At AAC Media Day, Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said there’d be nothing sweeter than to send Houston – and Central Florida – out with a loss this season. Now the Tigers (4-1, 2-0 AAC) get their shot Friday (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.
This will be the last time the schools meet in an AAC regular-season game since Houston, UCF and Cincinnati are heading to the Big 12. Houston (2-3, 0-1 AAC) won last year's meeting 31-13.
A win would extend Memphis’ win streak to five games and make the Tigers 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 2015. Houston was a preseason Top 25 team but fell below .500 after losing to Tulane last week.
Memphis is also playing its first Friday night home game since 2019, when it hosted Cincinnati. Here’s this week’s scouting report along with a prediction.
If history holds true, Memphis has signs in its favor. The Tigers are 10-0 at home in non-Saturday games and have won their past three home games against Houston.
Houston is 1-1 on the road, and both games – a win over UTSA, loss to Texas Tech – went to multiple overtimes. Memphis has to hope that its home magic pays off since Houston is used to weird games away from its stadium.
A different defense
Part of Houston’s struggles can be attributed to a defense that’s regressed from last season. Houston led the AAC in total defense in 2021 but is 10th this season, just behind Memphis. The Cougars have given up more than 330 passing yards in three different games.
Senior lineman Derek Parish, who leads Houston in sacks, is out for the season, while safety Gervarrius Owens and cornerback Art Green didn’t play in last week’s loss to Tulane. Owens and Green are expected to play Friday per coach Dana Holgorsen.
Memphis would be wise to test the Cougars early if their receivers can get open and avoid a repeat of the drops from last week.
Stop the Tank
Houston junior Nathaniel “Tank” Dell entered the season as the AAC’s most heralded receiver and he’s been productive. He’s fifth in the conference with 453 receiving yards and tied for third with five touchdowns. He's also a threat in the return game.
The 5-foot-10 Dell had seven catches for 100 yards last year against Memphis, so the Tigers know him well. Houston’s passing game runs through him, so the Tigers must force other receivers to beat them and not let Dell use them for his NFL audition tape.
Both Memphis and Houston have struggled in the first half of games. Per TeamRankings.com, the Tigers are 85th out of 131 FBS schools in first-half scoring (11.4 points per game) and the Cougars are tied for 108th (8.2).
The Tigers’ defense has carried the team the past two games and might have success slowing down Houston. But the offense needs to start pulling more of its weight and come out strong against a vulnerable Cougars defense.
It’ll help if left tackle Austin Myers and left guard Jonah Gambill can play after being out because of injuries against Temple. Both are game-time decisions and the offense has struggled since both were hurt against North Texas.
Help for Henigan
Fifteen of Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan’s 19 carries last week against Temple were actual run plays out of design or scrambling to escape pressure. Temple sacked him five times along with four quarterback hurries.
It’s fine Henigan is running more and he’s diving to avoid contact, but he can’t have that many carries against Houston. The Cougars are a pressure-heavy unit with at least five tackles for loss in every game this season. They’ve also held four of five opponents to 117 rushing yards or fewer.
Memphis must do better protecting Henigan so he can run when needed. It'll also help the offense get back on track if he has time to read the defense instead of escaping pressure.
Houston 34, Memphis 31: This rivalry deserves one more thriller. Memphis is favored. so winning wouldn’t be a shock because of how well the defense is playing. Houston is physical, athletic and has a playmaker in Dell, but this team isn't as good as last year. If Memphis’ offense gets on track and Myers and Gambill are healthy, the Tigers win, but if Houston dominates the line of scrimmage, the Cougars will end the Tigers’ win streak.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis football vs. Houston: Scouting report, score prediction