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Watching Film: Memphis Tigers

What can USF expect from the Tigers in their must win game on Saturday?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Memphis at Houston Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

USF comes into their final two games of the season needing victories in both to become bowl eligible. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they enter what is likely the most difficult two game stretch on the schedule. That tough back-to-back begins this week with the Memphis Tigers coming in to town.

The Tigers are a top 20 team, boasting a tough defense and an explosive offense. They are probably the second-best team USF has faced this season. Statistically, they are the most complete team the Bulls have faced. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and schemes of the Memphis Tigers.


General Game Management

Marino Rule Plus

Memphis has been great on third downs offensively. They are ranked 20th nationally in third down conversion rate. USF has skyrocketed up the rankings since their early struggles, and now rank 49th. USF has improved defensively on third downs but still rank well below average at 105th. Memphis is exactly average, being ranked 65th in opponent third down conversion rate.

The teams have similar average starting field positions. Both are better than the national average of the 29.5 yard line.

USF has a large advantage in turnover margin. However, fair or not, if you remove the S.C. State game where the Bulls had a +8 advantage, the teams are about even. Turnovers will be a big key in this game for USF. In Memphis’ lone loss this season to Temple, the Tigers turned the ball over four times and had a -2 turnover margin. The Bulls will need to follow Temple’s lead to win this game.

Yards Per Play (YPP), Explosive Plays, and Tackles For Loss

Memphis has one of the top offenses in the country. They rank seventh nationally in yards per play. By contrast, USF ranks 93rd. Defensively, USF has the better unit. The Bulls rank 32nd in YPP allowed, while the Tigers are ranked 43rd.

With regards to opponents, the competition for both teams has been similar.

USF has played against tougher defenses on average, while Memphis has played against better offenses. This could explain some of the discrepancies between the two teams’ stats, but not all. The Memphis offensive numbers are such an outlier that they require further explanation.

What has allowed the Memphis offense to maintain such a high yard per play average? One of the biggest reasons for the high average is the Tigers’ explosiveness.

Offensively, Memphis ranks eighth in scrimmage plays of 20+ yards while USF ranks 65th. Memphis has a small advantage on defense ranking 50th. USF has only allowed one more explosive play than Memphis on defense, ranking 56th.

While allowing more explosive plays, the USF defense more than makes up for that by tackling opponents behind the line of scrimmage at a very high rate.

In fact, USF ranks fifth nationally in tackles for loss. The Memphis defense is above average in tackles for loss, ranking 38th. Offensively, USF is ranked 106th in tackles for loss allowed. Surprisingly, the Memphis offense is just in front of the Bulls ranking 102nd. This may be one area of the Memphis offense that the Bulls can exploit. They will need to get some tackles for loss on early downs and consistently force Memphis to convert third and longs.

Memphis Offense- They’re GRRRREAT

As mentioned above, the Memphis offense has been extremely explosive. The explosiveness can definitely be seen in the Tigers’ passing game. Memphis ranks eighth nationally in yards per pass attempt. To put the number in perspective, on average, every time Memphis drops back to pass they get a first down.

Despite that insane stat, the Tigers are not a pass first team. They still run the ball more often than pass, even though they average almost half as many yards per rush attempt than per pass attempt. This seems odd, but there is a good explanation for it. That explanation is Kenneth Gainwell (19). Gainwell by name, gain very well by reputation. The redshirt freshman running back has scored 15 touchdowns and has averaged 7.68 yards per touch on 175 carries and 37 receptions. He has both a 200 yard rushing game (Louisiana-Monroe) and a 200 yard receiving game (Tulane) this season.

In addition to Gainwell, Memphis has five other receivers with at least 12 receptions, led by the explosive Damonte Coxie (1). And all five receivers average over 14 yards a reception with Antonio Gibson(14) and Calvin Austin III (84) averaging 25 and 21.6 yards per reception respectively.

How is Memphis able to be so productive while spreading the ball around? Let’s take a closer look at the schemes the Tigers will be running on Saturday.

Memphis is very talented and well coached offensive team. They have several gamebreakers in Gainwell, Coxie, and Gibson. The USF defense will need to play their best game of the season to slow them down.

Memphis Defense- They’re OOOOOOOKAY

The Memphis defense isn’t as statistically impressive as their offense, but they are still a good unit. The Tigers rank 37th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Against the run, Memphis is ranked 57th in yards per rush allowed. The Tigers look to be a base 4-3 defense that will play multiple coverages. Let’s take a look at their defensive schemes.

The Tigers have a fast, physical defense that plays downhill. They are not afraid to take risks and put their players on islands. USF will need to win some one-on-one matchups and generate explosive plays to move the ball.


Memphis is one of the best teams USF has faced this season. The Bulls will likely need to play their best and most complete game of the season to come out with a victory.

Win or lose, I hope the crowd gives a great ovation to the Bulls’ senior class. They will be playing their final home game this weekend. This group of young men has stayed with the program through coaching transitions, and tough seasons. They have also represented the university with great class on and off the field. All USF fans should be proud to have them on their team.