GAME NOTES: A pair of American Athletic Conference squads coming off of a bye week will be matched up in a Wednesday night game, as the Cincinnati Bearcats visit the Memphis Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
This will be the first time Cincinnati will be in action since its 41-16 rout of Connecticut. The victory was the second straight for the Bearcats and fourth in the last five games. Overall, Tommy Tuberville's squad is sporting a 5-2 record and is in the thick of the AAC race with a mark of 2-1 in conference play. In its five victories Cincinnati hasn't faced much resistance as the average margin of victory in those contests is 29.8 points per game.
Other than a 31-7 triumph over Arkansas State at the end of September, Memphis has not been able to put anything in the win column. That includes a current three-game losing streak the Tigers took into their bye week last weekend. In all, Memphis is just 1-5 on the year, including an 0-3 mark in-conference. Most recently the Tigers dropped a 32-29 decision to SMU in the first of a three-game homestand that continues Wednesday.
This the first meeting between these teams since 2004, when they were both members of Conference USA. That contest ended in a 49-10 win for Cincinnati. Memphis still holds an 18-12 advantage in the all-time series.
Brendon Kay has really performed well during the short win streak for the Bearcats. In the two victories Kay has completed 48-of-61 passes, for 560 yards and six touchdowns, without an interception. Kay also had his first 300- yard effort of the campaign in the win over Connecticut and has now thrown for 1,386 yard and 13 touchdowns this season. He has limited turnovers as well, with just four interceptions, and his 71.8 completion percentage is second to only Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater among AAC signal callers.
Kay's efficient production has helped steer a largely effective Bearcats' offense that is scoring 34 points and picking up 467 yards of total offense on average.
One of Kay's strengths has been getting the ball to multiple receivers. Shaq Washington (39 receptions, 334 yards) is clearly the safety net as he leads the team in receptions by more than 10. However, Anthony McClung (28 receptions, 364 yards, four TDs), Chris Moore (20 receptions, 280 yards, four TDs) and Max Morrison (19 receptions, 280 yards, three TDs) have been the more explosive targets. Keeping an eye on Mekale McKay (seven receptions, 187 yards, three TDs) is also a must.
In the backfield there has not been one dominant force. Hosey Williams (362 yards, four TDs), Ralph David Abernathy (341 yards, two TDs) and Tion Green (254 yards, four TDs) have all seen plenty of action.
It has not just been on the offensive side that Cincinnati has had success. The Bearcats have been a formidable defensive squad, allowing less than 20 points per game (17.6), while ranking behind only Louisville in total defense (286.9 ypg). The front seven has been the key with Greg Blair (46 tackles), Nick Temple (40 tackles, 4.0 sacks), Silverberry Mouhon (5.5 sacks) and Jordan Stepp (4.0 sacks) performing well.
An inability to pick up yards through the air has plagued Memphis on offense this year. The Tigers are fourth in the league in rushing (160.8 ypg) but second to last in passing (198.8 ypg). Scoring hasn't been a strength either with the team putting up just over 20 points per game.
Lacking much in terms of a passing game has meant the Tigers have relied heavily on feature back Brandon Hayes, who has rushed for 444 yards and three touchdowns on 88 carries. In the loss to SMU, Hayes produced 65 yards and a score on 16 carries. Marquis Warford (297 yards, TD) will also see some time in the backfield.
Paxton Lynch is the man under center for the Tigers. He has completed a healthy 60.9 percent of his passes this year, but for only 1,193 yards and three touchdowns, with five interceptions. All the blame can't be put on Lynch however, as the offensive line has struggled. Lynch has been sacked 16 times in six games, including 11 times in league play.
When he has time and can complete passes, Lynch generally spreads the wealth among Mose Frazier (14 receptions, 244 yards, TD), Joe Craig (21 receptions, 244 yards) and Tevin Jones (17 receptions, 228 yards).
Despite just one win, the Memphis defense hasn't been the real problem. Memphis has limited its opponents to just 22.5 points and 331 yards of total offense per game, allowing the Tigers to hang around in most games. Despite facing double teams a lot, Martin Ifedi has made a fair share of plays upfield, with 7.5 sacks and an AAC-leading 11.5 tackles for loss.
Kay has generally had solid protection, allowing him to be successful under center. Ifedi needs to come up with a strong game this week and force the Bearcats' QB out of rhythm. However, if Memphis can't make a drastic improvement on offense it will probably land in the loss column again.
Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Tion Green accounted for two of Cincinnati's four rushing touchdowns and the Bearcats downed Memphis 34-21 on Wednesday.
Ralph Abernathy and Jordan Luallen also rushed for a touchdown, while Brendon Kay completed 27-of-35 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown for the Bearcats (6-2, 3-1 American), who have won three straight games.
Paxton Lynch finished 17-of-33 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for the Tigers, (1-6, 0-4), who have lost four in a row.
Brandon Hayes racked up 76 yards and a score on 17 carries, while adding 13 yards and a touchdown on two catches in defeat.
Lynch's 7-yard scoring strike to Tevin Jones late in the first staked Memphis to a 7-0 lead, but the Bearcats answered with a pair of scoring drives in the second to pull in front.
Kay connected with Anthony McClung for 13 yards down to the Memphis 18 early in the second, but was injured on the play and had to be removed.
Luallen entered and carried the ball on back-to-back plays, with his 13-yard TD scamper tying to the game at 7-7 less than three minutes into the quarter.
A Memphis miscue late in the frame led to Cincinnati's go-ahead score, as Marquis Warford fumbled at his own 20-yard line and Abernathy ran in from 19 yards out on Cincinnati's next play to make it 14-7 with 3:18 left before the break.
After forcing a Memphis three-and-out to start the third, Kay converted a pair of third downs on an 11-play, 69-yard series that Green capped with a 2-yard TD surge to give the Bearcats a 21-7 cushion with 9:48 left in the third.
Lynch extended Memphis' ensuing march with a pair of fourth-down conversions before capping the 12-play trek with a 7-yard TD pass to Hayes that brought the Tigers within 21-14 with 4:23 left in the quarter.
However, Lynch was intercepted by Deven Drane at the Memphis 25 midway through the fourth and three plays later, Kay found McClung wide open for a 24-yard touchdown.
Tony Miliano missed the extra point to leave the margin at 13 with 7:23 remaining.
Lynch then led the Tigers down the field before Hayes broke free for a 31-yard TD run to make it a one-score game, but the Bearcats chewed four minutes off the clock on their ensuing drive, which Green capped with a 3-yard touchdown run that all but put the game away with 1:26 left on the clock.