Houston Cougars (9-2 SU, 5-6 ATS) vs. Memphis Tigers (7-4 SU, 4-7 ATS)
College Football Week 13
Date/Time: Friday, November 25, 2016 at 12PM EST
Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: HOU -4/MEM +4
Over/Under Total: 61.5
In AAC Action on Friday, the Houston Cougars look for their tenth win of the season as they come into Tennessee to face the Memphis Tigers. Houston lost a couple conference games this season and is out of the running to get to the conference title game. The same applies to Memphis, but both teams still have things to strive for and should be primed for a high-effort game on Friday. On Thursday, Houston scored a sensational upset win over top-five Louisville in a 36-10 slaughter. Memphis, meanwhile, went into Cincinnati and scored a dominant 34-7 win. Both teams are coming off good showings heading into this matchup.
Last season, Houston quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. was injured in this game, with Kyle Postma leading Houston back to victory with a late fourth quarter drive capped off with a Postma run for a score. Houston, down 34-14 in the 4th quarter, battled back for the hard-earned win. They hope to have things a little easier this week with Ward, Jr. healthy and coming off a morale-boosting win over Louisville in their last game.
Houston hasn’t been perfect this season and losses to Navy and SMU were really tough to withstand. They were large favorites in both games, losing by 6 to Navy and missing the point spread by 45 points in a 22-point loss to SMU. Still, they’ve done big things this season, opening the campaign with a win over third-ranked Oklahoma and beating number-five Louisville last week. It made those losses to Navy and SMU all the more puzzling.
Houston head coach Tom Herman’s name is coming up a lot, namely tied to the Texas head coaching position with the impending exit of Charlie Strong. That might not be something to ponder right now, as Herman didn’t get to be one of the hottest coaches by taking his eye off the task at hand. If anything, look for him to be gunning for a strong finish if he has resigned himself to the fact that this is his last go-around with a team he has helped boost significantly in the last few years.
The star of the offense is Greg Ward, Jr. His style and lack of size has led to him being battered at times this season, but he has emerged intact with a nice season. He has 18 TDs through the air and 9 on the ground. He should surpass 3000 yards passing in this game. They have runners like Duke Catalon and an ensemble approach that keeps legs fresh. Through the air, they are led by Linell Bonner with 841 yards, Chance Allen with 742 yards, and Steven Dunbar with 621 yards. The Cougars average 37.5 points a game.
Key to Houston’s success is a swarming and attacking defense that can really wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Holding Louisville to just ten points is up there with the most impressive defensive performances of the season for any team. They can really get after it up-front and their secondary can be stout, while registering a ton of good plays. Against Louisville, they took Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson and made him look ordinary—no easy feat. James Hearns and Devonte Fields have gotten after quarterbacks this season well. Corner Jaire Alexander makes plays, as does safety Chuckie Williams. They strip balls, rush the QB, and get turnovers. They’re second in the country against the rush and ranked as the 10th top defense in the country.
Memphis looked good on Friday with a dominant win over Cincinnati. The defense did its job, holding Cincy to one fourth quarter score. QB Riley Ferguson left the game after appearing to take a hit to the head and is questionable for this game. In his absence, Jason Stewart did well on 13-for-15 passing with two TD throws. They got two touchdowns on the ground by leading rusher Doroland Dorceus. Through the air, Phil Mayhue and Anthony Miller were both productive. With 38.7 points a game, this is an offense that can do damage. The more experienced Ferguson would be a better option against this Louisville defense this week, but Stewart showed some upside should he need to be put in on Friday.
It was impressive how well the Memphis defense played against Cincinnati last week, holding the Bearcats to just a garbage touchdown late in the game. There have been stretches in the season where this side of the ball really struggled, giving up 49 a few weeks ago to South Florida, while also allowing 59 to Tulsa, 42 to Navy, and 48 to Ole Miss. So their last game was a good sign. They are a defense that might not be all that robust on a consistent basis, but they can make things happen, as they have forced 25 turnovers this season.
On one hand, the initial inkling after thumping a high-flying Louisville team will be to assume Houston will dominate an unexceptional Memphis team. But Houston has shown they can come down to the level of conference teams this season, despite beating two top-five teams. They’ve also had a few close wins within this conference, as the level of separation between the Cougars and the rest of the conference has been less-pronounced than some would have assumed. Memphis could be one of those teams. They’re at home and this would be a nice way for them to end the regular season. The iffy status of Ferguson makes one wonder how well Stewart will do in this spot or even Ferguson if he gets in there. I’m taking Houston in a tough game, with them hopefully getting a little separation late.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Houston Cougars minus 4 points.
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