No. 25 Memphis looks to build on success against Houston
HOUSTON (AP) — No. 25 Memphis is looking for more after earning its first Top 25 ranking since 2015.
The Tigers (5-1, 2-1 American) will get their first chance do that when they visit Houston (4-2, 2-1) on Thursday night in key divisional showdown.
“Just because we have a number in front of our name doesn’t give us any added advantage,” coach Mike Norvell said. “If we want to keep that, we’ve got to go out there and play to the best of our abilities. We’re grateful for the exposure, we’re grateful for the recognition from people across this country on where our program is going. But just like anything else, you’ve got to earn it.”
The last time Memphis was ranked, the Cougars came from behind to beat the Tigers, 35-34, in Houston on Nov. 14, 2015. Last year, Memphis defeated the Cougars, 48-44, in the regular-season finale.
The Tigers are in a tough stretch after handing Navy its first conference loss last week. Memphis forced five turnovers against the Midshipmen, and Norvell knows the defense will be important again against the Cougars.
“You prepare for a Houston team that is so very explosive, and so capable of making you look really bad because of what they do,” Norvell said. “That’s what presents a challenge. I’d like to say when the schedule came out I noticed how these two games backed up to each other. We know it’s going to be a great opportunity for us, but also a great challenge.”
Some things to know about the Houston-Memphis game:
Quarterback Riley Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller lead a potent Memphis offense. Ferguson leads the American with 302.3 yards per game and is third nationally with 19 touchdowns, while Miller, who had 15 catches against Houston last year, has 2,734 receiving yards in his career, 247 yards from the school record of 2,981 yards. The duo has connected on nine touchdown passes so far this season after having 13 last season.
Houston coach Major Applewhite is also keeping an eye on running backs Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr.
“The backs are great players, but they don’t get mentioned because the quarterback has thrown so many touchdowns,” Applewhite said. “They have a great stable of backs that can run the football, they’ve got a great offensive line, and they do a great job up front.”
The Cougars managed just 17 points in a 28-point loss to Tulsa last week. The Cougars have used both Kyle Allen and Kyle Postma at quarterback, and the team struggled in the second half against the Golden Hurricane, scoring seven points and committing two turnovers.
“You either stay with what you do and get better at it, or you change things,” Applewhite said. “It’s a combination of both to develop some kind of consistency. Sometimes you need to do things systematically different to help, and sometimes you need to get better and execute as a player.”
Memphis cornerback Austin Hall earned the American’s defensive player of the week award after intercepting two passes, recovering a fumble and finishing with 10 tackles against Navy. Hall has three interceptions this season, which ties him for the team lead with TJ Carter.
WOUNDED COUGAR PRIDE
After giving up 45 points to Tulsa, including 38 points in the second half, Houston’s defense will be looking to get back on track. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver will look to lead the group after forcing two fumbles this season and averaging 1.42 tackles for losses per game in his career. Houston’s defense ranks 12th in the nation with nine interceptions, led by three apiece by Garrett Davis and Terrell Williams.
With the win over Navy, the Tigers control their own destiny midway through the season, and could be in the conversation for a New Year’s bowl spot. Norvell said he is not thinking that far ahead.
“To be honest, 100 percent of our focus is on this week,” Norvell said. “I have not talked to our team one bit about anything beyond this week. Nor did I the week before, or the week before. We know what is necessary. You win this week.”
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