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Memphis prepping for High-Flying North Texas Offense

Mike Leach disciple and first-year North Texas head coach Eric Morris enthusiastically spoke to the media for over 15 minutes during AAC media days. Going 11 minutes longer than reigning AAC Coach of the Year Willie Fritz, 37-year-old Morris touted the experience and explosive playmaking ability of his returning roster from the 2022 season. A talented unit that finished 21st in the country in total offense in 2022, the Mean Green are seemingly clicking on all cylinders again this year, rating as the 14th overall and the best statistical offense in the American Athletic Conference.

After a slow start Saturday, the Tigers were able to deliver their best defensive performance of the season in the second half against UAB, shutting out the 40th-ranked Blazers’ offense in the Battle for the Bones. Memphis did so by forcing their second four-turnover game of the season and their first multi-interception game since beating Arkansas State in week two of the year. With arguably the best offense the Tigers have faced since Missouri on deck, what matchups should Tiger fans keep an eye on?

The Weapons Cache

Chandler Rogers, Ja’mori Maclin, and Ayo Adeyi have an argument to be the best QB-RB-WR ensemble in the American Athletic Conference. Maclin ranks 15th nationally in receiving yards with 658 yards and has scored one or more TDs in every game this season. The deep play threat averages 19.9 yards per reception and is likely the best WR the Tigers have faced since Luther Burden III. Louisiana-Monroe transfer Chandler Rogers ranks Top 5 in the American in completion percentage, touchdowns, and quarterback rating. What is perhaps most impressive about the Junior QB is that he’s thrown just one interception on 220 pass attempts this season. Ayo Adeyi has been a staple at RB for the Mean Green since 2021 and is averaging 7.1 yards per carry on the year. The offensive line tends to allow pressure on their QB, however, surrendering 19 sacks through 7 games. The Mean Green favor throwing short-to-intermediate passes and work an up-tempo offense, making sound tackling key for the Tigers.

Struggling Defense

One would be hard-pressed to find an offense and defense as night-and-day as the one at North Texas. While the Mean Green thrive offensively, Morris’s unit ranks 125th out of 130 FBS teams in total defense. The Mean Green are particularly bad at defending the run — they allow an average of 254.7 yards per game on the ground — good for dead last in the American Athletic Conference. North Texas boasts a Top 3 passing defense, but that very well may be a product of “why pass when you can run”. Junior LB Jordan Brown leads the Mean Green statistically with 56 total tackles and 0.5 sacks on the year. He had a solid performance against Memphis last season with 8 tackles and 1 sack inside Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Coming off one of the best games of his Memphis OC career, Tim Cramsey will look to keep the second-best scoring offense in the AAC humming in Denton.

Feel-Good History

The Tigers and Mean Green will match up for the 22nd time on Saturday, but it’ll only be the third matchup between the two teams in the last 20 years. Memphis famously snapped a 32-year bowl drought in their New Orleans Bowl victory over North Texas in 2003 and the Tigers defeated the Mean Green by 10 points in a closer-than-expected matchup last season to move their all-time record against UNT to 17-4. In a season with multiple winning streaks on the line, this is another historical battle Memphis fans would like to maintain. After losing to Tulane at home for the first time since 1998, some Memphis fans were vocally restless with another NY6 berth opportunity slipping away. Memphis handled UAB on the road, though, and cooler heads have seemingly prevailed overall. The Tigers are still very much in AAC Championship Game contention, but they’ll have to continue winning the favorable games for a big matchup against SMU next month to matter in conference standings.

Memphis will travel to Denton and face off with North Texas at 2 PM CST on ESPN+ this Saturday. It’ll be the first time the Tigers haven’t been featured on national television since week two against Arkansas State.

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