Locking down the airwaves — Bulls look to shut down Tigers’ passing game

Memphis’ Brady White is one of the AAC’s most efficient quarterbacks with a 62.5% completion rate and 1,691 passing yards through five games. Shutting him down could give USF a fighting chance. MEMPHIS ATHLETICS PHOTO

From winning the AAC Championship in 2019 to a middle-of-the-pack 3-2 start, Memphis has had quite a bit of inconsistency over the past calendar year.

Last week on Halloween, the Tigers lost 49-10 to Cincinnati, the team they beat last year to win the conference title. Two weeks before, Memphis posted back-to-back conference wins over Temple and UCF.

One virtual constant for the Tigers has been the play of their veteran quarterback, Brady White, a man under center who is often tabbed as one of the best in the league.

USF (1-5, 0-4) on Saturday travels to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to take on (3-2, 2-2) Memphis, a team loaded with offensive firepower led by White.

The Tigers currently average 503.2 total offensive yards per game, good for 11th best in the nation.

The bulk of that yardage comes through the air, where Memphis averages 338.2 passing yards per game.

The Tigers’ robust offense is led by White, who has been at the helm for Memphis since 2018.

Through five games, White passed for 1691 yards, going 125-of-200, with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.

During Wednesday afternoon’s press conference, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer gave his respect to the accomplished quarterback.

“When you get a guy that’s played as many reps [as White], he’s not going to be rattled,” Spencer said. “He’s seen pressure, he knows where to go with the ball under pressure, every time. He’s creative enough to scramble and hit [his] weapons, he knows who his playmakers are.”

Coach Jeff Scott also spoke on the explosiveness that Memphis holds on offense, specifically singling out their playmakers.

“Memphis is very impressive on tape,” Scott said Monday. “I would say the one word that maybe describes them is explosive. 

“They have some explosive playmakers.”

One of those playmakers is redshirt junior Calvin Austin III, a 5-foot-9-inch receiver who has exploded onto the scene in his third year.

The receiver out of Harding Academy is seeing collegiate career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His totals for the season include 31 receptions, 545 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions.

Along with Austin III, White also leans on wide receiver Tahj Washington and tight end Sean Dykes, each of whom have at least 280 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions.

As for the ground game, Memphis relies heavily on sophomore Rodrigues Clark and redshirt junior Kylan Watkins.

Clark carries the most while Watkins complements him.

Over five games, Clark has 91 rushing attempts, 437 rushing yards and one touchdown. Watkins has collected 32 rushing attempts for 240 yards and one touchdown.

As Spencer put it, the offensive numbers are almost video game-like.

“You look at their numbers, and some of them are almost Madden-like numbers,” he said. “You look at what they can do when they get going, and they’re in rhythm. They’ve just done a tremendous job recruiting up there, weapons all over the place.”

With an arsenal around him, White looks to continue his success against USF.

If USF wants to neutralize some of the Tigers’ weapons, the Bulls’ defensive backs must come up big, according to USF cornerback Mike Hampton.

“We’ve got to ball, on the outside we’ve got to ball and stay on our man,” Hampton said. “They’re very explosive at receiver, very good speed. We’ve got to get hands-on, and run with them.”

Luckily for the Bulls, they have two veteran cornerbacks in Hampton and KJ Sails that they can rely on. 

In addition to the veteran duo, USF has other players in the secondary such as Daquan Evans, Mekhi LaPointe and Bentlee Sanders in the effort to contain Memphis’ high-powered offense.

The Bulls rank 18th in the nation with 183.8 passing yards allowed per game, and Evans ranks 10th in the league with two interceptions.

While Spencer does express his esteem for White, he believes that at the end of the day it comes down to execution.

“It’s not like we’re getting something we haven’t seen before,” Spencer said. “It just comes down to our execution against their execution.

“Bottom line.”

The Bulls and the Tigers kick off Saturday at noon. The game will be televised on ESPN+ and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.