Middle Tennessee (2-1) at Memphis (1-1) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (61,008) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Middle Tennessee 2-0, Memphis 1-0. Away Record: Middle Tennessee 0-1, Memphis 0-1. Neutral Record: Middle Tennessee 0-0, Memphis 0-0. Conference Record: Middle Tennessee 1-0, Memphis 0-0. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 17-8-1.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are coming off a hard-fought win over conference rival Western Kentucky, and will travel to Memphis this weekend to face a familiar foe, the Memphis Tigers, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Saturday.
Middle Tennessee barely escaped Western Kentucky in an explosive triple- overtime C-USA shootout Saturday, 50-47. It's WKU's first season as a member of Conference USA, and is one of the teams that joined after the giant shift that saw Memphis leave for the American Athletic Conference.
Memphis was off last weekend after playing two polarizing opponents to start the 2014 campaign. The Tigers started the season with a 63-0 thrashing of FCS program Austin Peay. The Memphis turned right around to face 11th-ranked UCLA and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley. The Bruins won by a single touchdown, 42-35.
Middle Tennessee holds the all-time series lead against Memphis, 17-8-1. The series itself began back in 1925, and has been a contentious one as of late, with Middle Tennessee owning wins over Memphis in each of the last three seasons. The last Tiger victory came back in 2010.
Middle Tennessee squeaked by Western Kentucky in three overtimes with the three-point win, in which the two sides combined for an impressive 97 total points. The Blue Raiders accounted for 323 rushing yards against the Hilltoppers, and scored five touchdowns on the ground, led by three rushing scores from quarterback Austin Grammer. Grammer passed for 218 yards and a score in the win, and rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns on a team-high 19 carries.
The Blue Raiders have been a strong offensive team this season led by Grammer, scoring at least 50 points in two of the team's three games. Grammer has passed for 723 yards and three scores, while adding the three on the ground Saturday. Reggie Whatley is the team's leader in the ground game, registering 223 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 38 carries this season. As a unit, the Blue Raiders are gaining an average of 247 rushing ypg.
Grammer's weapons have been steady this season, led by receiver Marcus Henry, who has caught 14 passes for 196 yards and one score. Ed'Marques Batties, who caught the only touchdown pass from Grammer in Saturday's win, is the only other Middle Tennessee player with double-digit receptions through three games, having registered 13 catches for 168 yards and the one touchdown.
The only good thing about Middle Tennessee's defense allowing 29.7 ppg through the first three contests is that the offense has scored 45 ppg. The Blue Raiders haven't done a very good job limiting their opponents , giving up 432.7 total ypg. The defense is allowing a 45-percent success rate on third- down conversions, and has forced five turnovers.
Linebacker T.T. Barber has been a bright spot for the Blue Raiders, though. He leads the team with 27 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two tackles for loss. The next closest player to Barber in terms of stops is Khari Burke, who has registered 19 tackles through three games. Barber, Trey Wafford and Kevin Byard all recorded nine tackles in the win over WKU.
With just the one game against UCLA, the Tigers have shown they can stay competitive with top teams. Two games is a small sample size (especially considering one was against an FCS opponent), but Memphis is still averaging 49 ppg in those two contests with 507 total ypg of offense. That unit revolves around starting quarterback Paxton Lynch, who has thrown for 547 yards and three touchdowns with a 69.1 percent completion rate.
Doroland Dorceus has proven to be an effective ball carrier through two contests. The running back as carried the ball 23 times for 127 yards and three touchdowns, helping his Tigers rush for an average of 233.5 ypg. The Tigers have scored 10 times on the ground in just two clashes.
Lynch has spread his completions out to a multitude of receivers in two games, though Keiwone Malone has emerged as the go-to target. Malone, though without a touchdown reception this season, has caught a team-best nine passes for 125 yards. Six of those receptions came against UCLA, when Lynch completed 27- of-41 passing.
The Tigers defensively should be rested and ready to go after getting last weekend off. Handling UCLA was no easy task for Memphis, but taking the tough Bruins into account, the Tigers are still holding opponents to just 130 rushing ypg and 343 combined ypg. Against UCLA, Tank Jakes led the team with 12 tackles, including an impressive four for loss with a team-best two sacks.
Jakes, a linebacker, tops the team in tackles through two games with 20, adding six tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. The next closest tackle total belongs to fellow linebacker Charles Harris, who has 11 stops.
This could easily be a high-scoring affair, if early season games for both sides are any indication. Middle Tennessee may have a tough time handling the home Memphis crowd, but the campuses are about three and a half hours apart, so Blue Raiders fans could travel well. Expect a battle between Grammer and Lynch, but the X-factor in the game could be Dorceus out of the Memphis backfield.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Memphis 41, Middle Tennessee 35Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 20, 7 p.m. (ET)