Memphis Tigers @ University of Central Florida Knights
When: Saturday, September 30 @ 6 PM CT
Where: Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida
Spread: UCF (-4)
Up To This Point
UCF comes into their American Athletic Conference opener at 2-0, with wins over Florida International (61-17) and Maryland (38-10), and receiving votes in both of the prominent national polls. The Knights offense is led by sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton, who is currently ranked 6th in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown for 538 yards and 5 touchdowns, while also leading the team in rushing yards with 98 yards on the ground. UCF’s offense is second in the nation, averaging 49.5 points per game, but lost leading rusher, Jawon Hamilton, to injury in the win at Maryland. Meanwhile the defense, led by returning AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Shaquem Griffin, is third in the nation on 3rd down defense (opponents converting on just 16% of 3rd downs) and 8th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game, at 88 yards per game.
Memphis also enters AAC play with an unblemished record, after securing wins over Louisiana Monroe, UCLA, and Southern Illinois. The wins over ULM and SIU have been rather lackluster performances, but the win over UCLA reminded everyone of why the Tigers are a top pick of national college football writers to secure the lone Group of Five spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl game. The Memphis offense is averaging 43 points per game, led by senior quarterback, Riley Ferguson, who has thrown for 783 yards and 8 touchdowns. Ferguson’s top target is senior wideout, Anthony Miller, who has hauled in 17 receptions for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns and sophomore Darrell Henderson leads the way on the ground with 345 yards and 3 touchdowns. Defensively, the Tigers have been hit pretty hard by injuries, including losing starting safety Shaun Rupert last week, but the core group of Austin Hall, Curtis Akins, Jonathan Cook, and TJ Carter are all playing extremely well and seem up to the challenge of continuing to make this a formidable unit.
UCF enters the game as a 4 point favorite, coming off of a win over BIG 10 opponent Maryland, and averaging almost 50 points in their 2 games played. QB McKenzie Milton will look to receivers Dredrick Nelson (8 catches,107 yards) and Tre’Quan Smith (7 catches, 101 yards, 2 TDs), as well as tight end Jordan Akins (5 catches, 102 yards, 2 TDs) to attack the vulnerable secondary of Memphis. Safety Tyrez Lindsey appears to be in line to step into the injured Shaun Rupert’s place, but Mike Norvell has also mentioned that Christian Slaughter has the ability to slide to the safety position from his current role as defensive back. According to The Commercial Appeal’s Tom Schad, this would open the door for freshman La’Andre Thomas, originally a QB recruit, to get some time at cornerback, which he switched to in fall camp. Memphis will need the core members of the secondary, Austin Hall, TJ Carter, and Jonathan Cook ,to play at a high level to slow down this potent UCF aerial attack. Tito Wyndham and Marcus Green could both be on the field this weekend, which would add some much needed depth to the Tigers secondary.
On the ground, UCF will look to junior running back, Taj McGowan (20 carries, 39 yards, 3 TDs), to step into the starting position for Jawon Hamilton who suffered a season ending injury at Maryland. Behind McGowan, the Knights also have Adrian Killins (12 carries, 77 yards, TD) and Cordarrian Richardson (11 carries, 39 yards, TD), a Memphis prep star from Trezevant High who won the Tennessee Mr. Football award and was originally a Clemson commit. The Tigers defense, which is allowing 140 yards on the ground, compared to 344 yards through the air, will look to the young nose tackle duo of O’Bryan Goodson and John Tate, as well as fellow linemen Emmanuel Cooper and Ernest Suttles, and linebackers Genard Avery and Curtis Akins, to not only contain the UCF running backs, but also contain QB McKenzie Milton who leads the Knights in rushing yards. Putting pressure on and containing Milton from making big plays with his legs will be crucial for the Tigers defense.
Offensively the Tigers are led by the dynamic duo of Riley Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller, but also rely heavily on running backs Darrell Henderson, Patrick Taylor, and Tony Pollard in the passing game. Tight end Joey Magnifico (7 catches, 99 yards, TD) is coming along as one of Ferguson’s favorite targets and is the team’s 3rd leading receiver behind Miller and fellow senior starter Phil Mayhue (10 catches, 131 yards, 2 TDs). The UCF secondary is lead by juniors Mike Hughes and Tre Neal, who both have an interception this season. After just 2 games, this secondary has not faced a true test with the first game being a blowout of FCS opponent FIU, and the other game was against a Maryland team who came into the game already on their second string QB, and then lost him on the second drive in the first quarter against UCF.
UCF linebackers Shaquem Griffin (2016 AAC DPOY), Pat Jasinski (10 tackles), and Chequan Burkett (9 tackles) will look to slow down the Tigers rushing attack led by Henderson and Taylor. Senior running back Doroland Dorceus, the projected starter coming into the season, will be a gametime decision on Saturday. UCF is allowing just 88 rushing yards per game, but the Tigers rely on the run game to setup other parts of the offense, such as screens and run-pass option plays, and should look to get some big plays on the ground early, as they usually do. UCF will also look to put pressure on Ferguson from their defensive front 7 guys to get him out of the pocket and throw his timing off with the receivers. The offensive line of the Tigers will need to have a solid game, and they have been good most of the season, they will need to protect Ferguson and give him time to let his weapons get open.
While UCF is a much improved team over the past two years, I don’t think they have been tested this year due to only playing two games and the two opponents in those games don’t appear to be very good. I look for Ferguson and company to have the Tigers offense rolling, but I do believe that UCF will put up some points of their own. The Memphis defense will need to take their play to the next level, and I believe they stop McKenzie Milton and the UCF offense just enough for the Tigers to start out 1-0 in AAC play…TIGERS 42-38
Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove of USA Today Sports