Two of the country’s elite offenses will be on display when the SMU football team faces Memphis on Saturday at the Liberty Bowl.
The Mustangs enter the game with an offense that ranks in the top 10 in total yardage and scoring, while Memphis has been equally effective on the scoreboard and put up slightly better numbers in the passing game.
“We’ll have to play really hard for four quarters and play much more disciplined this week to have a chance because this is by far the best offense we’ve seen in a long time,” defensive coordinator Scott Symons told the media on Tuesday. “Honestly, they might be better than Oklahoma, looking at them just all the way around.”
Memphis scores slightly fewer points per game than Oklahoma, but it does have a top-10 scoring offense. The Tigers average 39.7 points per game and have been held under 30 points just three times this season.
Denton Ryan High School alum Seth Henigan leads Memphis at quarterback with 2,864 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes on the season. The junior has provided a steady veteran presence under center and has gotten help from Old Dominion running back transfer Blake Watson, who is approaching the 1000-yard rushing threshold.
“That running back is as good as anybody in the league,” SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee told the media on Wednesday. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s fast, [and] he can catch it. He’s an all-around player.”
Henigan has been particularly impressive over the last three games, throwing for 1,008 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception.
“They get the ball out quick,” Lashlee added. “Seth’s really experienced. He knows how to get the ball out of his hands. He doesn’t hold the ball. When we get our opportunities, just like every week, the pass rush is huge because if you don’t get some pressure on him, it’s going to be just like last week. He’s going to find the open guy, and it’s going to be a completion.”
SMU’s defense has been one of the most impressive units in the nation, earning Symons a nomination for the Broyles Award as the country’s top assistant. While the unit had a slow start last week, they ultimately took over the game and held a high-scoring offense to just one score in the second half.
Yet, Memphis brings an even more significant challenge, and the defense will need to answer the call again.
“Our guys will have to continue to play better, and we’re going to have to elevate our level to give ourselves a chance in this game,” Symons said. “I think they know that. This is a tough place to play. It’s a good football team that’s won a lot of close games and put up points on everyone they’ve played, so we’ll have to play at a high level.”
SMU has an elite offense of its own, using a balanced attack to score the seventh-most points in college football. Quarterback Preston Stone and the passing game get most of the attention because of the perception of the offensive scheme, but two running backs ran for more than 100 yards last week.
The Mustangs can score at will, but they know no amount of scoring in this game will be enough until the final whistle sounds.
“It’s going to be a tight game all the way through four quarters,” SMU offensive coordinator Casey Woods told the media. “There may be a situation where we’re ahead, and if we’re ahead, that’s not enough points to stay ahead. If we’re behind, then we’ve got to claw our way back in to make sure we keep ourselves in contention to get it to the end of the game where we have a chance to win.”
SMU has not won a road game against Memphis since 2015, but Lashlee is not letting that affect his approach as the Mustangs try to use the regular season’s final two weeks to earn a berth in the conference championship game.
“There’s no secret we’ve struggled there, but it doesn’t affect this Memphis team or this SMU team,” Lashlee explained. “We’ve got a lot to play for. … If we can find a way to win, we’ve got a chance to go undefeated on the road in conference play, and that’s tough to do no matter what league you’re in.”
SMU (8-2, 6-0 in the American Athletic Conference) and Memphis (8-2, 5-1) will kick off at 11 a.m. CT on Saturday.