By: Dan Wolff
ORLANDO, Fla.- UCF opens American Athletic Conference play this weekend, hosting the surging Memphis Tigers. Memphis has revitalized its program in recent years winning 27 of their last 38 and enters the game 1-0 in 2017. USA Today picked Memphis to win the American Conference West this year after finishing 9-5 in Head Coach Mike Norvell’s first season at the helm.
The offense returns 9 of 11 starters from last year, including Senior Quarterback Riley Ferguson.
“[Riley is] a veteran kid who has played a lot of football. He is going to provide us with a bunch of challenges,” said Knights’ Head Coach Scott Frost. “Ferguson Throws the ball down the field well, he can beat you with his legs if you fall asleep on him.”
Memphis ranked 11th in total offense last year, and 19th in passing offense. They scored over 40 points a game with Ferguson under center.
Last week the Tigers played on a sloppy field, Ferguson had a rough night. Starting senior running back Donald Dorceus only had two carries because of tweak injury. The two sophomores behind him stepped up, and carried the Tigers to victory. Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. ran for a combined 300 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns went for 50 plus yards. Big plays have been key to the Tigers success on offense.
“You know they are a very well-balanced team. I think the key will be keeping the ball in front of us. Trying to make them drive the ball instead of 3 plays 90 yards. Keep the ball in front of you, tackle, play another play,” said Knights’ safety Tre Neal.
That’s going to prove to be a challenge for Neal and the rest of the UCF secondary. This group is still unproven, and Memphis marches out Anthony Miller. Anthony Miller has broken all of Isaac Bruce’s records at Memphis. Last year He had 95 receptions for 1,435 yards, along with 14 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball Memphis returns 5 out of 7 defensive lineman and linebackers. The linebackers are a solid crew of veterans, and they are rather quick to the ball, but will be without the services of starting linebacker Jackson Dillon, contributing linebacker Darian Porter and starting nose tackle Jared Gentry – huge losses for the Tigers.
The secondary did lose 3 out of 4 starters in the offseason, an easy place for UCF will to test the limits of this secondary after an explosive week one. McKenzie Milton is coming off his best game as a Knight, and I’m sure he is itching to attack this secondary.
“They are a good team. Very high-powered offense, it’s going to be a shootout. We can’t leave missed plays on the field. We must do everything we can to take advantage of every opportunity. We know their offense is going to put up points,” Tre’ Quan Smith stated Monday afternoon.
This is going to a measuring stick game for the Knights as the first competitive game of the season. UCF’s schedule doesn’t get any easier from here with the bulk of conference play remaining and strong opponents in Georgia Tech and Maryland, so winning these tough games at home will be key to continued growth this season.