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2014 Miami Beach Bowl Preview

BYU (8-4) vs. Memphis (9-3, 7-1 AAC)

Date: Monday, December 22, 2014
Time: 2:00 p.m. (EST)
Location: Miami, FL
Stadium: Marlins Stadium (37,000)
Television: ESPN
Series Record: First Meeting

When Justin Fuente arrived in Memphis, the Tigers’ program was one of the worst in the nation. However, over the last three seasons, the former TCU offensive coordinator has transformed Memphis football from a laughingstock into a conference champion.

The Tigers, who are going bowling for the first time since 2008, won their last six games to share the American Athletic Conference title with 2013 champ UCF and Cincinnati.

BYU, which suffered a plethora of mid-season injuries—including the loss of star quarterback Taysom Hill, persevered to win eight games and is going bowling for a tenth straight season. The Cougars, who won their last four games after a 4-4 start, were contracted to play in the Miami Beach Bowl if they became bowl eligible.

Memphis started just 3-3, but the Tigers’ confidence grew after nearly upsetting UCLA in the Rose Bowl, competing at Ole Miss, and blowing out Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Tigers’ blueprint for success is very similar to what Gary Patterson used to launch TCU to what it’s become over the last 15 years. Memphis plays excellent defense, is committed to running the football well and also has the ability to throw it. The Tigers average nearly 35 points and more than 420 yards per game—with 190-plus coming via the ground.

Paxton Lynch, Memphis’ 6’7” sophomore quarterback, has been solid. Lynch has thrown for 2,725 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing just six interceptions. He has also run for nearly 300 yards and ten scores.

Brandon Hayes tops all Tiger rushers with 900 yards (5.2 ypc) and is one of three UM backs with more than 300 yards.

Mose Frazier, who leads the team with 43 receptions, is one of five Memphis’ receivers who has 25 or more receptions.

The BYU defense has given up its share of points—as opponents have scored 31 points or more on six occasions. However, the Cougars possess one of the most stout run defenses in the nation, as opponents average just 117.5 per game.

Skye Povey leads the team with 69 stops and two interceptions.

Offensively, when star quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams went down with injuries, the Cougars lost a ton of production from a unit that is rolling up 36.2 points and 463 yards per contest.

However, Christian Stewart has stepped up and filled in nicely. Stewart has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes while throwing for just shy of 2,300 yards and 22 touchdowns. The former back-up has also really valued the football, as he has been picked off just six times.
6’6” Mitch Mathews (64-840-8) and Jordan Leslie (54-756-5) have been Stewart’s top options in the passing game.

BYU’s potent aerial attack will face a Memphis team that is 5th nationally in scoring defense, as the Tigers allow just 17.1 points per game. The Tigers’ unit is led by senior linebacker Tank Jakes. Jakes leads the team in tackles (83), tackles for loss (15.5) and sacks (6.0). Veteran defensive back Bobby McCain leads the team with his four interceptions and has 11 over his four-year career.

On paper, many people may give the edge to Memphis, as it appears the Tigers’ defense may be too much for BYU’s aerial attack—particularly given the fact that UM has 28 sacks and BYU has allowed 34.

However, while the game will likely be decided in the fourth quarter, expect BYU’s experience playing in the postseason to play a role.

Prediction: BYU 27 - Memphis 24


By Thomas Rosenbaum
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