The Tigers beat Cincinnati twice in consecutive weeks last season, including a 29-24 win in the AAC championship game. It was a rare scenario but on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN), it means Memphis knows it’s not just another game against the No. 7-ranked Bearcats.
“Do we sit here and talk about what occurred in the past? No, but they understand a lot of chips are on the table for this one,” coach Ryan Silverfield said Monday. “This is a big game, ESPN game, another morning start which we’re excited for and I think our guys will be up for that challenge.”
It will be a different atmosphere than the 2019 AAC championship game. Cincinnati (4-0, 2-0 AAC) won’t have fans in attendance aside from just family members of players and coaches due to safety protocols stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both teams are also in different places. Cincinnati is hoping to crash the College Football Playoff after dominating SMU last week in a 42-13 win. Memphis (3-1, 2-1) is unranked and leaning on new skill position players on offense finding chemistry with quarterback Brady White.
Eleven Memphis starters who played in the championship game aren’t on this team but that won’t matter to Cincinnati. The Tigers expect an opponent motivated by revenge.
“This is probably a game they had circled on their calendar,” Silverfield said. “If you’re them and I’m them, it’s probably up in their weight room, this game circled, the Memphis logo on there somewhere. I’m sure their kids are pissed off, and rightfully so.”
It will be Memphis’ second road game of the season after losing at SMU. Back then, the Tigers were playing their first game in 28 days and Silverfield said the Tigers are finding a groove after three games in four weeks.
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However, Cincinnati will be their hardest test. The Bearcats’ defense is ranked fifth nationally in yards allowed per play (4.05), ninth in tackles for loss per game (8.75) and 18th in total defense. Cincinnati has also allowed just one passing touchdown this season.
The Tigers also have to deal with their first true dual-threat quarterback matchup this season in Desmond Ridder, who ran for 179 yards, threw for 126 more and accounted for four total touchdowns against SMU.
Ridder had 233 passing yards and 115 rushing yards in last year’s AAC Championship Game so the Tigers know what to expect with his legs and his arm.
The stakes are also high for Memphis. The Tigers haven’t beaten a top-10 ranked team since beating No. 6 Tennessee in 1996 and a win keeps pace to return to the title game.
But just like last season, Cincinnati stands in their way. After two consecutive losses to Memphis, the Bearcats want some payback and the Tigers know it.
“As long as we approach it knowing they’re going to give us their best and we’re going to give them our best, it’s just going to be a battle,” Tigers wide receiver Calvin Austin III said Saturday. “We’re coming in knowing it’s going to be a battle and we’re just ready to fight.
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