By Lucas Owens
This week in the American Athletic Conference, UCONN rolled over Miami, Tulane beat Utah in a shootout and UCF barely beat the College of Charleston. But nobody cares about basketball just yet in the AAC outside of the city of Memphis, so let’s look at the football slate instead.
UCF (34) – (31) Tulane
UCF might have gotten two QB touchdowns in this game, but don’t let that fool you: they were still pretty good on offense. UCF took advantage of their blocking schemes frequently to bust out big plays, and it certainly did not hurt that quarterback Dillon Gabriel had a great game with 317 yards and one touchdown. UCF’s rushing attack could have had a better day, as the team only averaged 3.92 yards a carry, with Otis Anderson’s breakaway 44-yard run accounting for a large portion of their yardage gained.
Tulane, on the other hand, had a great rushing game behind quarterback Justin McMillan, but just came up short in the end, losing by a missed field goal. McMillan did not have the strongest game passing, as he threw for just 181 yards, but he still got the job done in pivotal moments, and all he can look forward to now is pulling off a big upset at SMU next weekend.
ECU (31) – (24) UCONN
Quarterback Holton Ahlers may not have had a crazy passing game like in the past two weeks this time, but his 374 yards passing and two touchdowns were crucial to the Pirates of ECU picking up their first win in AAC play over the UCONN Huskies, making UCONN the lone team in the conference without a win in-conference.
UCONN went into the later stretches of the fourth quarter with a tie game and a great chance to win, but they fell victim yet again to being the UCONN Huskies and gave up a touchdown run to Ahlers with 3:28 to go. All things considered, quarterback Jack Zergiotis had a fantastic game behind center for the Huskies, throwing for 418 yards and three touchdowns, but a crucial pick in the red zone in the final seconds ruined the story for him and UCONN.
ECU now goes into the last week of the season with a good game against Tulsa to cap off an okay year, but UCONN has the poor fate of traveling to Philadelphia to face a Temple team likely very mad about their result this week. If I was a UCONN fan, I would hope for nothing but a slightly tolerable beatdown to cap off an incredibly disappointing run of seasons in the AAC.
SMU (28) – (35) Navy
SMU’s chances of taking the west division come crashing down, as now only Navy and Memphis have a shot to take home that division’s crown. Navy pushed past the Mustangs behind a terrific performance from quarterback Malcolm Perry and a series of defensive greatness in the second half. Perry combined for 357 yards through the air and by the sea(ground), again proving to be the exact weapon the triple option needs.
The Navy defense was also a strong point, allowing SMU just 344 yards, only 251 of which came by the way of Shane Buchele’s arm. The Midshipmen also forced one turnover, through a fumble lost by Xavier Jones.
SMU did not have the fourth quarter they were hoping for after evening it up late with Navy, but this season has been a phenomenal turn of events for the Mustangs’ program, and should not be taken for granted considering they were not even bowl eligible last season. As for Navy, this year has also been fantastic, and could get even better if Memphis loses next week to Cincinnati while they beat Houston, as that would mean their first AAC west division win and the first time they have ever played on the weekend before the Army-Navy game.
Memphis (49) – (10) USF
Before this game, I gave the Bulls of USF a small chance to win. Turns out, that was incredibly wrong, as Memphis cruised to an easy victory over USF off of a crazy second quarter performance. Memphis was helped in large part by their rushing attack, which ran for 325 yards as a unit in one of their best performances of the year so far. Leading the pack was Kenneth Gainwell with 128 yards, who added to his already impressive total to make it 1,294 yards rushed so far on the year.
USF’s very stout defense, however, was nowhere to be found in Tampa, as after limiting Cincinnati to just 20, the Bulls gave up 560 yards to the Memphis Tigers. The defense still got two turnovers due to Memphis quarterback Brady White throwing interceptions, but still did not have the best performance. Although the defense had a rough outing, the offense might have been even worse. They had only five first downs all game, and did not even reach more than 170 yards.
This loss officially means USF will not be bowl eligible this year, but furthers Memphis’ path to a third consecutive AAC Championship game. All they have to do is beat Cincinnati next week, and then they will get the pleasure of facing Cincinnati again the next week in the championship.
Temple (13) – (15) Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s offense was once again bailed out by their defense, as although the Bearcats barely got over 200 yards, they still came out with the victory over Temple to clinch the AAC East. Leading the weak offensive charge for the Bearcats was quarterback Desmond Ridder, who again threw for less than 100 yards with just 62 yards passing and one interception. The rushing attack was slightly better, as Michael Warren II got a touchdown and 106 yards as Cincinnati’s leading rusher.
Temple had a lot more yards as a unit, with 310, but still found themselves at the losing end of the matchup. The worst part? They would have won if not for Coby Bryant of Cincinnati converting a blocked PAT for a conversion. If Temple would have made that PAT, the Owls would now be looking at a chance to play in the AAC Championship. Instead, they got to watch Cincinnati clinch.
The Bearcats did indeed win somehow, but they still need to work on a lot of things if they want to beat Memphis next week at the Liberty Bowl. I do not like to speak in absolutes, but there is no chance Cincinnati wins next week with an offensive performance like this without a historically transcendent performance by their defense.
Houston (24) – (14) Tulsa
Houston quarterback Clayton Tune had just 89 yards passing. The leading Cougars rusher, Kyle Porter, rushed for 57 yards. On the other hand, Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith threw for a great 381 yards and one touchdown. Considering all of these facts, Houston’s win makes absolutely no sense from a numbers standpoint.
However, when you get into the finer points of the game, it is incredibly clear why Houston came out on top of Tulsa: defense and special teams. The Cougars forced an insane four turnovers, one of which was an interception returned for a touchdown. They were also aided by a kick return touchdown by Marquez Stevenson. Without those two plays, Houston would have just one touchdown and likely would have come up short against the Golden Hurricane.
This loss has to be frustrating for Tulsa after such a tough road this season, as although their offense and defense both played great, they still found themselves on the wrong side of the score yet again after key plays did not go their way, yet again. The Golden Hurricane finish off with ECU next week, but where their future goes is incredibly up in the air right now.
Team of the Week: ECU
I have to give it to the Pirates, as they got their first AAC win of the season, but possibly even more importantly, continued UCONN’s AAC slate of no wins and almost assuredly secured it, considering the Huskies face Temple to end their season next week.
Thank you for checking out this recap, and make sure to check out a great slate of games coming up this Thursday.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org