The Memphis Tigers will play host to the UCF Knights Saturday afternoon at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in a game that will be broadcast on ABC. UCF comes into the game ranked 9th in the Coaches Poll with a 5-0 record, and an 18-game winning streak dating back to last season. On the home side, the Tigers sport a disappointing 4-2 record, but Memphis has won 12 consecutive home games in addition to their last 3 home games that were televised on ABC and against ranked opponents.
Eyeing The Offenses: Expect A Shootout
Be sure to set your DVR before heading out to Tiger Lane, as this game will feature two of the top 6 offenses in the entire nation. UCF is ranked 2nd in total offense averaging 574.4 yards per game, while the Tigers are ranked 6th with their average of 547.2 yards per game. The conference foes also boast the 7th and 8th ranked rushing offenses in the nation, with Memphis racking up 274.5 yards per game on the ground and UCF closely trailing with an average of 269.4 rushing yards per game.
While much has been made about Brady White’s performances from Tiger fans the past few weeks, statistically the junior is 7th in the country in passing efficiency, 10th in passing TD’s, 13th in completion percentage, and 17th in yards per completion. White is averaging 258 yards per game through the air, which is good for 4th in the AAC. However, White has seen his completion percentage dip to 61.6% against conference opponents as opposed to the gaudy 75.9% against non-conference foes.White has also been sacked 11 times on the year.
For the Knights, their offense is led by Heisman Hopeful, junior quarterback McKenzie Milton who comes into the game tied with White for 10th in the FBS with 15 passing touchdowns on the year. Milton leads the AAC in total offense and passing yards per game averaging 300 yards via the air and another 40 yards rushing. Milton has only been sacked 2 times on the year and has a knack for making something out of nothing.
At the other skill positions, UCF is led by returning AAC First Team All-Conference running back, junior Adrian Killins. Tiger fans probably remember Killins’ 96-yard touchdown run from the regular season game in 2017, and Killins has continued to be productive in 2018 averaging just under 70 ypg on the ground and scoring 4 touchdowns. Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson have also been productive with their touches from the backfield, allowing the speedy Killins to stay fresh.
Taillights! Memphis gets one more shot at RB Adrian Killins Jr. and UCF w/ the AAC on the line — Saturday (Noon ET on ABC). pic.twitter.com/W6FMD1RNZC
— Todd McShay (@McShay13) November 30, 2017
The UCF receiving corps is led by junior Dredrick Snelson who lit the Tigers up in the AAC Championship Game, and is currently averaging 67.2 yards per game. Sophomore Gabriel Davis has continued to blossom as well, averaging 73 ypg to go along with 4 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Tre Nixon is also a player to keep an eye on as he has 3 touchdowns of his own.
For the Tigers, Darrell Henderson continues to lead the nation in rushing. The surging Heisman Hopeful leads the nation in rushing yards, yards per carry, and total touchdowns while averaging 155.7 ypg through 6 games this season. Henderson also has the 3rd-most receiving yards (178) for the Tigers for 2 scores to go along with his 12 rushing TD’s.
Here's your weekly clip of people playing chase with Memphis RB Darrell Henderson pic.twitter.com/7pqF223XWR
— Grind City Media (@grindcitymedia) September 29, 2018
Patrick Taylor showed some signs of life against a piss poor UConn team last week, and he’s picked up 337 yards on the ground and punched in 7 scores. Memphis is going need both of these guys and the offensive line to have a big day if they want to upset the Knights.
At the receiver position, Damonte Coxie leads the Tigers with 30 receptions and is 4th in the AAC, averaging 77.7 receiving yards per game in addition to 4 scores. Pop Williams (19) and Tony Pollard (14) are the only other receivers with more than 10 receptions, while big-play tight ends Sean Dykes and Joey Magnifico both have just 7 receptions each.
Eyeing The Defenses: Uhhh…Still Expect A Shootout
So far on the season, neither team’s defense has been as exciting as their offenses. Memphis comes into the game ranked 38th nationally in total defense while UCF is ranked 48th, with both teams giving up around 350 yards per game. Both teams have been equally gashed up via their opponent’s run game with the Memphis defense giving up 172 ypg on the ground and UCF allowing 182.
UCF, however is ranked 16th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (174.6) and the Tigers come in just behind them at 20th (176.3). The Knights have pulled 8 interceptions out of the air compared to the Tigers 6, and UCF has been better defensively on 3rd downs than Memphis, but neither team is doing very well in that category. UCF is however 8th in the country in turnover margin (+7) compared to the Tigers +4.
Defensive back, Richie Grant, leads the Knights in tackles and is top 5 in the AAC in tacklers per game, while leading the league in interceptions with 3. Titus Davis leads the big fellas up front with 2 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Brendan Hayes, Pat Jasinski, and Nate Evans also play important roles on the defensive side for UCF.
UCF Safety Richie Grant with the INT 🔒 pic.twitter.com/YHfe40KiG5
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) August 31, 2018
Memphis is led by a proud new father, linebacker Curtis Akins. Akins has 44 total tackles and is trailed by safety Tyrez Lindsey and linebackers Tim Hart and Bryce Huff. Huff leads the team with 11 TFL’s and 5 sacks. TJ Carter (returning AAC ROY), Tito Windham, and Austin Hall will look to slow down McKenzie Milton and the potent UCF offense. LB Jackson Dillon has been battling a shoulder injury and was to be reevaluated after practice on Wednesday.
Can Memphis Win This Game?
According to ESPN’s FPI rankings, the best team UCF has faced this season is FAU (72), who trailed 17-21 before the Knights went on to win by 20. Memphis is currently ranked 49th in FPI and their losses have came to Tulane (79) and Navy (102).
All offseason the Memphis defense was talked up by the coaching staff and reporters close to the team. Maybe all of that was due to the Memphis offense being a little worse than expected, but I think this Tigers defensive unit still has a chance to turn things around. With the team already having 2 conference losses and knowing their back is against the wall when it comes to returning to the AAC Championship Game, I expect to see an inspired effort from the Tigers defensively and while there is no stopping Milton and Co, Chris Ball’s unit is going to keep the home team in the game. They’ve yet to create the kind of turnovers Ball has become known for, and a fired up home crowd against a top 10 team could be just what the doctor ordered.
Offensively Memphis will obviously need to lean on Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor against the soft run defense of UCF, and to control the clock and keep Milton off the field. I also expect Tony Pollard to be heavily involved and hope to see Henderson out wide at times when the matchup calls for it. Unless I am dead wrong about the Tigers defense, then I don’t think Brady White has to necessarily be great, but he will need to avoid getting sacked multiple times. I also expect to see the tight ends more involved in this game than any other game of the season, and we may even see more Sam Craft after he made his first appearance in 2 years last week.
So yea, I think the Tigers can pull this one out. Obviously it will take their best effort of the year but I think the moment is right for this team. You can’t have a rivalry with a conference opponent until you win a game, and what better way to break an 11-game losing streak to UCF than by beating a (nother) Heisman Hopeful QB and top 10 team inside the Liberty Bowl on national television.
[Featured Image: GoTigersGo.com]
[Stats from ncaa.com and theamerican.org]