The First Responder Bowl features a couple of 6-6 teams that have gotten to those records in very different paths. Memphis got off to a 4-1 start but then suffered a late meltdown in a 1-point loss to Houston then fall in OT to East Carolina as they went on to lose five of their final seven games. Will momentum (or lack thereof) be the deciding factor in the Memphis vs Utah State matchup?
The Aggies on the other hand are rolling into Tuesday’s contest as winners of five of their last seven. Both of these teams have been bowl game stalwarts over the last decade-plus, with Utah State playing in the postseason for the 10th time since 2011 and Memphis playing for their ninth straight year. The Tigers are anxious to get back after their Hawai’i Bowl appearance was cancelled last season after Hawaii had to withdraw the day before the game due to a COVID outbreak in their program.
Memphis Defense Under Fire
The Tigers had a brief flash in the pan where they looked like they had a legitimate defense in a 26-10 win over Tulsa and then throttling North Alabama 59-0 albeit in a heavy mismatch as -35 point favorites. That defense was nowhere to be found in five of the other seven games to close out the season though, allowing at least 33 points in each which unsurprisingly were all losses.
Memphis giving up so many points over the last two months is kind of surprising because they are pretty stout against the run (121.8, 26th). SMU for example ran the ball 37 times for just 113 yards in the regular season finale, but still picked up a 34-31 win.
If the Tigers defense does struggle in the Memphis vs Utah State matchup, they do have a QB that can keep them hanging in a shootout. Seth Henigan is off to a great start to his collegiate career, throwing for 3,322 yards with 25/8 last year as a freshman and following that up with 3,275 and 19/8 in 2022.
Disappointing Season for Aggies
It’s always good when you can make a bowl game, but Utah State was expecting great things following an 11-3 campaign last year that culminated in a 24-13 win over Oregon State in the LA Bowl as +6.5 underdogs.
The Aggies won 8 of their last 9 games last season, and they’ve finished hot in 2022 as well with a 5-2 mark over their last 7. It’s even more astounding that Utah State has rebounded from a 1-4 start considering they only had QB Logan Bonner for four games. Bonner led USU to the #15 ranked pass offense in the country in 2021 with 3,560 yards and 36 TDs.
Bonner was knocked out with an injury in last year’s LA Bowl as well, but Cooper Legas came in to throw 2 TDs. Legas has been solid in a fill-in roll this season too, with USU winning in five of his last six appearances. Utah State also got good news when 1,000+ yard rusher Calvin Tyler, Jr. announced he’d play in this game despite plans to enter the NFL draft.
Free Memphis vs Utah State Betting Pick
The real X-factor in this game could be the Utah State rush defense that allows just under 200 yards per game. Memphis has a great passing game, but if they can get things working on the ground too it’s going to be tough for the Aggies to get off the field. Tyler is a solid RB for USU, but the Tigers run defense was stout on the year for the most part.
Free Pick: Memphis -7