Cram Session: Knights Prepare — Again — to Play the Memphis Tigers

UCF VS. MEMPHIS PREVIEW

Mike-Hughes-UCF-Football
Junior Mike Hughes' return skills could be a major factor versus Memphis.

Well, this feels familiar.

But that preview is in the past, much like UCF’s resounding triumph over the Maryland Terrapins last Saturday. Of everything the Knights did well during that game, head coach Scott Frost said Monday that his team’s attitude afterward is what impressed him most.

“I don’t think they spent that much emotion after a win like that Saturday because I think, in their minds, they were going to win that game. So, we had fun, we enjoyed the win, but guys came back ready to go to work today.”

Frost’s players, including the captain of his defense, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, echoed that sentiment and mentioned how the Knights can’t get complacent with the bulk of the season still in front of them.

“You can’t think about what you did in the past,” Griffin said. “The only thing you can do is keep moving forward and keep working.”

The work continues this weekend in UCF’s make-up game against the Memphis Tigers. These two were slated to clash a few weeks ago, but then Hurricane Irma put everything on hold.

Kickoff

The Tigers and the Knights will begin their first American Athletic Conference game of the year at 7 p.m. Saturday from Spectrum Stadium.

TV

  • ESPN2
  • Play-by-play: Mike Coreywho has been with ESPN since 2011 and has spent more than 18 years doing play-by-play for a handful of college sports at FOX and NBC as well. Corey has also contributed to NBC’s coverage of the past three Summer Olympics.
  • Analyst: Ahmad D. Brooksa former cornerback and team captain at Texas who spent three years in the NFL, Brooks is a college football analyst and studio host for ESPNU and the Longhorn Network.
  • Sideline: Roddy Jones, who is in his first year as a college football sideline reporter for ESPN. Jones was a four-year starting wideout at Georgia Tech and previously worked for the ACC Network.

Series

9-1 UCFThe Tigers won the first game in this series way back in 1990. The Knights have come away with the W in every meeting since.

Last meeting, 2013: As I recapped in my first preview of this game, the last time these teams met came during the Knights’ magical season of 2013, and the ending was some special kind of crazy.

Last meeting in Orlando, 2011: A decisive 41-0 blowout by the Knights. So, in a way, the Tigers haven’t scored a point against UCF in Orlando since 2009.

Three Things You Should Know

Top-25 at stake?: It’s only September, but you can sense the hype surrounding this matchup. Both teams are undefeated. Both teams are looking like perhaps the possible champion in their respective AAC division. Both teams have knocked off a Power Five conference opponent already. Both offenses are averaging more than 40 points per contest. And both teams are closing in on being nationally ranked. The Tigers and Knights are currently receiving votes in the Associated Press poll and the Amway Coaches’ Poll. Specifically, the Tigers are ranked Nos. 30 and 29, respectively, while the Knights sit at Nos. 35 and 33 in each poll.

#SelloutSpectrum: Frost said Monday that his team has done enough to earn a sold-out Spectrum and a big push is being made to have that happen Saturday night.

On Monday, offensive lineman Aaron Evans made his plea to the fans: “We need you out there. It’s fun. When you all are out there, the energy in the air, you can feel it. It’s something that’s real exciting to have, and when you all are out there, it really amps up the game. … You’ll have an experience of a lifetime if everyone comes out.”

Don’t I know you?: This will be the first time Frost and Memphis’ Mike Norvell face off as head coaches, but the two are well familiar with one another from their days in the Pac-12. While Frost served as Oregon’s offensive coordinator from 2013-15, Norvell held the same title at Arizona State from 2012-15. Their lone “head-to-head” meeting came in 2015 as Frost’s Ducks prevailed at ASU, 61-55, in triple overtime.

Memphis Coming In

The Tigers have played two games since their original date with UCF was postponed due to Hurricane Irma, winning both. One was a signature victory at home over UCLA, 48-45. Then Memphis defeated Southern Illinois, 44-31, last Saturday.

When UCF Has the Ball

UCF Offense: Trust your RB depth. Last weekend wasn’t all great for the Knights. They received some bad news on Sunday when sophomore running back Juwon Hamilton underwent season-ending surgery following a leg injury that he suffered in the early stages of the Maryland win.

The Knights’ saving grace is that they have a bevy of qualified players who can fill Hamilton’s shoes, including junior RB Taj McGowan.

“Losing Juwan, losing a brother, it hurts,” McGowan said. “It really took a lot to re-focus in. We really had to understand that we had something to do, we had a point to prove, so that kind of kept us going. I feel like with the backs we have, from AK [Adrian Killins Jr.] to Otis (Anderson) to Cordarrian (Richardson), even Greg McCrae, I feel like we have a good mix-and-match type of thing.”

Memphis Defense: Next men up. You’ll find no sympathy coming from Memphis over UCF’s loss at running back. The Tigers have already seen nine defensive starters felled by injuries, some of whom are out for the season. Norvell called it “crazy bad luck” but also said that the replacements will put everything they have into Saturday’s game.

When Memphis Has the Ball

Memphis Offense: Stay multi-dimensional. Given the state of Memphis’ defense, quarterback Riley Ferguson and Co. know they will have to carry even more of the burden going forward. Thus far, it has worked out as the Tigers are averaging 43 points per game and scoring in a variety of ways. Ferguson has registered eight touchdowns over the past two weeks, including six versus UCLA. Running backs Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor have combined for almost 700 yards from scrimmage, and kick return dynamo Tony Pollard has been torturing opposing special teams units. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

UCF Defense: More of the same. The Knights won’t be intimidated by Memphis’ offense considering how they just dismantled the Terrapins. The first-quarter injury suffered by Maryland QB Kasim Hill obviously changed the game dramatically, but that doesn’t fully explain how UCF’s defense dominated the line of scrimmage and held what had been a prolific ground attack to just 42 yards rushing. Do that again this Saturday and the Knights will probably be 3-0 by the final whistle.

“The whole thing for us is to stay on the same track,” Griffin said. “Don’t feed into the outside world about what’s going on and how [Memphis] beat UCLA. Trusting our coaches, trusting the process and make sure we stay poised with everything we’re doing.”

Don’t Forget About Special Teams

It’s one-third of the game and it may have a huge impact on Saturday’s outcome. The Tigers’ Tony Pollard is arguably the best returner in the nation. He had a game-changing 100-yard kickoff return TD last weekend versus the Salukis. It was Pollard’s second return touchdown this season and the fourth of his career. After the game, Pollard said he is “surprised” that opponents keep kicking the ball his way. We’ll see if UCF tempts fate similarly Saturday. Pollard, whose nickname is “turbo,”  is averaging 44.9 yards per kick return this season, the second-best rate in the country.

But if you want another matchup to watch, the Knights have their own dangerous return man in junior Mike Hughes. He racked up 67 return yards versus FIU and his 16.7 average on punt returns slots 11th in the nation.

Final Details

Line: As of Wednesday night, UCF is by favored by four points after opening as a 2.5-point fav. The over-under has dropped slightly, from 71 to 69.

Weather: It will be cloudy, but any rain during the day will likely be out of the area by kickoff. The temperature should be in the low 80s with a 10-15 mph wind out of north-northeast. The weather certainly should not prevent fans from accomplishing a #SelloutSpectrum

Pick: UCF 41, Memphis 27. Even without Hamilton, UCF just has too many weapons on offense, and I don’t think Memphis’ injury-riddled defense will be able to make enough stops to win.

About Brian Murphy 25 Articles
Brian Murphy graduated from UCF in 2009 following four years as a sports writer for the dearly departed Central Florida Future. He has been writing about sports -- college, pro or fantasy -- since 2001. Favorite UCF athlete to interview? Former running back Kevin Smith. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @Spokes_Murphy
Contact: Twitter