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Talented Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, offense has Auburn defenders on alert

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn linebacker Kris Frost tackles Richard Mullaney Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the Iron Bowl.
Auburn linebacker Kris Frost tackles Richard Mullaney Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the Iron Bowl.

The draft buzz surrounding Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch isn’t meaningless hype.

In preparing for the Birmingham Bowl, Auburn defenders have spent the past week watching enough film of the talented junior to know he’s the real deal.

“The quarterback could possibly be a top-five draft pick, No. 1 off the board,” Auburn linebacker Justin Garrett said. “He’s very tall, (has a) good arm and can throw the ball anywhere.”

Lynch doesn’t have gaudy individual numbers this season — 3,670 passing yards and 28 touchdowns — compared to other quarterbacks like Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson or Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, but is one of the most efficient signal callers in college football.

The 6-foot-7, 245-pounder is completing more than 68 percent of his passes and has the best touchdown to interception ratio in the country by a wide margin at 9.3.

Auburn defensive back Blake Countess complimented the way Lynch makes challenging throws look easy. 

“He kind of threw it off his back foot one game,” Countess said. “I don't know which game it was, but he threw a go route off his back foot and you just like at it and go ‘wow’ that's definitely something we're going to have to stay in coverage down the field. He does scramble and he can make the throw almost effortlessly.”

Auburn and Memphis shared one opponent this year in Ole Miss and Lynch’s performance in his team’s 37-24 upset win over the Rebels is something Auburn coaches and players continue to talk about.

Auburn’s offense scored one touchdown against Ole Miss and couldn’t find the end zone when it was inside the 25-yard line on three occasions.

Lynch went 39 of 54 for 384 yards with three touchdowns against the Rebels.  

 “We have to come out there with our A-game,” Garrett said. “People may look at it like we're going to the Birmingham Bowl and we should be sad about it, but it's an opportunity to go against a Top 5 draft pick for our defense. That motivates me enough just to get out there and go hard every day.”

Lynch also impresses Auburn linebacker Kris Frost, but the senior stressed the importance of staying disciplined in all phases.

A focus on tight coverage on Memphis’ wide receivers can’t come at the expense of keeping Lynch in the pocket or bottling up the run game.

While Memphis didn’t have one standout running back, it still ran the ball efficiently to the tune of 186 yards a game and 29 touchdowns on the season relying on a trio of underclassman that included sophomore Doreland Dorceus, sophomore Jarvis Cooper and freshman Jamarius Henderson.

“Not just a talented quarterback, but a talented team all-around,” Frost said. “Their offense does a lot of stuff. They won a lot of games this season for a reason. They do a lot of stuff with balancing the run and the pass while at the same time, when you least expect it, hit you with a deep ball. That quarterback is able to throw through some tight windows so we have to just be able to do everything we can to get the ball out of his hands and force his hand.”

Auburn started putting in the game plan for Memphis on Thursday with defensive back Jonathan Jones summing up the challenge ahead.

“We have a lot to get ready for,” Jones said with a smile.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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