LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (9-1, 5-1) vs. MEMPHIS TIGERS (3-6, 1-4)
Game Time: Noon
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Television: WHAS-11/ESPN Regional
Announcers: Eamon McAnaney (play-by-play), Anthony Becht (analyst) and Brooke Weisbrod (sidelines)
Favorite: Louisville by 23
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 23-19
Last Meeting: Louisville won 56-0 at PJCS in 2010
I mean...of course this is going to happen.
Fuente and his staff brought a really exciting offensive system to Memphis when he was hired two years ago. The problem is that the offense didn't come with built in talent. The Tigers have struggled mightily with being able to move the ball consistently. Third downs and passing in general have been lacking all season and Fuente hasn't been able to find a fix.
Paxton Lynch will be the third straight freshman quarterback that Louisville will face. Lynch is a huge kid at 6-6 and he actually has some running ability. Memphis runs a true spread offense with read option as well as quick throws. They don't run no-huddle like Houston but they will empty the backfield and spread sideline to sideline.
Lynch makes all of the mistakes you expect a freshman to make. He tends to be inaccurate over the middle of the field. He doesn't do a great job going through his progressions. He also tends to make a big play here and there that make you understand why he's in the game in the first place. Lynch will have to play his best game this weekend as I fully expect Louisville to bring tons of blitzes all game long.
The Tigers have been forced to run the ball a lot this year with the struggles of the passing game. Brandon Hayes has done really well running against stacked fronts this year. Memphis has a somewhat similar approach to offense as Louisville. They know their defense is good enough to hold people for the most part, so they focus on running the ball and trying to control the clock as best they can. Louisville hasn't allowed much running room this year so it will be interesting to see if the Memphis spread runs will cause issues for them. It's a different look than any team has really given this year and it could prove to be effective against the pressure defense.
Memphis doesn't have much going for them outside. I compare this offense in general to USF's because they have a good amount of talent, but they struggle to get the ball out to their talent. Lynch has a ton of guys that he has spread the ball around to this year. The issue is that none of those guys have become "x-factors". When you have a young quarterback it is necessary to have at least one guy that can consistently get open and make plays. We all saw just how flustered John O'Korn looked withoutDeontay Greenberry last week. Lynch relies on Joe Craig to be his go to guy. Craig isn't even averaging 10 yards per catch for the season.
The offensive line is enormous. And slow. Not a good combination. Memphis has given up far too many sacks for a team that doesn't throw the ball down the field very much. Louisville's speed should cause big issues for a line that just doesn't move very well.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Paxton Lynch, RB Brandon Hayes
I know it will be hard for some of our fans to believe, but Memphis has the best defense on UofL's schedule so far this year. They excel at just about everything they're asked to do and they have the depth to stay pretty fresh throughout the game. Louisville likes to grind people as much as possible but they will have trouble against a defense that only allows 3 yards per carry in the run game.
Lets get it out of the way. Martin Ifedi. You will hear his name a lot Saturday. He is having the best season of any AAC defensive lineman not named Marcus Smith. The Tigers run a true 3-4 and, uncharacteristically, Ifedi has gotten a lot of sacks from his defensive end spot. Typically the line for a 3-4 defense is just tasked with holding up blockers so that the linebackers are able to make as many plays as possible. Ifedi is super active, however, and makes plays in the backfield routinely. Ricky Hunter andTerry Redden join Ifedi and all three do a good job of getting past blocks to make plays.
Memphis linebackers all have one thing in common. None of them do much to help defend the pass. 3-4 defenses are known for creative blitzes and confusing short zone pass coverages. Memphis' second level doesn't really do either very well. The one weakness of the defense is it's pass coverage, but a lot of that stems from the middle of the field being open. Louisville has been less than stellar over the last few weeks when trying to get the ball over the middle with the pass. This could be the week that we see that change. Facing a stout run defense will more than likely force Louisville to try to exploit this group.
The Tigers have two of the better defensive backs in the league in Lonnie Ballentineand Bobby McCain. Ballentine is a jumbo safety that can run pretty well. He likes to fly up in run support and he brings all 220+ pounds with him. McCain is a cover corner and he is an absolute ball hawk. Pulling down 6 interceptions is a good season for anyone. Pulling that off while missing two games is pretty extraordinary. Throw in the fact that he's returned two for touchdowns and you're looking at a guy that should get plenty of consideration for defensive player of the year. I honestly think we will see Teddy and the offense open up the passing game this week. Mostly out of necessity, but also because Memphis isn't great at causing turnovers. McCain is far more the exception as opposed to the rule for the Tigers.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Martin Ifedi, DE Ricky Hunter, WLB Tank Jakes (Listed as 2nd team for some reason), CB Bobby McCain, FS Lonnie Ballentine
Excitement Level (1-10): 7.7
Last home game of the year and saying goodbye to a group of guys who have meant the world to this program...still, I'm not going to lie to you all and say restless with excitement over the prospects of playing Memphis in a chilly noon game when it appears our postseason fate is all but set in stone.
Game Attire: New Red Louisville Football shirt under white U of L long sleeve shirt under red U of L jacket, red and white Cardinal bird hat, red Cardinal bird shoes, jeans, thick red U of L gloves.
It will be the long-awaited return of the exaggerated Rudy groundskeeper clap.
Pre-Game Meal: Breakfast food, beer.
We're going to be missing a handful of key players, which is a shame, but the show must roll on. Especially when it's the final act.
Predicted Star of the Game: Dominique Brown
Really, really, really want to go with Teddy Bridgewater since it's more likely than not that this will be his final home game as a Cardinal, but the weather conditions and the way Dom has been running the ball in recent weeks make this the more logical play.
TITUS TEAGUE Playing Alert Level: Mango Tango (He's not technically on the team this season, but he's being honored before the game and OH MY GOD THS IS TOO MUCH FOR ME TO PROCESS RIGHT NOW).
I'm not sure whether or not he's going to be in town or wether he's going to be dressed out (I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING), but I'm probably going to tear up.
Bold Prediction: Louisville has a touchdown run of 45 yards or more
This doesn't appear to be a very bold prediction-friendly game, but let's keep this thing rolling.
Motivational Opposing Tweet(s):
These have really been dialed down since the UCF loss, but there's still some semi-motivational ish floating round.
Focused on one thing ! Let's shock the world ‼️ #Nation🐅— B.J. Ross (@_kingme23) November 23, 2013
Just got the news my St George's boys took care of buisness and heading to state so now I can go to bed and get ready to beat Louisville #🚶— Drew Bishop (@DrewBishop16) November 23, 2013
--A win on Saturday would assure Louisville of achieving double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
--Charlie Strong has never coached Louisville to a victory on senior day, and the Cardinals have lost five straight senior day games overall. U of L's last victory in their final home game came in 2007, when they defeated Rutgers 41-38.
--Teddy Bridgewater saw his streak of 21 straight games with at least one touchdown pass snapped last week against Houston.
--U of L will say goodbye to 20 seniors on Saturday: LB Mike Addesa, DB Anthony Branch, LB Preston Brown, TE B.J. Butler, WR Damian Copeland, WR Jarrett Davis, DT Brandon Dunn, LB George Durant, TE Ryan Hubbell, OL Kamran Joyer, LB Champ Lee, DT Roy Philon, RB Senorise Perry, CB Stephan Robinson, LB Deon Rogers, CB Titus Teague, S Hakeem Smith, DE Marcus Smith, OL Chris Walker and S Alex Witcpalek.
--Memphis enters Saturday having won back-to-back games for the first time this season.
--Louisville had gained at least 400 yards of total offense in every game this season before falling short of that mark in each of their last two games.
--Five hottest playesr on Louisville's defensive line: Philon, Philon, Philon, Philon, Philon.
--Memphis defensive end Martin Ifedi has 10.5 sacks through nine games and ranks second nationally with 1.2 per contest. He posted two against South Florida last week for his third multi-sack game this season. Ifedi also has 13.5 tackles for loss and ranks 12th with an average of 1.5.
--Memphis cornerback Bobby McCain leads the nation in interceptions per game (0.9).
--Louisville is 16-2 under Charlie Strong when one of its running backs rushes for at least 100 yards.
--The last eight winners in this series have all scored at least 30 points.
--A win would give Louisville six conference wins in a season for the first time since 2006.
--U of L is allowing just 242.4 yards per game to opponents, the second-best mark in the FBS.
--Memphis' kicker is f---ing awesome.
--Senior safety Hakeem Smith will be making his 48th straight start for the Cardinals on Saturday. The only game he did not start at U of L was the first one of his freshman season.
--No FBS team has surrendered fewer touchdowns than Louisville's 12. Alabama is the only other team in the country to match that mark.
--Memphis has lost 11 straight games to nationally ranked teams, a streak which dates back to a 1996 win over Tennessee.
--U of L saw its streak of forcing a turnover in 11 straight games end last week. The Cardinal defense has forced 22 turnovers this season, the 19th-most in the country.
--U of L has allowed just 70 total points in its seven non-UCF games this season. The Cards surrendered 38 in their loss to the Knights.
--Memphis ranks 14th nationally in total defense, allowing opponents to average 337.1 yards per game. Against the run, the Tigers are ranked 11th nationally, giving up 110.3 rushing yards per game.
--The Cardinals are yielding an average of 10.8 points per game this year and are on pace to allow 170 points this year. The scoring average would be the second-lowest in school history and the lowest since the 1972 team allowed 9.1 points per game.
--When scoring 20 points or more in a game under the direction of Charlie Strong, the Cardinals' record is 33-7. Louisville is also 23-3 under Strong when holding opponents to 20 or fewer points.
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 141-15 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
--Louisville is 75-26 all-time at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
--"With this being our seniors last game, you'd like to see a large turnout, because you want to go out and give the support to guys who have meant a lot to this program. You're talking about four-straight bowl games. They're 20-3 in the last 23 games here and that's a lot to say with two remaining." --Charlie Strong
--"We have a humongous challenge this week with a very good football team and a very good football program. (Louisville has) some really special skill kids and a fantastic quarterback that can hurt you both running and throwing the ball. I think our kids will look forward to preparing this week." --Memphis coach Justin Fuente
--"The seniors have been through a lot. They've been through all the good stuff that has come of late, but they went through all the hard stuff in the early years.They've been huge. Their temperament, their attitude they brought to work every day, and their desire want to change the complexion of the program and what people thought of us nationally. (They helped) give us a trademark and a brand name. They've done a nice job of that. They've got a lot to be proud of." --Shawn Watson
--"Strong taught us to play hard and be men. It's been a great five years here and I will leave with my degree." --Roy Philon
--"I came to Louisville because of coach Strong. I really believed what he was selling to the players and I'm glad I made the right decision." --Brandon Dunn
--"Now, you look at those guys, with two games remaining, they're 20-3 in their last two years. The only thing we're looking for is we need our crowd here They have an opportunity to go to four straight bowl games and have 34 wins under their belt, but you think about what this program, three years prior to them getting here, didn't go to any bowl games, now they're going to get a chance to go to four." --Charlie Strong
--"We're only going to worry about what we can control. We have to focus on ourselves. We still have a season and something to play for so we're not paying attention to that at all. It is college football and anything happens." --Teddy Bridgewater
--"When we play here, we don't look for style points. That's not (head coach Charlie Strong's) deal and that's not how we manage our staff. We don't really concern ourselves with what anybody thinks. We kind of win like coach Saban does at Alabama. We do what it takes to win ball games here." --Shawn Watson
--"They are where we want to be. In my opinion, much in the way we felt about UCF - the type of program when you watch them as a coach, you see a team that can run the ball and throw the ball and plays great defense and is solid on special teams. Those are programs that we aspire to be like." --Memphis coach Justin Fuente
--"These are the guys that have helped us build this program. You hope they go out the right way. That is why I said that at the beginning you hate to see this time of year comes because you hate to see these guys move on. With this being our seniors last game you'd like to see a large turnout because you want to go out and give the support to guys who have meant a lot to this program." --Charlie Strong