Week 8 is in the books for the AAC and there still are three undefeated teams: Memphis, Houston, and Temple. In addition to its star pupils, the conference saw improved play from a Cincinnati team that got its starting quarterback back and Navy also showed that it’s not just a run dominant team. Unfortunately for UCF the uncharacteristically poor season cost the team its head coach and depending how things go a couple other teams could be looking for a new head man at the end of the year.
Cincinnati Bearcats 4-3 (1-2)
Quarterback Gunner Kiel made his return to the Bearcat starting lineup against UConn and the offense responded well in the 37-13 victory. Its not that the offense didn’t move the ball well with Heyden Moore under center, but there just seemed to be more balance with Kiel returning. In addition to the 327 yards and two touchdowns Kiel provided, the rush offense found its mojo as well. Both Hosey Williams (140) and Mike Boone (117) surpassed the 100-yard plateau and Tion Greene also provided 71 yards as the third-string. The 612 total yards was the highest output of the season and if the Bearcats can come close to being this effective the rest of the season… watch out AAC.
East Carolina Pirates 4-4 (2-2)
ECU looks like a team with an identity crisis at the quarterback position. Blake Kemp is the more polished passer while James Summers is the dual-threat option who can beat you with his feet, but in the 24-14 loss to Temple, despite Kemp passing for 272 yards, it seemed as if the Pirates offense was unable to get things in gear. Head Coach Ruffin McNeill must figure out which option is better suited for the direction he wants his team to go in because from the naked eye it seems as if Summers gives the team the best option to win. It also wouldn’t help to give the ball to Chris Hairston more too — the talented back finished the game with 65 yards but only had eight carries.
Temple Owls 7-0 (4-0)
Normally more reliant on a grind-out rushing attack and a steady defense, it was the passing game that led Temple to the 24-14 victory over ECU. Trailing 10-7 in the 4th quarter it was a 51-yard pass to receiver Robby Anderson from PJ Walker that sparked the Owls offense. Walker finished the game with 250 yards passing and one touchdown and Anderson had the best game this season with 126 yards on eight catches. ECU did a good job limiting star back Jahad Thomas to only 66 yards rushing, but it was his 14-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for the undefeated Owls. Led by linebacker Taylor Matakevich’s 13 tackles, one sack, and one interception the Temple defense slowed down an ECU offense that had scored at least 30 points in the previous four games.
UConn Huskies 3-5 (1-3)
Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs had more success as a runner than he did as a passer in the 37-13 loss to Cincinnati. The sophomore quarterback ran for 90 yards on 17 carries but only had 87 passing yards on 12-of-27 passing attempts — he was eventually replaced by Tim Boyle who did not fare much better. Nothing seemed to go right offensively as the team only had 266 total yards and had two turnovers. One thing about giving up as many yards as the Huskies did, it gives your defense a lot of tackle practice. Linebacker Junior Joseph (16) and safeties Adrew Adams (13) and Obi Melifonwu (13) all eclipsed double-digit tackles in the losing effort.
USF Bulls 4-3 (2-1)
Could this be a sign of the Bulls turning the corner or just a matter of beating a bad SMU team. Either way USF accomplished something in the 38-14 victory over SMU that it hadn’t done enough in the past — beat the teams you are supposed to. Taking advantage of the Mustangs struggles against mobile quarterbacks, Quinton Flowers ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns. With star running back Marlon Mack out of the lineup due to injury, Flowers took it upon himself to lead USF to its third consecutive victory. Mack’s backup Darius Tice ran for 47 yards and a touchdown as well. Jamie Byrd led the defensive charge with 10 tackles two sacks and three tackles-for-loss.
UCF Golden Knights 0-8 (0-4)
The 59-10 homecoming loss to Houston was later found to be more costly than expected as head coach George O’Leary later resigned as head coach. Justin Holman has been a shell of himself since returning from injury as he only completed 14-of-27 passes for 183 yards and three interceptions. UCF was limited to only 280 yards and never seemed to be able to recover from a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the early seconds of the game. Tre’Quan Smith had seven receptions for 89 yards and was the lone bright spot in what is turning out to be a disastrous season for the Golden Knights.
Houston Cougars 7-0 (4-0)
Greg Ward Jr. is the star of the Houston team but in the 59-10 blowout victory over UCF it was the run game that led the way as the team rushed for 366 yards and five touchdowns. Leading the way was Kenneth Farrow with 167 yards on 13 carries. Ryan Jackson contributed nicely as well with 75 yards on eight carries. Even with the team not relying on him as much Ward Jr. passed for 210 yards and completed 70% of his passes. The offensive domination was made easy by a defense that forced four UCF turnovers — including an 85-yard fumble return by Brandon Wilson.
Memphis Tigers 7-0 (3-0)
Memphis found itself in a shootout against Tulsa and fortunately for the Tigers it had more bullets in their gun. Paxton Lynch is turning into a prolific sharpshooter and making it hard for any team he faces. In the 66-42 victory, Lynch passed for 447 yards and four touchdowns. In addition to the airshow, the Tigers got it done on the ground as well. Doroland Dorceus (32 carries for 138 yards) and Jamarius Henderson (14 carries for 112 yards ) took advantage of a Tulsa defense that was focused on stopping Lynch — which they didn’t do a good job of either. Even with the Memphis defense sacking Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans five times, it left a lot to be desired as it surrendered 534 total yards.
Navy Midshipmen 5-1 (3-0)
Known more for his running ability in the 31-14 victory over Tulane, Keenan Reynolds showed the ability to be a more than capable passer as he had 134 passing yards on 7-of-11 attempts. Shockingly the Navy rush offense was limited to only 133 yards, with Reynolds leading the way with only 38 yards on 21 carries. One thing that helped the Midshipmen in the 17 point victory was that it forced three consecutive Tulane turnovers — including an interception by Lorentez Barbour.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane 3-4 (0-3)
If all it had to do was score, Tulsa may be undefeated, but football is a game that you have to defend as well and for most of the season that has been a huge problem for the Golden Hurricane. In the 66-42 loss to Memphis, it became more apparent as the offense played well enough to win, the defense just couldn’t stop Paxton Lynch. In a losing effort, Dane Evans passed for 421 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target, Keyarris Garrett caught a career-high 14 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Despite the video game numbers in the air, the Tulsa offense was without starting running back Zach Langer, which negated the desire for that side of the ball to be balanced.
SMU Mustangs 1-6 (0-3)
The struggles against quarterbacks who can run continued in the 38-14 loss to USF. You would think that because it faces a mobile quarterback in practice, that the Mustang defense would fare better… but it hasn’t played out that way. The Mustangs actually outplayed USF statistically as it had more yards, first downs and passing yards, but four turnovers killed any momentum that the team was trying to develop. Matt Davis was ineffective with only 113 passing yards and one interception and was eventually replaced by Darrel Colbert Jr, who filled in nicely and completed 11-of-13 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown. The offense has enough playmakers to be competitive — Xavier Jones rushed for 51 yards and one touchdown and Cortland Sutton had three catches for 56 yards and one touchdown — but the team must limit the turnovers and find some way of stopping a mobile quarterback.
Tulane Green Wave 2-5 (1-3)
Two fumbles and an interception by quarterback Tanner Lee proved to be the ultimate undoing for Tulane in the 31-14 defeat. The Green Wave played well enough to win the game, but the turnovers — all of which came on consecutive drives — proved to be too much to overcome for a team that is still learning how to play well consistently. Outside of the turnovers Lee passed for 205 yards on 22-of-31 completions. Dontrell Hilliard ran for 51 yards and scored on a 19-yard run to tie the game at seven in the second quarter.
Sports Q&A AAC Player of the Week:
Keyarris Garrett Wide Receiver, Tulsa: It’s rare that I give the player of the week to a guy on a team that lost. But Garris showed the ability to make big plays despite the defense knowing where Dane Evans was going. Unfortunately for the Golden Hurricane offense, the defense has yet to provide much help or the nation could be talking about this prolific offense more.
Game of Week 9:
Notre Dame vs. Temple
Last week I had the Owls falling to ECU and PJ Walker and that stout Temple defense proved me wrong as they limited the Pirates offense to only 14 points. This week they face a more stiff challenge in the no. 9 ranked Fighting Irish. Both teams bring very good defenses into the game, but I think the fact that the Irish have more offense playmakers will be the difference. If somehow Temple pulls off this upset, the conference will then have two legitimate candidates, the other being Memphis — Houston is lacking that signature win –, that could be the “Group of 5” representative. Unfortunately, they don’t and Notre Dame keeps its own College Football Playoff hopes alive. Notre Dame 37 Temple 24