The Memphis Tigers, with first year head coach Mike Norvell, take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers with their interim head coach Nick Holt in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Norvell had a very good first season with the Tigers, finishing at 8-4 with very impressive wins over Temple and Houston. All of their losses came to very good competition, including Ole Miss, Navy, Tulsa and USF. A lot of people thought that Memphis would take a step back without former coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Paxton Lynch, but they overcame the losses of personnel to be successful.
Riley Ferguson had to take the reins from Paxton Lynch this season and exceeded expectations. He threw for 3,326 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, while only throwing nine interceptions. That’s not too bad for a first year starting quarterback. His top target is Anthony Miller who finished the season with 1,283 receiving yards and eleven touchdowns.
Running back Doroland Dorceus didn’t have the most rushing yards with 783 rushing yards, but he made the most of his touches with 6.2 yards per carry. He didn’t see as many carries this season, because they have plenty of running backs who get playing time.
The kicking game can be a valuable tool for the Tigers, as Jake Elliot has made all 54 extra points and 20 out of 24 field goals this season. He has some serious range, making two field goals of over 50 yards on the season.
Defense is the main problem of Memphis. They allow 200 rushing yards per game, which ranks 85 out of 128 for FBS teams. The pass defense isn’t much better, ranking 81 in the country and giving up 242.5 yards per game.
Genard Avery Jr. does a little bit of everything for the Tigers with 72 total tackles, 5 sacks and two interceptions. He will have to lead the defense in this game, because they will need to play better than they did in the regular season.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers only lost to Alabama, Vanderbilt and Louisiana Tech this season and like Memphis overcame the loss of their quarterback from last season, Brandon Doughty. They have multiple wins over teams .500 and above including Miami (OH), Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion and their rematch with Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA Championship Game.
Quarterback Mike White did a great job stepping into the role that was previously held by Doughty. He finished this season with 4,027 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. The most impressive thing about White though, is that he has only thrown six interceptions on the year. His size and frame, at six feet four inches tall and 215 pounds, makes him look like a future pro.
White has two great targets in Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris, who both have over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. Norris is more of the slot receiver at five foot nine inches tall, but also has 13 touchdowns, which is rare for his size. Taylor is a good outside receiver who has also scored a lot of touchdowns with 12 on the season.
It’s hard to believe with all of the passing stats that there would be room for a rusher to get over 1,000 yards, but Anthony Wales has accomplished that, finishing with 1,376 rushing yards. With Wales on the ground and the passing game being so good, the offense is great.
The rush defense of the Hilltoppers is excellent with fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed per game, which ranks third in the country. Pass defense is the issue, allowing 268.7 passing yards per game, which ranks 110 in the country.
Keith Brown has been a great player for the Western Kentucky defense at linebacker and has had eight games of ten tackles or more to go with his six sacks.
The rush defense of Western Kentucky will make Memphis one dimensional, which they are somewhat used to. The Hilltoppers will use their high powered offense to take advantage of the adequate Tiger defense.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 41 Memphis Tigers 30