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Knights at the Roundtable: Taming the Tigers

Read what BGB contributors have to say regarding tomorrow’s game.

AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Each week during the football season, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming game ahead. It’s a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.

In our fourth roundtable of the football season, Jeff Sharon, Jeremy Brener, Eric Lopez, Brian Murphy and Andrew Gluchov take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about the UCF Knights and their matchup with the Memphis Tigers.

1) Saturday will mark 1,400 days since UCF lost consecutive games. What do the Knights need to do to keep that streak going?

Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): Keep the penalties to a minimum. The offense has had two weeks to get on the same page and work out the pre-snap woes that have plagued them through the first three games. Now is the time.

Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): The Knights need to stop beating themselves like they did against Tulsa. Too many penalties from the offensive line cost them and could cost them again on Saturday if that isn’t cleaned up. That being said, the Knights can compete with any team in the AAC, and should be capable of winning out as long as they play their cards right.

Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): Cut down on the penalties and contain the Tigers’ running game.

Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy): ^What they said^. This is why I like chiming in last; it cuts down on the work I have to do.

Another key to victory will be the turnover battle. The Knights have created the second-most takeaways and have the nation’s second-best turnover margin. Meanwhile, the Tigers are level with five turnovers each gained and lost. Memphis QB Brady White made some bone-headed plays that cost the Tigers a win at SMU last week. UCF needs to take advantage of those moments when White, a sixth-year senior, looks like a true freshman.

Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): The obvious answer is the one already given: Simmer down with the penalties. To be specific, cut down on false start penalties, which comes from a lack of focus and communication. Penalties are going to happen, but if the self inflicted ones can be cut down, it would go a long way. Also, UCF is going to need a bend-but-not-break mentality against Memphis. The Tigers have lost every game against UCF since the Knights jumped up to FBS. That’s thirteen games and some of those games were in ridiculous fashion. They are going to be gunning to get that monkey off their back and are going to put everything into being the ones to finally break the streak.

2) Who is the X-Factor for the Knights on Saturday?

Jeff: LBs Eric Mitchell and Eriq Gilyard. They will be key in stopping Memphis’ rushing attack. As we heard from Jeff Brightwell on our podcast, this is a slightly different rushing attack that Memphis will sport on Saturday, so containing the run, as it always seems to be against the Tigers, will be key.

Jeremy: I’m going with the entire offensive line. They’ve played poorly in the first three games but have had a full two weeks to re-assess and get back on track. I know they don’t want a repeat of what happened against Tulsa, which is why I think the offensive line will look better. They’ll still make mistakes, but not enough to bury their game. Even with all the mistakes they made against Tulsa, UCF still had a shot to win that game. Limit your mistakes and you win the game.

Eric: The Knights’ special teams. Memphis was among the top 10 last year in every significant special teams category. Yet, it’s been UCF’s special teams that have come up big in recent head-to-head matchups, including a key field goal by Matthew Wright just before halftime of the 2018 regular-season game that got the Knights to the locker room trailing only 30-17. UCF will need to keep that up on Saturday and just play even with Memphis on special teams.

Brian: It sounds like Marlon Williams will play after he sustained an injury as time expired in the Tulsa loss. If he doesn’t go, my eyes would turn to a player such as Jacob Harris to have a big game against Memphis’ burnable secondary.

But the ultimate x-factor is center Matt Lee for pretty obvious reasons. If he can curb the pre-snap penalties, that’s going to help this offense exponentially.

Andrew: This will be a true test for young Matt Lee and Ja’Cyais Credle? How do they each rebound from a bad game? Lee had a rough game at Center with a number of miscues and Credle got ejected for a rare targeting call on an offense player. The Knights have had the benefit of the bye week to clean things up and look ahead to the next game, but with a growing amount of youth playing, they need to keep their heads looking forward in the game.

3) Dillon Gabriel struggled last year in true road games. What’s his key to success on Saturday?

Jeff: Dillon has to put his playmakers in position to win. That means slowing down the offense by just one beat to prevent pre-snap penalties and utilize the middle of the field, which is something UCF has not done of late and our own Anthony Lenahan pointed out. If Gabriel can attack the seams with the tight end and get his speed guys the ball over the middle on crosses and slants, UCF will wreak havoc on Memphis’ defense.

Jeremy: I wish Dillon Gabriel would utilize more of the field. That isn’t exactly his fault, but majority of his throws went towards the sidelines, which Tulsa took advantage of. I hope Heupel and the offense call a very versatile game and get everyone involved: Williams, Robinson, Nixon, Otis Anderson, Thompson, even DG on the run. If you throw a bunch of weapons at Memphis, chances are the Knights can get past a few of them past the Tiger defense.

Eric: I agree with Jeff and Jeremy, and will add only that Gabriel needs to more patient and not force the issue when it comes to tempo. The plays will be there regardless of how fast or slow the offense is going.

Brian: Is this narrative still a thing? Gabriel looked great at Georgia Tech, so I don’t buy any suggestion that if he doesn’t play well Saturday, it’s a home-road thing. That’s cherry-picking.

He doesn’t need to be Superman to win this game. He just needs to take what Memphis’ defense gives him, not be afraid to check down at times and utilize more of those short screen/hitch throws that were plentiful and helpful for UCF in the first two games of the season.

Andrew: Dillon just needs to slow down a little. By adding an extra two to three seconds to the offensive rhythm will allow players to be set and focused. It’s little enough time to not allow Memphis to have any defensive substitutions. I think adding this to the offense will be far easier than revamping the playbook to utilize the middle of the field, which they desperately need to do.

4) Which Memphis player do the Knights need to keep an eye on?

Jeff: TE Sean Dykes had a field day back in 2017 in the AAC Championship Game and he was totally unheralded at the time. Now he’s Memphis’ leading receiver by yards and tied for the lead in catches with WR Damonte Coxie. If he gets open at the second level, he could present some problems for UCF’s secondary.

Jeremy: I’ll go with senior DE Joseph Dorceus. He had two sacks against the Knights when the two teams played in 2018. The offensive line needs to protect Gabriel in order to win this game, and Dorceus is the biggest catalyst on the defensive line for Memphis.

Eric: RB Rodrigues Clark. We remember what Darrell Henderson did to UCF in the two meetings in 2018. I thought Memphis’ running game would have a dropoff after Kenneth Gainwell, the 2019 AAC Rookie of Year, opted out prior to the 2020 season. But Clark has shown that he will be the next great back from Memphis, following in the footsteps of Henderson, Tony Pollard, Antonio Gibson and Gainwell.

Brian: I really like the Clark pick. He’s not a burner in the manner of Henderson; he’s a really tough runner who doesn’t go down on first contact. He looks like a lighter version of T.K. Wilkerson, the Tulsa running back who absolutely wore down and wore out UCF’s defense a couple of weeks ago. I’ll throw an honorable mention toward Clarke’s backfield mate, Kylan Watkins. He is the big-play runner here who will see somewhere around 12-16 touches. He can also be dangerous as a receiver.

Andrew: Sean Dykes is the team leader in receiving and is going to have a sleight height advantage on any defensive back who covers him(since UCF primarily runs the Nickel defense). It’s no secret White can throw the ball well and is going to need to use any height advantage he can get his hands on to push the defense back and open the run game.

5) Score prediction.

Jeff: I’m going to do the Herbstreit thing and abstain on this question from now on. (edit from Brian: Weak.)

Jeremy: This has trap game written all over it. I believe the offensive line will struggle and Memphis will take advantage. Memphis 35, UCF 31

Eric: This is a significant game as I mentioned on the podcast this week. The loser of this game is basically a long shot to get to AAC title game with two losses. Memphis has circled this game. Memphis wants to win this game in worst way to get some revenge for the heartbreaking losses in 2017 and 2018 AAC Championship games as well as the 2018 regular-season game.

But what happens when things start going wrong for Memphis? Will the Tigers still believe they can beat the Knights? Or will it be “Oh, no. Not again.”? This is a tough game to pick with both teams missing key players, but I’ll say UCF finds a way to win like it has in the past against the Tigers. UCF 41, Memphis 34

Brian: UCF is favored by 3, and the over-under is the highest on the college football board this weekend at 73.5. So, pace youself; this is probably going to be a wild ride. Still, after watching Memphis’ two games from this season, I believe UCF is the better team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. As long as the Knights don’t beat themselves (again), they should push their winning streak in this series to 14.

UCF 44, Memphis 34

Andrew: Memphis has thirteen years of buildup for this opportunity to snap the losing streak. I think they finally do against a UCF team that just can't get out of their own way.
Memphis 38-30.