Two of the most prolific offenses in college football this season square off in Northwest Ohio on Saturday afternoon when the Memphis Tigers take on the Bowling Green Falcons. Tom Schad (@Tom_Schad) covers the Tigers for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, and he took the time to answer a few questions about the match-up.
Hustle Belt: Both the Tigers and Falcons got convincing wins against lower-level Power 5 teams last weekend. What do you take away from Memphis' drubbing of Kansas in Lawrence last Saturday?
Tom Schad: Not much. Unfortunately for the Tigers, calling Kansas a Power Five team at this point is almost a misnomer. I think coach David Beaty will turn it around eventually, but it's going to take a while, and the Jayhawks flatly aren't very good right now. With all of that said, part of being a good team is crushing teams you're supposed to crush. Memphis did that. And it overcame some adversity in the first quarter to do so. That was one of several positive signs. But it's tough to put a lot of weight in that game.
Bowling Green plays a very up-tempo version of the spread offense that head coach Dino Babers learned while at Baylor working under Art Briles. How would you describe the offense that Memphis runs? Is it more traditional and balanced?
Memphis also plays up-tempo, and it's about as balanced as they come. Coach Justin Fuente draws a lot of his scheme from TCU coach Gary Patterson. He likes to run the ball a lot, but in a variety of ways with a variety of backs. The Tigers have four running backs that they believe could start for most teams in the conference, and four wide receivers had carries last week, too. The passing attack with Lynch is dynamic. It's a tough offense to scheme against because the Tigers do so many things well.
That Tiger offense is rolling with Paxton Lynch at quarterback. What can you tell us about him and who are the others on the offense we should know about?
I mentioned the four running backs: Jarvis Cooper, Sam Craft, Doroland Dorceus and Jamarius Henderson. All of them will probably get carries Saturday, with Craft and Dorceus leading the way. Those are names to know. The other big one is senior wide receiver Mose Frazier. Lynch has a lot of weapons at that spot -- I expect at least six receivers to get regular snaps -- but Frazier is the most dangerous. He had 141 all-purpose yards last week.
The Memphis defense has faced Missouri State and Kansas so far this year. Do you have a read on how good the Tiger defense is and do you think they can slow down Bowling Green in this one?
It's hard to get much of a read on this team, period, given the quality of competition. The defense has been effective given what it's faced to this point. I think there are some concerns here, though. The secondary was spotty against Kansas; If quarterback Montell Cozart hadn't overthrown his receivers, Memphis could've been on the wrong end of several big plays. The Tigers' tackling has also been suspect. They'll need to be reliable tacklers this week if they want to slow down Bowling Green's offense.
Bowling Green has struggled big time so far this year with special teams. They have given up a ton of return yardage as well as a couple of touchdowns. Do the Tigers have the kick returners to potentially give this unit problems yet again?
The Tigers have one of the best special teams units in the American Athletic Conference, and quite possibly the country. That said, they have struggled historically to find the end zone. Memphis actually owns the longest drought in the country in terms of kickoff returns -- the program hasn't had a player return a kick for a touchdown in 19 years, or 218 games. Their returner, Craft, is shifty and smart, though. He might be the guy to break the streak. And Roderick Proctor returned a punt for a touchdown in the opener. So I'd say Memphis has an advantage here.
Going into Kansas and getting the win was huge. But, have the Tigers struggled with road games in the recent past?
Not really, no. They lost a few road games last year to Power Five teams -- UCLA and Ole Miss -- but haven't been significantly better or worse on the road than they have been at home. If anything, players and coaches believe playing on the road can be beneficial. There's often fewer distractions, and an us-against-the-world mentality.
Justin Fuente has made great strides with the Memphis program in his first three years. What's impressed you most about him and do you worry, like Bowling Green fans do, that your successful head coach will get snatched up soon by a bigger program?
I think I've been most impressed just by his attention to detail. Everything -- and I mean everything -- is scripted to a T, from the weekly preparation plan to the daily practice schedule to the minutes within each practice. I also think he's done a lot of really smart things to build this program. He got a staff that he can trust, and that trusts him, and that staff has largely stayed intact for four years. He's also recruited extremely well and been really smart with walk-ons. In my two months or so on the beat, I've been generally impressed. Many fans believe he will leave this year or next. Personally, I'm not "worried" about whether he leaves. I don't have a stake one way or the other. But there is a general unease in the fanbase, sure.
Finally, do you have a prediction for this game?
I think this game should really scare Memphis fans. It's going to be close. It'll be a huge win for whichever team get it. That said, my only prediction is that we'll see 100 points scored Saturday between the two teams. It's going to be a good ol' fashioned shootout.