Game Preview: #25 UCLA @ Memphis

When: Saturday, September 16 @ 11 AM

Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium

TV: ABC National

Spread: UCLA (-3.5)

Injury List

UCLA

DL Boss Tagaloa did not play last week against Hawaii, while fellow members of the defense LB Kenny Young (head), S Adarius Pickett, and S Jaleel Wadood all left the game with injuries and their status remains in question for Saturday morning. Starting RB Sosa Jamabo sustained an injury last week in practice and sat out the Hawaii game. WR Jordan Lasley also sat out the Hawaii game, after recording 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in the season opener, and his status, like Jamabo’s is also unknown. LB Josh Woods will sit out the first half of the game due to a targeting penalty in the 4th quarter of the Hawaii game.

Memphis

Sam Craft, Jackson Dillon, Jared Gentry, and Darian Porter were joined on the season-ending IR list by DB Tim Gordon. On the bright side, DB Marcus Green is back on the practice field this week and is expected to make his season debut within the next few weeks.  LB Genard Avery and RB Doroland Dorceus, who were nicked up in the ULM game, are expected to be full go on Saturday. DE Jonathon Wilson will have to sit out the first half as punishment for a targeting penalty during the 4th quarter of the ULM game.

Breaking Down The Bruins

Jim Mora’s Bruins are riding the strong-arm of Heisman Trophy candidate Josh Rosen to a 2-0 start and the #25 spot in the Associated Press Ranking. In his last 5 quarters of action, Rosen has completed 41-51 passes for 621 yards and 9 touchdowns. In the Hawaii game last week, Rosen led UCLA to touchdowns on their first 7 drives of the game. Rosen has several prolific receivers, one of which is tight end Caleb Wilson who reeled in 15 catches for 208 yards against Texas A&M, and followed up on the career performance with a touchdown against Hawaii. Redshirt senior, Darren Andrews, has been a favorite target at the receiver position, catching 3 touchdowns against Hawaii and another 2 scores against the Aggies to go along with 142 yards. Sophomore Theo Howard stepped up in place of injured Jordan Lasley to haul in 7 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown last Saturday. Simply put, this aerial attack has several weapons and can create a big play in the blink of an eye, or 1 missed defensive assignment.

On the flip side, UCLA has finished each of the first two games with rushing totals of 63 and 132 yards, respectively. The low total for the Texas A&M game make sense, as the Bruins were trailing basically the entire game, but the 132 rushing yards in a game that saw the Bruins lead from the opening drive would worry me a bit if I were the on the UCLA coaching staff.

On defense it has been a different story for UCLA. Before the furious comeback in Week 1, the Bruins were trailing Texas A&M 44-10 in a game in which the Aggies finished with just 89 passing yards. A&M piled on 382 rushing yards in defeat, and Hawaii followed up by outgaining UCLA in total yards 515-505 with 281 of those yards coming on the ground. Texas A&M went on to struggle against Nicholls State, a FCS team in Week 2, while Hawaii picked up wins against winless UMass and Western Carolina (FCS), before falling to UCLA. The Bruins have put up big numbers, but their competition appears to have been below average so far this season.

The UCLA defense did switch to a 4-3 base scheme after week 1, so this could explain some of the struggles against Hawaii and to be fair, they did win the game in dominant fashion 56-23. The defensive line returns several key contributors, including senior leader Jacob Turoti-Mariner, while LB Kenny Young and Safety Jaleel Wadood ranked second and third on the team in tackles last year, with Young earning 2nd Team All-Pac 12 honors. However, both Young and Wadood suffered head injuries on separate, controversial targeting penalties against Hawaii and it would be a surprise, but not impossible, if they are cleared to play in Memphis.

The Matchup

While there is still quite a bit to learn about Mike Norvell’s Tigers, we know that UCLA is an air it out team. Many expect Memphis to be similar, but their run game appears to be much better than UCLA’s and is what the Tigers had to lean on in their only game of the season. I expect both teams will be able to move the ball fairly easily, and it will come down to which team makes fewer mistakes. If, for some reason, Rosen can’t get the Bruins offense going, they don’t appear to have much of a run game to lean on.

While Riley Ferguson and his top target Anthony Miller haven’t been able to get into a groove like the UCLA offense, the Tigers are returning almost all of their offensive starters, so we have a good idea of what this unit can do. If it takes Ferguson a few series to get into the flow, we know the Tigers can give the ball to Doroland Dorceus, Darrell Henderson, or Tony Pollard to either move the chains or break off a long run to the endzone. Given UCLA’s porous run defense in the first 2 games, I’m giving the edge in this aspect of the game to Memphis, which could be crucial if the Tigers are able to take the lead and can keep Rosen and Co off the field.

Both defenses are coming into the game missing a few players who were expected to be key contributors in the preseason. The Memphis defense has yet to have a true chance to prove themselves this year, while UCLA’s defense has not exactly shown that they can stop a legitimate offense. TJ Carter, Jonathan Cook, Austin Hall and the rest of the Tigers secondary will have their work cut out for them, but this group does have some talent and have made (or shown the ability to make) big plays when the team needs them most. The unit that can force the opposing offense into a couple of turnovers and get the ball back to their offense will more than likely come out of this game victorious.

Prediction

I expect the Tigers to look to establish the run game early, mixing in some play-action deep shots to keep the Bruins on their toes. UCLA should be able to move the ball against an unproven Memphis secondary, but my gut tells me TJ Carter or Austin Hall make a play to swing the moment of this game. Add that to the lethal rushing attack of the Tigers and I think we will see Tiger fans celebrating on the field of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, just like they have the past two times a top 25 team came into town…TIGERS WIN 45-38.

*Photo belongs to GoTigersGo.com/ Joe Murphy

 

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