Cram Session: UCF Faces Memphis in Early-Season AAC Clash

UCF VS. MEMPHIS PREVIEW

TreQuan Smith UCF
UCF WR Tre'Quan Smith scores against FIU. (Photo: Derek Warden/Black and Gold Banneret)

“We know we could have put up way more points. There were a lot of missed opportunities out there.”

That’s UCF junior wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith just a few days after he and his offense put up 61 points on the FIU Panthers.

And he wants more? Like 80 or 90??

“We’ll try to make it there,” Smith said with a laugh.

More might be needed this week as the Knights get an early start to their in-conference season with a visit from the dangerous Memphis Tigers.

Kickoff

Due to the impending threat of Hurricane Irma, the game’s starting time has been moved up to 6:30 p.m. Friday at Spectrum Stadium.

TV

  • ESPNU
  • Play-by-play: Shawn Kenney, who calls games for the ACC Network as well as ESPN Networks.
  • Analyst: Al Groh, whose coaching career through the pro and college ranks spans parts of six decades. That includes head-coaching stints for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, the Virginia Cavaliers and the New York Jets.

Series

9-1, UCFThe Knights have actually won nine consecutive meetings. The Tigers’ lone victory occurred in 1990.

Last meeting, 2013: We all know how good the 2013 Knights were. But no matter how good you are, a little luck and a couple of fortuitous bounces always help. That’s what UCF received when it beat Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, 24-17.

Trailing 17-10 with just 2:05 left, the Knights scored twice in a total of 9 seconds. The game-tying touchdown was credited to offensive lineman Chris Martin after running back Storm Johnson fumbled at the 1. Fellow running back William Stanback then forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which was picked up and housed by defensive back Drico Johnson.

But wait, there’s more! The Tigers returned the next kickoff for a touchdown — only to see it called back by a holding penalty. Memphis, with quarterback Paxton Lynch, still drove down to the 6-yard line with about 40 seconds remaining. However, a halfback pass was intercepted in the end zone by linebacker Terrance Plummer. Although the Knights may not have been thinking about it then, that wild series of events saved their Fiesta Bowl dreams.

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

The arrival of AAC play: Speaking of 2009, that’s how long it has been since UCF had a conference game this early on their season slate. That 2009 result was a 26-19 loss at Southern Miss. Head coach Scott Frost did say it’s “a little unusual” to have a conference matchup in Week 2, but he knows his players will have to be in midseason form versus Memphis.

“They are … the type of team I don’t know we would have been good enough to beat last year,” Frost said of the Tigers. “This year, I’m looking forward to the opportunity, and I know we’ve got to play well, but we’re going to have a chance.”

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.

Players — plural — of the week: Two of the four players who most recently garnered American Athletic Conference Player of the Week recognition will be on the field Friday night at the Spectrum. Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton took home honors as the offensive player of the week after throwing for 360 yards and four touchdowns.

For Memphis, sophomore wideout Tony Pollard was tabbed as the special teams player of the week. He accumulated 144 yards on two kickoff returns, one of which ended with a 99-yard score.

Memphis Coming In

The Tigers, preseason favorites to win the AAC West, opened their season by knocking off Louisiana Monroe last Thursday, 37-29. Memphis led by as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter before the Warhawks rallied during the final 6 minutes to make the game look closer than it really was.

Memphis is known for its high-powered passing offense with the likes of quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Anthony Miller leading the way. However, with the remnants of Hurricane Harvey drenching the Liberty Bowl last week, the Tigers were forced to keep things grounded against ULM. That turned out to be no problem as running backs Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. combined for 300 rushing yards.

When UCF Has the Ball

UCF Offense: Success on the ground. It was probably the only thing Frost didn’t like about his team’s Week 1 domination of FIU. His stable of running backs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry with their 41 chances. That must improve if this team wants to attain its goal of a conference championship. Although Milton looked fantastic in the season opener, this offense will only go as far as Jawon Hamilton, Taj Hamilton and others carry it.

Memphis defense: Cover the back end. Even though UCF must stress its running game, a lot of the Knights’ production against FIU came as the result of the Panthers’ myriad coverage breakdowns. The Knights have a small army of potent perimeter weapons — Tre’Quan Smith, Gabe Davis, Dredrick Snelson, Cam Stewart, Jordan Akins, etc. — but if the Tigers’ secondary can stay on their man and make UCF more one-dimensional, they will greatly increase their odds of grabbing a critical road win.

When Memphis Has the Ball

Memphis Offense: Test that secondary. UCF’s most notable defensive errors last week came when their young secondary was beaten on a couple of downfield shots. Tigers QB Riley Ferguson has a big arm, and wide receiver Anthony Miller owns a bunch of school records. Their connection — and how the Knights are able to interrupt it — will be key.

UCF Defense: Keep your eye on Ferguson. Like UCF, Memphis can score points in many ways and with many people. But it all starts with the Tigers’ dual-threat QB. Frost described defending Ferguson as like defending an option-style offense, something UCF will see multiple times this season. This will be a difficult introduction.

“This is the kind of game where if you’re not on your Ps and Qs, [Memphis] could go for 500 yards in the air,” junior defensive back Tre Neal said. “Or if you’re not on your Ps and Qs in the run game, they could go for 300, 400 yards on the ground.”

Final Details

Line: UCF opened as a 1.5-point favorite and is now favored by three. The over/under sits at 69, down from 72 when the game first hit the board.

Weather: The new kickoff time will help us avoid the hurricane, but you’re never out of the woods in Florida on a summer afternoon. There could be some thunderstorms rumbling around at the start. Regardless, the temperature will be in the mid-80s with the heat index in the mid-90s. Winds will be kicking up between 10-20 mph out of the northeast.

Pick: UCF 40, Memphis 35. Smith said this game will be a shootout. He’s not wrong. Predicting either team to hit 60 is ludicrous, but this could turn into a showdown where the last team that scores is the team that wins.

Who ya got?

About Brian Murphy 33 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

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