BY: Daniel Wolff
The Line: Knights -3.5
Kickoff: 7:00 PM, Spectrum Stadium
TV Broadcast: ESPN2
Radio: FM 96.9/ AM 740
ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF opens conference play this week against the undefeated Memphis Tigers, gearing up for the first contest of the season with heavy consequences.
The Knights and Tigers face off after a three-week delay caused by Hurricane Irma, a delay that has increased the spotlight of this game significantly. Both teams are undefeated, and each team has had qualities wins to prepare for the matchup – UCF beating Maryland 38-10 last week and Memphis stepping toe-to-toe with UCLA in their second game of the season.
Expect this to be a well-played game from both teams with the extra week of preparation. Because this game was canceled at the eleventh hour instead of in the days preceding it, UCF has now been able to get a second full week of Memphis-specific game prep in.
“I think the majority of what we had prepared for them, we’ll go ahead and go with. Our kids are already familiar with a lot of that stuff. It kind of helps us prepare this week, and hopefully be even better on assignments,” Coach Frost said on Monday.
Memphis has been as good as advertised thus far. The offense has put up 43 points per game, personified by the shootout win over No. 25 ranked UCLA. Senior Quarterback Riley Ferguson outplayed NFL prospect Josh Rosen by launching 396 yards and 6 touchdowns against UCLA, a decent chunk of his 783 yards and 8 scores this season.
“I think their quarterback, Ferguson, he’s one of the best players in the country; let alone this conference,” offered up Coach Frost on the senior’s talent level.
The rushing offense has been just as outstanding. Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. have rushed for 592 yards through 3 games, averaging 7.4 yards per attempt. It has carried Memphis in the two hard-fought games that Ferguson didn’t throw six touchdowns in, notching four as a squad in week one and two more last weekend.
The Tigers also have an NFL prospect at receiver, senior wideout Anthony Miller – who holds all of Memphis’s receiving records. Last year he racked up 1,434 yards with 14 touchdowns, this season Miller has 255 yards and 3 scores.
UCF will have a tough time stopping Memphis’s powerful offense, but they are certainly not intimidated by them. The Knights’ defensive unit was the backbone of Frost’s entry to the American and has continued to impress in 2016 with a top-ranked conference scoring defense.
“They are a really good offense, but we are a really good defense,” Shaquem Griffin said. “This is what we live, we live for the competition.”
Shaquem isn’t lying, UCF’s defense has been very good. They are ranked 8th in the nation against the run, giving up a measly 2.8 yards per carry. The young secondary that drew so many off-season question marks has been playing above expectations with the emergence of Mike Hughes. They are only giving up 178 yards passing a game, and overall UCF ranks 15th in the nation in total defense.
DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Tigers Defense hasn’t been as impressive. They have given up 35 points per game, ranking 108th in the FBS. The one bright spot on this defense is Tony Pollard. He gets to return kickoffs every time the opposing team scores. Pollard has 4 touchdown returns in the last 12 games. He has been electric, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Frost tries to keep it away from him.
The Tigers defense will not catch a break this week, as UCF’s offense has been superb. McKenzie Milton has made a huge leap this year, completing 66% of his passes for over 500 yards in a mere two games. A big part of his success is thanks to his offensive line, who haven’t allowed Milton to be sacked, and according to Frost the offensive line is continuing to improve.
“Our O-Line is going to keep getting better, and I think the first couple of games this year have shown their progress.,” said Frost.
UCF fans should be amped for this game. It’s a primetime game on ESPN 2 and is likely to be a sellout if the reception from fans comes anywhere close to the push by UCF. The players aren’t hiding their excitement and confidence heading into a game that could have a deep impact on the season.
“It means everything, our fans are behind us 100%. I’m looking forward to a packed-out crowd for the game, and a win at the end of the game as well,” said running back Adrian Killins. “We can win every game I have no doubt about it.”
“People need to watch out for UCF, we need to lay the smackdown, that’s my mentality. I am really excited. I want to put UCF on the map,” said Aaron Evens, who couldn’t hide his excitement.
This game has potential to be a shootout, but will by any means be an extremely competitive, and extremely entertaining conference matchup.