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Anthony Wales runs Western Kentucky past Memphis in Boca Raton Bowl

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The Boca Raton Bowl boiled down, essentially, to one statistic: the ability of Memphis to stop the run. The Tigers ranked a respectable 44th in the country in rushing defense over their eight victories… and a dreadful 125th in their four losses, allowing an average of 372 yards and five touchdowns on 6.7 yards per carry.

Memphis couldn’t stop the run on Tuesday night, and Western Kentucky had its way with the Tigers, ending the best 2-year run in program history with a 51-31 victory.

Playing in his final collegiate game, Anthony Wales recorded the best night of his career. The senior rushed 35 times for a career-high 245 yards and three touchdowns, essentially breaking open what was a tight, 21-17 game himself. Wales’s first scoring dash came at the end of the first half put WKU up by 11 — Memphis would climb no closer than 13 the rest of the night —  his second score pushed the game into blowout territory and his final score, a 1-yard jaunt around right end with 2:18 remaining, ended any hope of a Memphis comeback.

Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White, playing back home in South Florida, was hyper-efficient as usual. White came into the night averaging 10.4 yards per attempt — which would be the most in FBS over the past three years if not for Baker Mayfield‘s 11.1 average — and improved upon that absurd number by completing 20-of-30 passes for 336 yards (that’s 11.2 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns against one interception. And White actually threw four touchdowns but had this beauty taken away by scoring technicality.

That’s offensive tackle Forrest Lamp finding the end zone on what was scored a 9-yard run, giving WKU a 14-10 lead it would not relinquish.

Memphis (8-5) struggled to run the ball, averaging only 2.5 yards on 31 carries, but Riley Ferguson still got his, completing 25-of-43 passes for 372 yards with four touchdowns and one pick.

The win closes a 2-year run under head coach Jeff Brohm — who has already left for Purdue; Nick Holt served as interim head coach on Tuesday — in which the Hilltoppers (11-3) posted a 23-5 overall record, a 17-1 mark against Conference USA competition, two C-USA titles and two bowl victories over American opponents. Those five losses: to No. 5 LSU in 2015, to No. 1 Alabama earlier this season, and losses of three, one, and three points.

What comes next will fall on the shoulders of new head coach Mike Sanford. Considering the trajectory of this program from Willie Taggart to Bobby Petrino to Brohm and now to Sanford, whatever comes next should still be pretty darn good.

Western Kentucky and Memphis in Boca Raton Bowl shootout

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Someone wake up Morty Seinfeld because we’ve got a barnburner in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Western Kentucky holds a 28-17 lead over Memphis and, as the score suggests, each defense has had trouble getting a handle on the opposing offense.

After a three-and-out to open the game, Western Kentucky scored touchdowns on its next four possessions. The Hilltoppers got touchdown passes from Mike White to Stevie Donatell, offensive lineman Forrest Lamp (though this technically went down as a run) and Nicholas Norris and a 2-yard plunge from Anthony Wales.

Western Kentucky had a chance to blow the game open just before the halftime horn. After accepting the ball at their own 15 with 35 seconds left, Western Kentucky appeared to set up to take a knee but instead handed to Wales, who ran mostly unimpeded down the left sideline for 53 yards. White threw to the end zone on the next play but was intercepted in the end zone.

White hit 13-of-18 passes for 184 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while Wales rushed 15 times for 144 yards and a score.

Memphis scored on two long touchdown passes from Riley Ferguson and, with two field goal attempts from Jake Elliott (one good, one a rare miss), the Tigers have only been truly stopped on a three-and-out to open the game and a four-and-out to close the half. Ferguson has hit 14-of-22 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, while five Tigers have rushed 16 times for 66 yards.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 20 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 20 bowl menu, which is a little thin volume-wise for the second consecutive day but could prove to be a very entertaining single-game fare.

WHO: Memphis (8-4) vs. Western Kentucky (10-3)
WHAT: The 3rd Boca Raton Bowl
WHERE: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Western Kentucky ended the 2016 regular season as Conference USA champs, winning eight of their last nine and scoring at least 44 points in every single one of those games. The Hilltoppers scored 50 or more in six of those contests.  Memphis, meanwhile, allowed at least 42 points in four of its last six games; you see where this is going, right?  This stand-alone Tuesday night bowl game has all of the makings of a defense-optional affair with offensive fireworks as far as the eye can see.  To further that point: WKU scored 10 points in a loss to top-ranked Alabama; the only teams to put more on the scoreboard against the Crimson Tide in the regular season were Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Auburn.  Both teams had to replace prolific quarterbacks this offseason — Brandon Doughty for WKU, Paxton Lynch for the U of M — and each of the successors were more than respectable, with Mike White throwing for 4,027 yards and 34 touchdowns for the Hilltoppers, Riley Ferguson 3,326 and 28 for the Tigers.  Don’t sleep on Anthony Wales, though, as the WKU running back ran for 1,376 yards this season (6.8 ypc) and whose 24 rushing touchdowns were second nationally to Navy’s Will Worth‘s 25.  Hell, he averaged exactly four yards a carry against a ‘Bama defense that gave up just 2.03 yards per carry on the season, far and away the best figure at this level of football.  Speaking of running the ball, the Hilltoppers were fourth in the country in stopping it, giving up just 99.1 yards per game.  Aerially?  That same defense was 11oth in the FBS in giving up 268.7 passing yards per game.  Again, almost every single sign is pointing toward a shootout.
THE LINE: Memphis, +5
THE PREDICTION: Western Kentucky 48, Memphis 44

Houston drops wild one in what could be Tom Herman’s last game with Cougars

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You still want him, LSU? How about, you, Texas?

Over the past couple of months if not longer, Tom Herman has been ticketed for the latter. Over the last 24 hours, it’s been the former zeroing in on the Houston head coach.

“I’m not going to talk about any other job except the one I go right now and these kids,” Herman said of the rumors in an interview prior to the Memphis game this afternoon. “There’s nothing to handle except beating Memphis.”

And therein lay the problem this Black Friday.

Playing very much like a team distracted by the whirlwind of speculation, the Cougars were down 34-17 to the Tigers at halftime and seemingly headed nowhere.  A 20-point run from the start of the third quarter through the halfway point of the fourth, however, gave UH its first lead of the game at 37-34.  The teams then traded touchdowns on their next possessions, leaving the Cougars up 44-41 with under a minute and a half remaining.

That proved to be too much time as quarterback Riley Ferguson directed a six-play, 82-yard drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass with just :19 left in the game.  Ferguson’s counterpart, Greg Ward Jr. (47-66-489-4-1), could do nothing with the few remaining the ticks on the clocks, sealing the Tigers’ wild 48-44 win.

The Cougars’ loss comes eight days after UH’s dismantling of then-No. 5 Louisville, a win that once again propelled Herman’s name to the top of coaching food chain.

After beginning the season 5-0 and climbing to as high as No. 6 in the rankings, the Cougars have now lost three of their last seven games to close out Herman’s second regular season with the football program.

One of those losses came to an SMU team that’s below .500, and came by a whopping 18 points for good measure. That, plus this loss, continued an unsettling trend for Herman’s Cougars.

Following that loss to the Mustangs, it was reported that Texas had cooled on Herman as a potential replacement for Charlie Strong should the third-year coach be dismissed. Whether this loss will have a similar chilling effect in the eyes of Texas or LSU remains to be seen.


Butch Jones expects to lose a QB at Tennessee


The quarterback competition at Tennessee appears to be losing one contender for the job. Redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson, expected to be contending for the starting job under center this fall, is expected to be leaving the program according to Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.

“As of right now, based on our recent conversations, we do not anticipate that he will be a member of our football family moving forward,” Jones said according to The Knoxville News Sentinel Tuesday at the SEC meetings in Destin, Florida.

The reason for Ferguson’s departure is unknown, although Jones suggested the decision was made between summer academic sessions.

Losing Ferguson would leave Tennessee with three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster heading into 2014. Senior Justin Worley and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman would remain. Of the three, Worley would be the most experienced passer for the Vols after playing in eight games last season and leading Tennessee with 1,239 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dobbs would be the other likely challenger for the starting job after finishing second on the team in passing yards in 2013.

Helmet sticker to Saturday Down South.