Memphis needs to win to ensure a share of first place in the American Athletic Conference West Division, and South Florida must win its final two games to gain bowl eligibility.
Those are some of the stakes in the teams’ matchup Saturday afternoon in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
“I think everyone is in a must-win situation,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said as his 18th-ranked Tigers (9-1, 5-1 AAC) look to extend their winning streak to five games. “So are we. As a college football player, that’s how you approach the game.
“Their sense of urgency to win this game will be no different than ours. We’re going into it knowing we want to play to the best of their ability. They’ve got to win the next two to get to a bowl game, and we’ve got to win the next one. That’s our approach.”
With East Division leader Cincinnati looming for Memphis — and a trip to UCF awaiting USF in its regular-season finale — neither team can afford a slip.
“We’ve got two games remaining, and the key thing is just get to a bowl game,” Bulls coach Charlie Strong said. “You gotta do it for our seniors.”
The Bulls (4-6, 2-4) have lost their last two games — to Cincinnati and Temple — but they threw a scare into the then-No. 17 Bearcats last week before losing 20-17 on a field goal as time ran out. The defense, in particular, has played well, limiting the Owls to just one touchdown in USF’s 17-7 loss before holding the Bearcats to just 278 yards in total offense.
The Bulls have had at least one takeaway in every game this season and are tied for third in the nation in turnovers gained (22).
“If you watch this defense, especially the last two or three weeks, it has played very well,” Strong said.
On offense, Bulls running back Jordan Cronkrite needs to rush for 314 yards in the last two games to reach the 1,000-yard mark for a second consecutive season. He gained 1,121 yards in 2018.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud had a nice night for the Bulls against the Bearcats, topping the 200-yard mark passing for a second consecutive game with a season-high 267 yards.
“They have explosive playmakers and are working to put it all together,” Norvell said. “We know they are capable.”
For Memphis, running back Kenneth Gainwell has rushed for 1,166 yards — No. 2 in the AAC — and junior quarterback Brady White, a transfer from Arizona State, has passed for 691 yards in the past two games in posting league wins over SMU and Houston.
“There hasn’t been a night-and-day change in him,” Norvell said of White, who has completed 67.4 percent of his attempts for 285.2 yards per game. “He’s been playing at a high level. He’s completing the ball. We’re moving the ball down the field and maximizing those opportunities. I think he’s played at a high level throughout this season.”
–Field Level Media