Sept. 14 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — Memphis (2-0) at South Alabama (1-1)

(Brady White photo courtesy Justin Ford/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 14, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala., 3:30 p.m. EDT.

Brady White looks to lead Memphis to a home-and-home sweep of South Alabama as the Tigers take to the road for the first time this season Saturday.

Tigers offense looks sharp in rout of Southern

After relying on its defense to defeat Ole Miss 15-10 in its season-opener, Memphis’ offense took center stage in waxing FCS foe Southern University 55-24 last weekend.

White threw for 337 yards and a pair of touchdowns while completing 17 of 21 passes, looking for more comfortable in first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Johns’ system. He had scoring tosses of 55 yards to Antonio Gibson and 21 to running back Kenneth Gainwell, who added two rushing scores while totaling 113 yards from scrimmage.

“I think we left a lot on the field,” White told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “We’re happy we won, but at the same time, I know we can perform at a lot higher level. I’m going to make sure of that this upcoming week. That’s a point of emphasis. I’m making sure we’re pushing our guys and I’m being a leader in that aspect so that we maximize every opportunity on Saturdays or whenever we’re playing.”

White was also effective in last season’s 52-35 win over the Jaguars, throwing for 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Memphis rolled up 563 yards of offense in that game as Darrell Henderson rushed for 188 yards and two scores.

Gainwell will again be the feature back since Patrick Taylor — who had 1,122 yards last season splitting time with Henderson — is out for a second straight game due to a lower leg injury. Gainwell has rushed for 162 yards in Memphis’ two wins and is a dependable receiver out of the backfield — his 10 receptions have already exceeded his total for all of last season.

White and Damonte Coxie continue to be on the same wavelength, with Coxie totaling team highs of 12 receptions and 156 yards.

Jaguars hope different QB leads to different result versus Memphis

South Alabama’s struggles in last year’s defeat centered around an ability to stop Memphis since Evan Orth had the best game of his career by throwing for 360 yards — tying a school record — and three touchdowns.

Orth, though, has graduated and Cephus Johnson has taken the reins of the offense, which has become option-based. The Jaguars also tuned up for this game with an overmatched FCS opponent last weekend, pulling away for a 37-14 victory over Jackson State. South Alabama set a school record with 413 rushing yards, with 189 of them coming from Tra Minter in a strong bounce-back performance following a 35-21 loss at then-No. 21 Nebraska.

“Cephus [Johnson] also did a great job reading the option and knowing when to give it and when to pull it,” Jaguars coach Steve Campbell said. “He also hit some passes early, but we cannot turn the ball over. I know one way we can prevent turning the ball over is to take the snap and hand the ball to Tra Minter who hasn’t turned the ball over.

“Our defense was doing a good job of keeping them off the board. When you don’t turn the ball over, you’re able to run the ball and play good defense, that’s winning football.”

Minter has averaged 8.7 yards per carry while totaling 226 yards in the first two games, but Johnson has been picked off twice in each contest while throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns.

One area where the Jaguars have plenty of room for improvement is defensively early in the game. Against Nebraska, they allowed a game-opening 81-yard touchdown drive before settling down, and the Tigers totaled 137 of their 265 yards in the opening two possessions that resulted in a missed field goal and a touchdown.

“They have some guys back this season, and are playing a lot of new guys at some of the skill positions who are very explosive,” Campbell told AL.com about Memphis. “They have a lot of team speed, what sticks out on both sides of the ball is how fast these guys are. It will be a big challenge for us this week, but it is one that we are definitely looking forward to.”

Notable Trends

South Alabama is:

  • 0-4 ATS in its last four games following a straight up win by 20 or more points.
  • 8-20 ATS in its last 28 games vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 1-3-1 ATS in its last five September games.

Memphis is:

  • 20-7 ATS in its last 27 games after totaling 450 or more yards in its previous game.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Memphis -10 1st half (-121)

The hedge is that Memphis is able to contain South Alabama’s option-based offense, especially since Johnson has yet to show any consistency in the passing game. The Jaguars’ slow starts defensively in the first two games of the season also play into this pick, along with the Tigers scoring 40 first-half points in their two wins.

****4-Star Pick****

OVER 55.5 points (-110)

A confidence pick in White and the Tigers to again have their way with the Jaguars offensively. The continuity offensively with White, Gainwell, and Coxie — who had eight receptions for 113 yards in last year’s win — should power Memphis to another big number while doing the heavy lifting for the over to deliver.

The over is 6-1 in Memphis’ last seven games versus Sun Belt opponents and 11-3 in its last 14 non-conference matchups. The over has also trended strongly with the Jaguars, hitting in five of their last six against above-.500 teams and in six straight September contests.

This line has plummeted since opening at 62.5 points and is now down to 55.5, which is a low-side hook on a touchdown total. The expectation is for Memphis’ offense to start quick and sustain that momentum, with the Jaguars providing help late in clearing the number.

***3-Star Picks***

Memphis -19 (-110)

Even without Taylor, the Tigers look to have too much offensive firepower for the Jaguars, especially with White looking more settled at quarterback. Memphis should also fare well on defense versus South Alabama’s option-based attack, entering this contest holding opponents to 3.4 yards per carry on the ground.

Memphis -20 and OVER 57.5 points double (+230)

There is more concern about the latter than the former since it is two points higher than the individual over/under, but with the Tigers’ offense finding a groover last weekend — albeit against an overmatched opponent — there is confidence in them getting to at least 40 points and hope for a backdoor hit on the over with a late touchdown.

UNDER 28.5 points 1st half (-110)

There is concern about the high-side hook on a touchdown number, especially with a lack of trust in South Alabama’s offense when the game is competitive in the first two quarters. The Jaguars’ change in offensive style means last year’s game in which the teams combined for 42 points in the first two quarters is meaningless for comparison purposes, and again, Memphis’ run defense should be able to bottle up Johnson.

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