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Miami Beach Bowl Preview: Can Justin Fuente and Memphis take down BYU?

By Zac Ellis
December 18, 2014

BYU (8-4) vs. Memphis (9-3)
Dec. 22, 2 p.m.ET (ESPN)

BOWL SCHEDULE: Matchups, dates for every 2014-15 game

Reason to watch: If you like watching a talented offense face a stifling defense, look no further than Miami. BYU averages 36.2 points per game and scored at least 40 in three wins over Power Five foes (Cal, Texas, Virginia). Meanwhile, Memphis allows just 17.1 points per game and held four teams to 10 or fewer. This also pits two respected coaches in Bronco Mendenhall and Justin Fuente.

Keep an eye on: BYU quarterback Christian Stewart. He wasn’t supposed to be the Cougars’ answer under center this fall, but a season-ending knee injury to starter Taysom Hill against Utah State on Oct. 3 thrust Stewart into the spotlight. The senior went on to complete 59 percent of his passes for 2,273 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Stewart is fresh off a season-high 433-yard, five-score outing in a win over Cal, but he’ll face a Memphis defense that allows 5.9 yards per attempt, 10th nationally. The Tigers have more picks (14) than passing touchdowns allowed (11).

Did you know: Memphis’ nine regular-season wins are the program’s most since 1963, and it’s coming off its first conference title since 1971. When Tigers coach Fuente arrived before the 2012 campaign, Memphis had won five combined games in three years. It hasn’t won a bowl game since ’05, when it beat Akron 38-31 in the Motor City Bowl, and has played in only seven bowl games in its history.

Final analysis: BYU found its stride in the second half after shaking off a four-game losing streak in the middle of the year. The Cougars closed with four straight wins, averaging 43.8 points during that span. But Memphis can also put up points (34.7 per game) behind quarterback Paxton Lynch and running back Brandon Hayes. This clash will come down to third-down success and finishing drives, which gives the edge to Tigers linebacker Bronterrious "Tank" Jakes -- the American Athletic Conference’s co-defensive player of the year -- and his defense.

The pick: Memphis 27, BYU 21

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