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Game Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Memphis Tigers; Watch Out for Memphis' Paxton Lynch

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Cincinnati clashes with Memphis on ESPN Thursday night.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Game

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2015

Memphis, TN

7:30 PM ET

ESPN

Meet the Opponent

Memphis is 3-0 and coming off a nice win on the road against Bowling Green last week, 44-41. They also have wins over Missouri State and Kansas, scoring 63 and 55 points, respectively. The Tigers are led by 6-foot-7 junior quarterback Paxton Lynch. Lynch is completing 76.6% of his passes this season, has thrown for 818 yards and has yet to throw a pick. He's thrown six touchdowns though.

As a team, the Tigers have four runners with over 130 yards rushing on the ground. Jarvis Cooper leads the team with 36 carries and 174 yards on the season. Doroland Dorceus has four touchdowns on the ground, leading the team. Mose Frazier is the guy at receiver, with 232 yards on 17 receptions thus far and two touchdowns.

Defensively, Memphis is still in the process of replacing eight starters from year ago. Despite the gaudy offensive numbers, the Tigers really haven't been in a shootout, outside of last week's win. Even then, the 579 total yards allowed to Bowling Green should be taken with a grain of salt. BGSU quarterback Matt Johnson (28-44, 443 yards, 4 touchdowns) is a dynamic player who has the Falcons offense playing very, very well right now. Memphis has eight sacks on the year, but has yet to force an interception. They have forced three fumbles and recovered each one. Watch out for hybrid end/linebacker Jackson Dillon.

Ranking the Schedule - #2 Memphis Tigers

Memphis Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense

Cincinnati's defense hasn't been the lone issue in Cincinnati's slow 2-1 start to the season. That said, they will need to pick things up to keep the Memphis offense under 50 on Thursday night. The Bearcats can't stop the run consistently, can't bring a consistent pass rush and have been unable to force turnovers. Cincinnati has four sacks, one forced fumble and two interceptions on the year. In fact, if you take that a step further, they only have eight quarterback hurries to go along with those numbers against the likes of Alabama A&M, Temple and Miami (OH). Giving up rushing yards to Temple? Okay, I get that, but allowing 220 yards rushing to Miami (OH) points to a problem up to a clear problem up front.

Now, Memphis comes in, with a quarterback who has looked very, very good this season. Memphis sports a balanced offensive attack and Lynch may be the best quarterback the Bearcats face all season. In the last two weeks, against Kansas and Bowling Green, the Tigers have accounted for 651 and 541 total yards, respectively, with Lynch throwing for 386 yards and three touchdowns in last week's shootout.

Cincinnati is now down captain Adrian Witty, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken ankle, and is already reeling from the massive yardage allowed to an inferior (roster-wide talent) RedHawks team. To beat a talented quarterback, you need to be able to put pressure on the pocket and stand your ground in the run game. Cincinnati doesn't appear capable of doing either right now and if they blitz, Lynch is experienced enough to take advantage.

Cincinnati's defense will likely have to make the Tiger one-dimensional and then force the issue with Lynch. Lynch and the Memphis offense could be the stiffest test for this Cincinnati defense when the season is said and done. The Bearcats will need to bring pressure and disrupt the timing of the offense to have a chance.

Memphis Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense

As I said above, the Memphis defense has a few fresh faces. Now that certainly doesn't mean they aren't talented, but it does mean the opportunity is there for the Bearcats to move the ball, especially if Gunner Kiel is able to suit up. According to Tommy Tuberville, Kiel hasn't been ruled out to play in Thursday's huge AAC matchup. If he does play, the talent is still very much present with the Bearcats. Mckale McKay is supposed to start, after sitting last week and starting left guard Idarius Ray is nearing 100% after missing last week's game. Mike Boone is supposed to be good to go come Thursday as well.

That's all fine and dandy, but the real crux of this matchup is Kiel's health. Hayden Moore is a fine player and will only get better with time, but the freshman showed his youth in his first playing time in Oxford, Ohio last week, accounting for four turnovers and nearly another fumble. A week of starter's reps will help, but it's a short week, on the road, against a team that can put up points in bunches. That's a rough combination for any young quarterback.

The good thing is the offense doesn't change with Moore at quarterback and the weapons are still present. With Boone presumably good to go, all three running backs, who did play quite well last week, will play major roles in this game whether Moore or Kiel is behind center. Through the air, Moore showed great poise on the game-winning drive against the RedHawks and McKay being back will only help if Moore is forced to play.

Memphis has three forced fumbles on the season, which has to be a point of emphasis for the Bearcats now, having lost five of seven fumbles through three games. While the Tigers have yet to secure their first interception this season, the Bearcats quarterback will have to be careful as the turnover differential will be absolutely key.

Special Teams

Cincinnati's Andrew Gantz has been solid in the early part of the season, going 13-for-13 on extra points and 6-for-7 on field goals with the lone miss being from 53 yards. Gantz was 3-for-3 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points last week. Punter Sam Geraci has been very good and the kick coverage wasn't a storyline last week, which is a positive.

Memphis has Jake Elliott at kicker, who has been great in his own right. He's 21-for-21 on extra points and 5-for-5 on field goals with a long of 52 yards. Spencer Smith is the Tigers punter and is solid as well.

Prediction

Score: Cincinnati 31, Memphis 42

This is a very interesting game. Tommy Tuberville, in his weekly press conference, stated that Lynch was the best quarterback he has seen all season, regardless of team or opponent. Fair enough. Lynch is a very talented player with a number of weapons at his disposal offensively. Cincinnati's defense will have to apply pressure and make him uncomfortable to have a chance, or they will have to get lucky in the turnover differential.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, will have to run the ball and likely will need to sit on the clock a bit and control the clock. If Kiel plays and he is healthy, the Memphis defense can be scored on, but it will require a balanced attack. If Moore starts the game, expect a greater emphasis on the run game, especially early, as Cincinnati tries to survive the first surge of adrenaline from a hyped Memphis team playing at home. Cincinnati needs to play a turnover-free game, they need to rattle Lynch and will need to realize their offensive potential on the road, in primetime Thursday night. For the purpose of my prediction, I'm skeptical that it will all come together this week, based on what we have seen thus far. It's possible, but Memphis will likely put up points and it will be interesting to see if Cincinnati can keep up, regardless of who starts behind center.