards on 24 carries. That simply will not get the job done against a Houston defense that serves as the only unit in the AAC that yields less than 100 yards on the ground per contest (98.7). A ground game viewed as a strength for Memphis has been decimated and ravaged by injuries as the season progresses. As a result, quarterback Seth Henigan emerged as the leading rusher (61 yards) in last week’s defeat against ECU. Thomas and fellow running back Rodrigues Clark must produce to keep an aggressive Cougar defense honest, or else it could be a long night for the Tigers offense. 

Henigan must cut down on turnovers: 

Tigers freshman quarterback Seth Henigan provided the Tigers with a spark early in the season, and it would be safe to say that his first campaign has not been too bad. However, if there is an area that he could improve upon heading into tonight’s game, it certainly has to be the rate of interceptions he’s begun throwing. After tossing one interception during his first five games of the season, Henigan has now thrown 5 interceptions in the last four games he’s started. Despite the Tigers maintaining a 2-2 record in that span, his inability to maintain control of the ball could bury the Tigers in Houston. The Cougars rank 3rd in the conference when it comes to grabbing interceptions, as they picked up 13 interceptions during the first 10 contests of the season. Henigan certainly played well in his 9 starts, as he has tossed 21 touchdown passes. However, the game may come down to Henigan’s ability to avoid big turnovers. 

Tigers defense must continue to take steps forward, not to go back: 

Over the last few games, the Tigers defensive unit made significant strides in both run and pass defense. However, in their last game against East Carolina, Memphis reverted back to their typical bend and breaking defense. ECU gashed the Tigers for over 180 yards on the ground, and Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers passed for 313 yards. The Tigers truly face one of their more difficult tests of the season in attempting to slow down Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune and company. Tune ranks 3rd in the AAC in yards per game passing and has 21 touchdown passes to boot. Fortunately, a Tigers pass defense that’s been very leaky may only have to worry about being defeated primarily by the pass. Houston ranks only 10th in the AAC in rushing yards per contest, which may prove beneficial for a Memphis defense that ranks in the middle of the pack against the run. For the Tigers to win tonight’s contest, the defensive lapses of the past cannot pop up, or the Tigers will leave Houston on a losing note. Plain and simple.

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