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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Memphis 50, UCF 49

A second winning streak falls in as many weeks

UCF vs Memphis
UCF DL Cam Goode
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

It was only a matter of time, but UCF had a second winning streak snapped in as many weeks as the Knights’ winning streak over the Tigers ends at 13. The Tigers trailed for 48 minutes and 52 seconds before pulling ahead and holding on for a 50-49 win.

It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

Gone streaking

UCF came into this game riding a thirteen-game winning streak against Memphis. The Knights lost the first time they played the Tigers back in 1990 when the Knights were a I-AA program. When UCF joined Conference USA in 2005, Memphis became East Division comrades, so they played every year. UCF won every single game from 2005-12. Both teams moved to the American in 2013 and UCF won their meeting that year in epic fashion. They each ended up in different divisions and didn’t play again until 2017. The last three times they played, the 2017 AAC Championship Game, a regular season game in 2018, and the 2018 AAC Championship Game ended up being very close games that UCF came back to win.

UCF vs Memphis
UCF QB Dillon Gabriel
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

This year’s game had it all. This was an offensive clinic by both teams as UCF had 798 yards of offense and Memphis had 702 yards. Dillon Gabriel had a near-perfect day, throwing for a ridiculous 601 yards and five touchdowns without a turnover. Marlon Williams had just under 200 yards receiving. The momentum of the game began to turn after a fumble by Otis Anderson inside the Memphis 5-yard line. While the Knights were able to keep the offense going, Memphis started chipping away and kept clawing back, even when it seemed like the game was in the bag. We’ve seen that movie before.

While the end result did not go UCF’s way, you have to marvel how these offenses just absolutely carved up each team’s defense.

The streak is dead. Long live the streak.

UCF took advantage of the bye week...

...but they didn’t solve enough of their problems.

The loss to Tulsa hurt and exposed multiple flaws with UCF. However, UCF had the benefit of an off week before the game against Memphis. The Knights had to work on the penalties. In particular, they had to fix the false start problem. In this area, they have made huge strides. Someone must have read my analysis and listened to the Black and Gold Banneret podcast as the Knights heeded our advice and slowed down a little. The results were very tangible as the Knights only had four penalties in the first half and none of them were false starts. In fact, there were no false start penalties. The offense did their job and really couldn’t do much more.

The defensive penalties still need a lot of work. Their penalties got worse as the game wore on, especially in the fourth quarter. The defense had three problems in this game. One: Memphis has a talented offense. QB Brady White is back as a sixth-year senior while working on his doctorate and has a great handle of the field and pocket. Two: Memphis ran a lot of plays. Memphis had 41 first downs with six third-down conversions to keep defenders on the field. Three: UCF has a depth problem, especially on the defense. This isn’t a new problem with multiple impact players opting out before the season. Injuries before the game and in-game created an unfavorable position a smart quarterback like White was able to pick apart. Freshman cornerback Corey Thornton was picked on quite a bit and when it became obvious that cornerback Aaron Robinson was tired, White went to work on him, leading to multiple defensive penalties.

Another lingering problem that has been called out often here is UCF’s lack of containment. A smart quarterback like White was able to take advantage of it and on multiple occasions, moved to the left between the tackle and the guard and had a lot of room to run for chunk yardage when there was good coverage downfield. This helped sustain drives and leave the defense that much more tired.

The Knights' offense also started to look across the middle of the field, which has been an area that hasn’t been exploited. Our own Anthony Lenahan was able to illustrate how the offense has not used the middle third of the field. Outside of an ill-advised throw to Jacob Harris that was batted in the air and nearly intercepted, the results have been favorable. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel was able to connect with Marlon Williams on an 85-yard touchdown catch that started as a post route and became a foot race.

A shout-out needs to be given to center Matt Lee. After a rough game against a tough Tulsa defense, Lee was the recipient of a lot of uncalled-for online hatred. His short response to the venom he received was to the point and the thing you want a player to say. He knew he screwed up, but while he is aware of his mistakes, he didn’t dwell on them and was looking forward. He followed through with his comments by having an outstanding game against Memphis. The timing and rhythm issues that plagued him last week were nonexistent this week. In the era of social media, it’s easy for armchair quarterbacks and keyboard kowboys out there to send hateful messages to players, but there is a time and place for it. The time is never. The place is nowhere. Be better.

UCF vs Memphis
UCF LB Tatum Bethune
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Next man up

The game against Tulsa was very physical and a bunch of players got beat up. Unfortunately, Eriq Gilyard and Bentavious Thompson did not play against Memphis. A common adage in sports is “next man up”. Linebacker Tatum Bethune had himself a busy game stepping in. Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste came in after Eric Mitchell left the game in the third quarter. Greg McCrae stepped in to play the bruising-back role in addition to being a change-of-pace back with Otis Anderson, who has become more of a feature back compared to his utility role in previous years.

As stated above, there is a depth problem at UCF. There’s also something else going on…

UCF vs Memphis
UCF WR Marlon Williams
Photo by Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

There’s something very wrong here

The end of the game was very revealing. Freshman kicker Daniel Obarski missed the go-ahead 40 yard field goal to seal the Knights’ fate. Understandably, he was very upset on the sideline. Backup quarterback Quadry Jones said something to him that set Obarski off and the two were separated.

After the game, wide receiver Marlon Williams defended Obarski and declared to protect the young kicker.

This is not a locker room that is in harmony.

Football is largely a mental game. You mentally take yourself out and it really doesn’t matter how imposing you are, you’re going to fail. Misses happen and the ball doesn’t always bounce your way. UCF was very fortunate that they got the lucky bounces in 2017 and 2018. The luck hasn’t been there as much in 2019 or 2020. That is part of the game. How a team handles these close losses is where the character, or lack of character, comes out. It’s easy to mask issues under the blanket of victory, but they come out in all of their ugly glory in losing, especially after a heartbreaking loss.

The discipline is a major issue and it’s reflective on the field. There were multiple unnecessary roughness calls, including one on Kenny Turnier on an onside kick recovery. The lack of discipline has been evident in the prior games with the plethora of penalties and the program's record-setting 2019 campaign. A lack of locker room peace was never publicly evident until now, but in retrospect, there were signs. This is an exponentially bigger concern than the actual result of the game.

Stat Leaders

UCF: Dillon Gabriel: 35/49 for 601 yards, 5 TD, 0 Int
Memphis: Brady White: 34/50 for 486 yards, 6 TD, 0 Int

UCF: Greg McCrae: 17 carries for 78 yards, 1 TD
Memphis: Rodrigues Clark: 21 carries for 111 yards, 0 TD

UCF: Marlon Williams: 13 catches for 191 yards, 1 TD
Memphis: Calvin Austin III: 9 catches for 151 yards, 2 TD

Game Notes

  • In the last 43 games for UCF, they have had 41 games of 30 points or more. The Knights have won 37 of those 43, including four wins against top 25 teams and five wins against Power Five conference teams.
  • Dillon Gabriel’s 601 yards passing in a single-game UCF record. The old record was 497 yards, set by Ryan Schneider against Florida Atlantic in 2003.
  • Dillon Gabriel has passed for a touchdown in 17 straight games.
  • UCF has had at least one passing and one rushing touchdown for 43 straight games. This streak leads the nation.
  • In the first quarter, Greg McCrae broke 2,000 yards rushing for his career.
  • Gabriel’s 85-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Wiliams was a career-long for both players. Ryan O’Keefe and Gabriel then connected on a 93-yard touchdown later in the game to set a new personal best for both players.
  • Gabriel’s 93-yard touchdown is the longest completion in UCF history. His 85-yard completion to Williams is the fourth-longest.
  • This is Gabriel’s first loss as a starting quarterback where he does not throw an interception.
  • Jaylon Robinson broke 100 yards receiving in the first half. This makes it four straight games with at least 100 yards for him, which is second all-time at UCF, tied with three other players. The record is five, set by Ted Wilson in 1985.
  • Marlon Williams’ 191 receiving yards is a personal best.
  • UCF’s 798 yards of total offense surprisingly is NOT a school record. The record is 818 yards against Gardner-Webb in 1992.
  • The combined offense totaled 1,501 yards, which is an American Athletic Conference record. The old record was 1,489, set in the 2017 AAC Championship Game between UCF and Memphis. I’d like to point out that the previous record was set in double overtime while the new record was set in regulation.
  • Sorry this isn’t my best. I’ll try harder next time.