SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction

Bowl Season

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction

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SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction


The Utah State Aggies and Memphis Tigers will do battle in this year’s First Responder Bowl. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for.


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Who will end the year on a positive note?

SERVPRO FIRST RESPONDER BOWL: Memphis Tigers (6-6, 3-5 American) vs. Utah State Aggies (6-6, 5-3 Mountain West)

WHEN: Tuesday, December 27 — 1:15 PM MT/12:15 PM PT

WHERE: Gerald J. Ford Stadium; Dallas, TX

WEATHER: Mostly sunny, high of 50 degrees

TV: ESPN

STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes ESPN, by following this link.

RADIO: The Memphis broadcast can be found on 98.9 FM (WKIM) in and around Memphis, as well as on 1300 AM (WNQM) in Nashville. The Utah State broadcast can be found on the affiliates of the Aggie Sports Network, which includes flagship 1280 AM/97.5 FM (KZNS) out of Salt Lake City. The game can also be found on satellite radio, via Sirius XM channel 381.

SERIES RECORD: Memphis leads the all-time series, 4-3. In the last meeting on September 17, 1977, the Tigers defeated the Aggies, 31-26, in Memphis.

LAST GAME: Memphis lost on the road against SMU, 34-31, while Utah State lost at Boise State, 42-23.

WEBSITES: GoTigersGo.com, the official Memphis athletics website | UtahStateAggies.com, the official Utah State athletics website

GAME NOTES (PDF): Memphis | Utah State

ODDS: Memphis -7.5

SP+ PROJECTION: Memphis by 19.9 (87% win probability)

FEI PROJECTION: Memphis by 15.0

PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: Memphis 78.35% win probability (34.07-23.25)

The Utah State Aggies will have an opportunity to clinch a postseason win for the second straight season in this year’s First Responder Bowl, where they will look to get the upper hand against the Memphis Tigers.

Though neither team was as competitive in conference play as they hoped this season, both teams survived challenges to get this far and have plenty to play for despite the seemingly low stakes. Utah State can secure back-to-back bowl victories for the first time since winning three straight between 2012 and 2014 while Memphis, whose appearance in last year’s Hawaii Bowl got canceled, can do the same for the first time ever.

Here’s how the Aggies and Tigers can finish 2022 with a victory in the First Responder Bowl.

Three Keys to an Utah State Victory

1. Avoid the backbreaking turnover.

The Aggies haven’t always taken care of the football during Blake Anderson’s tenure and while that got overlooked during their 2021 conference championship run, it was one big reason why the title defense never came together: Their 24 giveaways were the most in the Mountain West, as was their -11 turnover margin in losses.

That kind of discipline will take on renewed important one more time this season, though, since the Memphis defense managed 19 takeaways, including six games in which they forced at least two turnovers and had a 5-1 record. If Utah State loses this game, it’s likely because they’ll have once again been their own worst enemy.

2. Get defensive stops on third-and-short.

One struggle that didn’t get a lot of attention this year is how much the  Aggies have struggled to keep opponents from moving the chains in short-yardage situations. Despite a 21% stuff rate which ranks 30th among FBS defenses, their 85.7% power success rate allowed is 130th. Put another way, only Bowling Green gave up more than the 7.71 yards per carry that Utah State did on third-and-3-or-less.

Memphis’s Jeyvon Ducker has been the to-go guy in those situations with eight first downs on 11 third-down carries, so Hale Motu’apuaka and Poukesi Vakuata and company will want to keep him in their sights to get off the field as often as possible.

3. Give Cooper Legas time to throw.

Utah State may have the upper hand against a Tigers pass rush that underwhelmed in the regular season: Defensive ends Cormontae Hamilton and Jaylon Allen combined for 8.5 sacks, but Memphis’s 3.9% overall sack rate ranks 122nd in the country.

Offensive tackles Jacob South and Alfred Edwards III, the latter of whom will set a program record with his 53rd career start on Tuesday, could have their hands full against Hamilton and Allen but any help they can provide to Cooper Legas will be critical throughout the game.

Three Keys to a mEMPHIS Victory

1. Get Caleb Prieskorn the ball.

The AAC’s top tight end proved to be a big playmaker for a number of reasons, but Memphis was better overall when they fed him in the red zone. Five of his six touchdowns came in Tigers victories, so it may not be a total coincidence that they were 2-4 in the second half of the year when he didn’t find the end zone at all.

At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, Prieskorn could be a physical matchup problem for Utah State’s linebackers and safeties, so Seth Henigan may want to test that theory early and see if Memphis can gain an upper hand that way.

2. Stop Calvin Tyler Jr.

On the whole, Memphis’s run defense has been solid this year, ranking 47th in stuff rate, 43rd in power success rate, and 30th in the country by opportunity rate allowed, but the Tigers did get pushed on that front by some of the tougher competition in the AAC: Houston, East Carolina, Tulane, and UCF were the four teams to manage 4.0 yards per carry and Memphis lost to each of them, giving up nine rushing touchdowns to that cohort.

Utah State will almost certainly attempt to join that group with Tyler Jr., who will be playing his last collegiate game before family and friends in his home state. No one in the Mountain West embodied the “you run when you win, not win when you run” philosophy better because the Aggies were 4-1 in games in which he ran for at least 100 yards, so spoiling any potential head of steam should be at the top of Memphis’s plans.

3. Break even, at a minimum, in the field position game.

One interesting thing that both teams have had in common throughout the season is that they have often benefitted from strong field position on offense. According to Parker Fleming, the Aggies and Tigers both rank in the top 25 (23rd and 19th, respectively), meaning that special teams could play a big role.

With that in mind, punter Joe Doyle and kickoff specialist Tanner Gillis will need to bring their A-game to Dallas. Doyle led the AAC with 46.7 yards per punt, launching 17 kicks of over 50 yards and landing 15 inside the 20-yard line, but Gillis had a touchback rate of only 45.7%, meaning that Utah State’s Terrell Vaughn could have opportunities to flip the field if the Tigers aren’t careful.

Prediction

Utah State did well to turn their season around after a disastrous September, but they never ironed out all of the kinks even as the record improved. The lack of discipline, both in terms of penalties and turnovers, persisted and there isn’t much reason to suspect that won’t betray them one more time against a Memphis team that, if nothing else, can put up points.

Memphis 31, Utah State 21

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