Memphis puts No. 25 ranking on line at Houston (Oct 19, 2017)
When No. 25 Memphis heads to the Bayou City to battle wounded but dangerous Houston on Thursday night at TDECU Stadium, the Tigers will have the onus of not letting what they have accomplished this season affect what they still want to do.
Kickoff in the American Athletic Conference showdown is at 8 p.m. ET.
Memphis (5-1, 2-1 AAC) moved into the rankings for the first time in almost two years when it beat Navy on the road 30-27 on Saturday. That win was the Tigers' second this season over a ranked team -- they also beat UCLA at home on Sept. 16 -- the first time in program history Memphis has defeated two ranked teams in the same year.
"The number before our name doesn't necessarily define who we are -- you've got to go out there and you've got to earn it," Memphis second-year coach Mike Norvell said Monday. "We've got a short week and go on the road to Houston, which is a phenomenal football team.
"Nobody in our football program is concerned with what the result of their last game was. We know we're going to get Houston's absolute best shot, and we better be clicking on all cylinders if we want an opportunity to win."
Memphis has started 5-1 or better for just the fourth time in the past 50 years and only the 16th time in program history. If the Tigers win on Thursday, they would clinch bowl eligibility for a fourth consecutive season. Memphis has never played in four straight bowl games.
"One-hundred percent of our focus is on this week," Norvell said. "I have not talked to our team one bit about anything beyond this week. Nor did I the week before, or the week before. We know what is necessary. You win this week. That's what you have to do."
Houston (4-2, 2-1) returns home after a 45-17 loss at Tulsa in which the Cougars led 10-0 late in the first half and were outscored 38-7 after halftime.
"It's humbling," Houston linebacker Matthew Adams said after the loss to Tulsa. "It lets us know we are not as good as we think we are."
Tulsa scored on seven of its last eight possessions in beating the Cougars, including six touchdowns, and the Golden Hurricane converted three Houston turnovers into 21 points. The Cougars were outgained 323-141 in the second half as Tulsa racked up 416 total yards, 288 of which came on the ground.
Houston could have assumed sole possession of first place in the AAC West Division with a win at Tulsa. Instead, the Cougars have to rebound on a short week versus a locked and loaded Memphis squad before going on the road to face unbeaten No. 16 South Florida the following week.
"We didn't play well at all," Houston first-year coach Major Applewhite said. "We didn't come ready to play, and that's on me. We talk about it all the time, but week in and week out, you've got be ready to play your A-game every Saturday. We didn't do a good job of taking care of the football, and we didn't do a good job of tackling in the second half."
Applewhite said Memphis is difficult to prepare for because the Tigers can do just about everything well.
"Memphis has great stable of backs that can run the football, they've got a great offensive line, and they do a great job up front," Applewhite said. "As an offense, they're very difficult to put your hands around."
Tigers quarterback Riley Ferguson is completing 59.3 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 1,814 yards with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. Wide receiver Anthony Miller has 45 receptions for 606 yards and nine touchdowns, while running back Darrell Henderson has 542 rushing yards and three TDs.
Cougars quarterback Kyle Postma made his third consecutive start at Tulsa, but he committed three turnovers. Houston's leading receiver is Steven Dunbar (40 catches, 462 yards), while running back Duke Catalon has 90 carries for 431 yards and four touchdowns.
Houston and Memphis are meeting for the 26th time, with the Cougars holding a 15-10 advantage. The Tigers' 48-44 victory last season snapped a six-game losing streak in the series that dated to 2006. Of the past seven encounters, five were decided by 10 or fewer points.
Memphis is one of three AAC schools to appear in this week's AP poll along with South Florida and No. 20 Central Florida.