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QB Paxton Lynch key reason for Memphis Tigers’ 5-0 start

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) If Justin Fuente is the coach behind the Memphis Tigers’ recent success, Paxton Lynch has emerged as the star of the production.

”Lynch is one of the best kept secrets in college football,” Mississippi linebacker Mike Hilton said. ”He really leads the team offensively. He’s putting up great numbers, and he’s got a lot of guys around him making plays.”

Lynch is a big reason why Memphis is off to a 5-0 start and a school-record 12-game winning streak that also is third-longest in the nation. Only Ohio State (19) and TCU (14) have longer winning streaks than the Tigers, and Lynch’s skills will be on full display Saturday when 13th-ranked Mississippi (5-1) visits Memphis.

His production and poise have the Tigers not only undefeated but sitting just outside the Top 25. Lynch has completed 70 percent of his passes (103 of 146) without an interception this season, helping Memphis rank second in the country in completion percentage. He has 10 touchdown passes and is averaging 307 yards passing. His 181.5 pass efficiency ratio is third nationally.

Those numbers have the redshirt junior on several postseason award lists. His 6-foot-7, 245-pound frame combined with his strong arm and field vision also have pushed up his draft stock in conversations about future NFL quarterbacks.

”With his arm strength and skills, it makes for a pretty good guy to have back there.” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said, later adding: ”Anytime you can get a quarterback that has vision – whether it is gaps through the offensive line or not – anytime you have a quarterback like that, it is a definite advantage.

”Obviously, it isn’t the only thing he does well, but that is a good gift to have.”

Lynch has been a big key starting 30 straight games for Memphis. With Lynch at the helm, the Tigers picked up where they left off last season.

They rank fourth nationally in scoring averaging 47.8 points and eighth with 541.2 yards of total offense per game. Lynch has thrown for 300 yards or more in each of his past four games. He ranks 18th in FBS with 1,535 yards passing, and he’s 12th nationally averaging 330.2 yards of total offense.

Lynch’s physical abilities certainly are a major factor in his success. Fuente and Lynch’s teammates say they see how the quarterback has matured since his freshman season and credit him for bringing a calming factor to the huddle.

”Pretty level-headed young man,” Fuente said of Lynch. ”He’s not taken in by a lot of the other stuff. He seems to be able to stay focused and not get too rattled. His overall command and leadership style is what I think he’s continuing to improve on, his ability to lead within his own personality.”

Lynch’s demeanor has helped the Tigers in several games this season when Memphis found itself trailing. Memphis has trailed or been tied at halftime in each of its last three games. Yet the Tigers outscored that trio of opponents by an average of 23-12 in the second half.

That trait will be tested Saturday by Ole Miss. The Rebels held Memphis to just 104 yards total offense in a 24-3 win last year, well below the 498 yards the Tigers had been averaging. This could be a shootout with Ole Miss averaging 339.5 yards passing a game with Chad Kelly and ranked 11th. That’s one spot ahead of Memphis and Lynch (335 yards passing).

Lynch’s teammates are confident in their quarterback.

”When you know you have that good of a football player commanding your offense, and leading the way, you know there is always a chance,” tight end Daniel Montiel said.

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