The SMU Mustangs (8-2, 6-0 AAC) travel to Memphis (8-2, 5-1 AAC) in a must-win game for both sides. The winner of this game effectively faces Tulane in the AAC Championship game. The AAC’s champion also has a good shot at playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Here’s what you need to know about the biggest game of the year.
When: Saturday, November 18, 11 a.m.
Where: Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
Betting Odds: (Per ESPNBET)
Spread: SMU -8.5 (-110)
Moneyline: SMU -320, Memphis +260
Total (o/u): 64.5 (-105)
Best Bet: Game total over 64.5
SMU Scouting Report
Let’s not get it twisted; this SMU team is excellent. They pass the eye test with flying colors and are advanced stat darlings with a 92.9 team overall performance grade (per PFF). That number is good for 10th in the country. Part of the reason for this performance is the easy strength of schedule. However, you can only beat the teams in front of you, and SMU has been doing that and then some. Other than a close bout with a mediocre Rice team, no other conference opponent has been within two scores of the Mustangs.
Led by redshirt sophomore signal caller Preston Stone, the Mustang offense is incredibly explosive (top 10 in the nation in yards and points per game). Stone has thrown for 2,589 yards, 23 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Former Miami running back Jaylon Knighton and former Texas A&M running back L.J. Johnson Jr. have combined for over 1,000 rushing yards. They, however, are almost non-factors in the passing game. Quarterback Preston Stone has only been sacked ten times all year. With the Tigers’ inability to get pressure, do not expect that to change against a stout SMU offensive line.
The Mustang’s 90.1 pass-rush grade (PFF) is a scary thing to see for the already-injured Seth Henigan. Led by defensive lineman Elijah Roberts and Elijah Chatman (8.5 and 4.5 sacks, respectively), the SMU front seven is littered with NFL talent. Some notable names in the secondary include Cale Sanders, Charles Woods, and Jonathan McGill, all of whom have at least five passes defended.
Possible Weak Points
The vulnerabilities in this SMU team are the secondary, the pass-catching groups, and the defense’s ability to tackle. There are no dynamic playmakers or NFL talent in either of these rooms. Stone spreads the wealth on offense, meaning there is no go-to guy for the Mustangs. Senior slot wide receiver Jake Bailey leads the team with 414 receiving yards but has no touchdowns this year. Eight different pass catchers for SMU have at least 16 receptions on the year. In the secondary, there are limited playmakers. Safety Isiah Nwokobia leads the team with two interceptions, but no one else has more than one.
SMU has a pedestrian 72.8 PFF tackling grade, which is good for 52nd in the country. Seeing this should have Blake Watson licking his chops. The superstar running back has some of the best contact balance and ability to slip tackles this program has seen. The key for Memphis to have a chance in this game is simple: give Watson the ball early and often.
Coach Silverfield’s Thoughts
“They’re top 10 in the country in scoring offense, they’re top 10 in the country in scoring defense, they’re 6th in the country in sacks, they’re undefeated in conference play…Their conference wins are on average by 30 plus points,” Silverfield said. “They’ve got a very very very talented team, but so do we. I’m really excited about the challenge ahead for us… This game means a lot for where we are trying to get to as a program.”
Silverfield knows what he’s up against. He also knows how important this game could be for his tenure here and the support of the Memphis faithful. I am eager to see how he performs in the biggest pressure game in his time at Memphis.
Why is This Game Important?
In October, Ryan Silverfield spoke about championship aspirations; “A head coach without championship aspirations, a team without championship aspirations, you’re wasting your time.”
So far this season, Memphis is 8-0 in games where they are the favorite but 0-2 when they are the underdog. This game could be the signature win of the Silverfield era. If Memphis wants to win a conference championship, this is the game and year to make it happen.