After ten days off the Bearcats get back on the field Wednesday night to take on Memphis at the Liberty Bowl. While it will have only been a couple of years since Cincinnati traveled to the Liberty Bowl, their last time being against Vanderbilt in 2011, but their first time in a decade since playing the Tigers. That was of course when both teams were in Conference-USA, battling it out nearly every season.
But then conference realignment reared it’s ugly head, or beautiful if you were the Bearcats at the time. Cincinnati wound up playing football in the Big East for the next several years, winning numerous conference championships and ascending to new heights, while Memphis muddled in Conference-USA, plummeting to unthinkable new lows. But now the teams are reunited in the American Athletic Conference and will meet up yet again on a regular basis.
So we’ll be seeing more of the Tigers in the future but because it’s been a while since UC has played Memphis in football, we should probably get a little more familiar with them.
The Memphis Tigers lean heavily on their running game to move the chains. Senior Brandon Hayes (#38) is a powerful back, coming in at 5’11” and a hair under 200 lbs. He’s a load to bring down who runs hard between the tackles. Hayes averages over five yards per carry, notching 444 yards on the ground and three touchdowns this season. But while he is the incumbent at runningback, freshman Marquis Warford (#1) is the future for the Tigers. The youngster averages more yards per carry than Hayes and has even accounted for a touchdown of his own.
The issue for Memphis’ offense, as is the problem for Cincinnati’s last few opponents, is the play of the quarterback. Paxton Lynch (#12) has the ideal frame for the position at 6’6″ 225 lbs but is incredibly inexperienced. Just a redshirt freshman, he simply just doesn’t have enough games under his belt. He’s already thrown five interceptions this season and just three touchdowns. Lynch is showing signs of greatness but needs time to develop into that quarterback.
The strength of the Memphis Tigers football team is the defense. They’ve held Duke to 28 points (averages 33), Central Florida to 24 points (averages 37), and Houston to 25 points (averages 42). The key is a very stout run defense that’s holding teams to only 99 rushing yards per game. Memphis’ front seven is an experienced unit led by junior defensive lineman Martin Ifedi (#97). The kid is not of this world. There’s no other way to explain it. Ifedi has notched 7.5 sacks this year and 11.5 tackles for loss this season. He’s an anchor along the defensive line and creates a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive lines. Cincinnati will have their work cut out for them keeping him in check on Wednesday night.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION
I love the direction the Memphis Tigers are going with Justin Fuente at the helm. They have won just one game this season but are clearly playing with more heart and poise than in years passed. The Tigers have been competitive in every game this season, which is more than they can say before Fuente became the head coach. Still, Memphis is a few years away from being competitive in the conference on an annual basis. That defense could give the Bearcats fits on Wednesday night but overall the talent level on Cincinnati is just a step above the Tigers. Plus UC boasts a pretty good defense of its own. This will be a close, interesting game but I think the Bearcats pulls it out.