Remember last year when USF was getting back on track? Two conference wins brought back some confidence, and new quarterback Mike White had a great game against Houston even though it ended in a loss. And back in Tampa facing the 2-6 Memphis Tigers, it looked like win number three was within reach.
And it was actually a pretty good idea to give the ball to 300+ pound Lawrence Martin to punch it into the end zone. But fumbles happen. The USF defense fought hard to keep things together. With five minutes left in the game, the Tigers were only up 6-3. However Mike White throwing three interceptions in the last four minutes killed any hopes of mounting a comeback. Instead of using the game to get back on track, USF handed Memphis their only conference win of the year.
Despite that win in Tampa, Memphis’ hopes had already been dashed as they finished with only three total wins. In the conference opener, Memphis almost ruined UCF’s miracle 2013 season (much like USF did later). The Tigers gained 127 more yards of offense than the Knights. Two late fumbles spoiled the game and paved the way for UCF to skyrocket and for Memphis to crash and burn. And the 3-9 record was the result. At least USF’s two conference wins were good enough for an eighth place finish instead of Memphis’ dead last.
Going into present day football, Memphis has plenty of reasons to sing the blues. Namely playing at UCLA, at Ole Miss and at Cincinnati this year. They’ll beat Austin Peay this Saturday, but that is their only featherweight opponent. Even their matchup with Middle Tennessee is not going to be easy. Going into the USF game, the second to last of the year, Memphis may have two or three wins. USF will potentially have four or five wins by this point, so Memphis is exactly the type of team the Bulls will need to take advantage of if they are going to build a respectable season.
Where Memphis has the upper hand on USF is defense. Last year the Tigers defense was ranked 12th in the nation against the run. They run a really tough 3-4 scheme, with smaller linemen that get a lot of sacks and tackles for loss. Ten of the Tiger starting defenders are upperclassmen, and they seem poised to shut down the run game just as well as last season. However we saw UConn destroy Memphis in the final game of last season by passing first, then running. This is the formula that other teams used as well, so USF may have to do some dinking and dunking before the Tigers are stretched enough for a running attack to work. Good thing Mike White, or whomever is playing quarterback in three months, has some decent targets.
On the Memphis offense Paxton Lynch will be back at quarterback and has improved over the spring and summer. He's a sophomore and is still developing, but has a lot of potential. Tigers head coach Justin Fuente is grooming Lynch as a sort of spread quarterback. He’s normally in the shotgun, normally passing, and can roll out or scramble, too. If the Bulls pass rush can rattle him with some knockdowns and hurries, he shouldn’t be too much of a threat.
Who will win in this rematch of down-and-out teams desperate to get into the middle of the AAC? From three months away, no one can say. I think Coach Taggart will focus on Memphis because it's one of USF’s only good chances for a win this year, and it comes at such a crucial time in the season. Perhaps I'm only envisioning a win because I see things through green-and-gold-colored glasses, but I hope not. These fledgling AAC football programs are like children: everyone loves their own. So I could be wrong, but I just know that no puny team like the Memphis Tigers is better than my special little USF Bulls.