Miami Beach Bowl

    Miami Beach Bowl BYU (8-4) vs. Memphis (9-3) Dec. 22, 2:00, ESPN Here’s The Deal: It’s been a season of breakthroughs and milestones for the once-hapless

    December 18, 2014

    Miami Beach Bowl

    BYU (8-4) vs. Memphis (9-3) Dec. 22, 2:00, ESPN
    Here’s The Deal: It’s been a season of breakthroughs and milestones for the once-hapless Memphis football. Its reward will be a trip to Miami and a chance to measure itself against one of the game’s nationally known programs.

    The Tigers were fending off rigor mortis when Justin Fuente arrived in 2012, suffering from a lack talent and interest in the community. But in three short years, the coach has flipped the team culture—and the record—going from 3-9 a year ago to 9-3 and a share of its first league crown first since 1971. While the talent is still a notch below even the better teams in the American, Memphis is finding ways to win wins. In fact, it’s won six in a row, the team’s longest winning streak since 1969, and its only losses were to UCLA, Ole Miss and Houston. Even better, the 38-year-old Fuente remains on the payroll, even though his stock has never been higher.

    BYU has had two seasons in 2014, pre-Taysom and post-Taysom. When linchpin QB Taysom Hill was healthy, the Cougars jumped out to a 4-0 start, including a 41-7 rout of Texas, to conjure up talk of Heisman and playoff contention. But everything changed on Oct. 3, when Hill suffered a season-ending injury in a loss to Utah State. BYU didn’t recover until the calendar flipped to November, going 0-for-October. The nicked-up Cougs have regrouped to win four straight, though, capped by a momentum-building victory over Cal in Berkeley.

    Why BYU Might Win: The Cougars have finally secured a tailwind with the four wins to conclude the regular season, and three weeks off will be particularly beneficial to this battered squad. The offense has led the way, as Hill’s successor, former walk-on QB Christian Stewart, has become more comfortable on the field. He’s thrown at least three touchdown passes in five of the last seven games, aided by an imposing receiving corps. Mitch Mathews is a 6-6 matchup nightmare, and Jordan Leslie is a proven senior.

    – If BYU is able to step on the gas, Memphis will be in trouble. The Tigers aren’t built for a shootout. Sophomore QB Paxton Lynch is still coming along, and his receivers aren’t going to unnerve even a shaky Cougar secondary, especially route-jumping CB Robertson Daniel. Plus, while veteran RB Brandon Hayes has answered Fuente’s call in the second half of the year, he only got a full-time shot after starter Doroland Dorceus went down.

    – No one in the American ran more than Memphis, and it wasn’t even close. BYU knows what’s coming, and it’s done a pretty good job of stuffing the run at 3.3 yards per carry allowed. Second-leading tackler Zac Stout is expected back after sitting out the Cal game, and fingers are crossed that hard-hitting S Craig Bills could make his long-awaited return from a concussion. However, the Tigers’ biggest concern will be containing freakish LB Bronson Kaufusi, who has the range and length to disrupt from sideline-to-sideline.

    Why Memphis Might Win: The Tigers just don’t make mistakes … on either side of the ball. The defense leads the American in scoring, and the team is sixth nationally in turnover margin. Barry Odom’s D is extremely well coached in all phases, with LB Tank Jakes serving as the face of the unit. The senior has been a terror all season, leading Memphis with 83 tackles, 15.5 stops for loss, six sacks and four forced fumbles. CB Bobby McCain, meanwhile, is one of three Tigers with at least three picks.

    – Memphis will pick up an improbable tenth win of the year in the trenches. The Tigers lead their league in sacks allowed, and are outstanding along the D-line. DE Martin Ifedi and NT Terry Redden headline a salty front wall that’ll be facing a BYU O-line that starts two rookies, and has given up a whopping 34 sacks this fall. Stewart will spend a big chunk of the afternoon avoiding pressure and attempting to convert on the move.

    – While Lynch hasn’t been prolific this season, he’ll get some clean looks downfield, especially if his blockers continue to keep the pocket clean. BYU has shown flashes of vulnerability when faced with decent passing attacks. In the low-risk Memphis passing game, Lynch hasn’t been picked off since Oct. 11, and he has the 6-7 frame to even see over the outstretched arms of Kaufusi. Mose Frazier and Alabama transfer Keiwone Malone have emerged as the preferred targets since the beginning of November.

    What’s Going To Happen: Memphis is ready for this challenge, and is far from happy to just be here.

    Fuente and his Tigers want to add an exclamation point to this showcase season by winning for the tenth time. BYU, on the other hand, has lost four straight to teams currently bowling, and expended a ton of emotional capital in the Cal win. While neither team will take flight on offense, Memphis will be the better defensive squad, compounded by another victory in turnover margin. The Tigers are too sound right now to stumble to a shorthanded Cougar squad.

    Prediction: Memphis 31 … BYU 28

    Line: Memphis -1 o/u: 57

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