Tuesday, December 18

New Orleans Bowl: Not the Sugar Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl

In 2006, the true winner of the New Orleans Bowl was in fact the city of New Orleans. Just one year beforehand, the bowl had to be moved to a different location because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Memphis Tigers (by Coach Pendley)

The Memphis Tigers are bowl-eligible once again. After a completely forgettable 2006 season (let's just say their only win of note was against UTEP and leave it at that), Memphis is going to its fourth bowl game over the past five seasons. Say what? Believe it or not, Memphis has been kind of a staple among the lowest tier of bowls, and this'll be their second trip back to the New Orleans Bowl. (Other trips include the GMAC Bowl - before it got drunk and wandered into January - and the Motor City Bowl. Oh boy.)

So what do the Tigers do well? Score. Lord knows they don't play defense - they gave up 56 against both UCF and ECU and 52 to SMU (but they won that game). They have the best non-Playstation QB in Conference USA in Martin Hankins, who threw for nearly 300 yards a game and 22 TDs to boot. Oh, and in the games he missed Will Hudgens threw for close to 600 yards and an additional 5 TDs. They're also an offense where the leading WR (Duke Calhoun) doesn't have the most TDs (Carlos Singleton), making life difficult for opposing secondaries. Joseph Doss (65 ypg) and T.J. Pitts (40 ypg) head an effective rushing attack.

Shockingly, Memphis has the third best passing defense in C-USA this year - although they did allow a 20/12 ratio, which is less than stellar. Contributing to the "good" pass defense is a rushing defense that's scared of the run, allowing nearly 210 yards a game on the ground. They were saved from last in the conference only by UAB spending the season fielding no defensive line. They won't win the hidden yardage game (horrible punting game, a Memphis staple), but there's a good chance that they'll win the turnover game (+9 on the season). Of course, that may not be the case - FAU is averaging a ridiculous +19 on the season.

What will it take for C-USA to notch a win over the Sun Belt?
1: Take to the air. It's a blinding statement of the obvious, but this passing game is probably the fourth-best passing offense FAU has faced all year - behind Florida, Kentucky, and Oklahoma State. Calhoun is an excellent primary receiver, Singleton will scare the safeties back every time he runs a deep route, and Maurice Jones will be able to be effective from the slot. They haven't faced a three-deep like that in a while, so take advantage of it.

2: Ball control. Quite frankly, if the defense holds FAU to under 40 that should be chalked up as a win - FAU's offense is sneakily solid. As a result, both Doss and Pitts are going to need to be effective. Doss has proven he can have a huge game (175 yards against Rice, 168 against UAB; neither rush D is any good), so he may have to move the pile a few times. As for the passing game, slants, crosses, and interior curls will be the Tigers' friend. Just don't forget to look the corner off on the curls. FAU will likely stay in the air, as leading rusher is Charles Pierre at just over 70 yards per game.

3: Spy Rusty Smith. As he goes, so do the Owls. The LB corps should expect to see plenty of play action, especially in the red zone, where Smith has put up some ridiculous numbers (18 TDs against 0 INT, a 208.20 QB rating). Thankfully, he's not a rushing threat - that's Charles Pierre, but ....yeah, the Tigers aren't going to be able to stop him anyway, so don't bother.

Florida Atlantic Owls (by Coach Lawrence)

Florida Atlantic has only been playing division I-A football since 2004, going 9-3 their first year in the upper division before suffering consecutive losing seasons.

Though Florida Atlantic might look like they crawled into the bowls with a 7-6 record, the Owls faced five BCS conference opponents, four of which are bowl-eligible including Florida, South Florida, and Kentucky. Notably, their win over Minnesota with the school's first win over a BCS conference opponent since moving up to div I-A. Indeed, in games they had a realistic chance of winning, FAU went 7-1 only dropping a game to Louisiana-Monroe. This is a team that passes the ball 52% of the time, but the focus is clearly on QB Rusty Smith as only one other player averages over 10 touches per game (RB Charles Pierre, 13).

Game Plan
1. Exploit Memphis' suspect run defense. Aim more for 55% rushing plays. Which RB wants to answer the call?
2. Pass off the run. Statistically, FAU throws better on first down and in the second half - than on other downs or in the first half. Both point to the importance of having established the running game.
3. It's just another game. This is FAU's first bowl game as a program. Forget about that.