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Knee-Jerk Reactions: #25 UCF 35, Memphis 28

UCF wins on the road to set up a ranked showdown at Tulane

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis
UCF RB RJ Harvey runs in the first half against the Memphis Tigers
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering a big letdown on the road a couple weeks earlier, the UCF Knights made sure history did not repeat itself as they defeated the Memphis Tigers 35-28 to improve their series lead to 15-2. It’s knee-jerk reaction time.

Youth movement

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis
UCF QB Mikey Keene throws the ball
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

With Mikey Keene starting, RJ Harvey had another outstanding game. His 61-yard carry in the first half propelled him to over 120 yards by halftime. While he cooled during UCF’s all-too-common third quarter lull, head coach Gus Malzahn kept going back to him and he delivered. Last week, Harvey set a personal high in yards, but today’s 151 yards blows it out of the water. He’s the future of the UCF backfield.

Mikey Keene showed once again that he operates very efficiently as a game manager. When he’s on the field, UCF uses the run to open up the pass and Keene’s accuracy makes it work. Other than a rushed pass into double coverage that led to an interception, Keene was effective at complementing the run, going 22/28 for 219 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Keene showed great vision outside of a few hiccups here and there and has proven once again to be a good game manager who can complement the running backs with an accurate throw. Keene also showed that his arm has gotten stronger with a perfectly placed 24-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to Javon Baker.

Road testing

UCF improves to 2-5 on the road outside of the state of Florida under Gus Malzahn. That’s not a good number, but it’s only 1-1 in 2022. With getting a true road win under their belt this year, it should give the team some confidence as they head into their toughest remaining game of the season, a road game at ranked Tulane. The Green Wave and their fans will be jazzed for the matchup as it is the first time in seventy years that a ranked Tulane will host a ranked team. For them, this is big. Perhaps College GameDay big.

This game could be the last time UCF leaves the state for the remainder of the year. If the Kights win out, they will host the American Athletic Conference championship game and their bowl destination will depend on that result. If the Knights win out completely, they should end up in the Cotton Bowl as the Group of Five’s New Years Six bowl game representative. This would be UCF’s third and final time representing the G5 in the NY6 as they will be joining the Big 12, a power conference, next year

The defense took some shots but kept going

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis
UCF DB Jarvis Ware celebrates a stop
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

This was a physically rough game for UCF.

Multiple players, including linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste and defensive back Divaad Wilson, went down during the game with injuries. These two in particular were knocked out of the game with head shots. Wilson had a head-to-knee collision on a tackle and the training staff immediately covered his head with a towel. Jean-Baptiste was hit on a block by John Hassell late in the third quarter. Upon review, they determined the block to be targeting and Hassell was ejected. The 15-yard penalty that came with it killed the momentum Memphis had built up in the third quarter while the game was tied at 21. UCF would take the lead in the fourth quarter and never give it up. While I am not a doctor, based on how they were treating the two players, I wonder if they suffered concussions? Only time will tell.

The Memphis game plan wanted quarterback Seth Henigan to pass on a group of defensive backs that routinely line up at least five yards off the ball. Henigan was able to do so, having nine plays that yielded 15+ yards. Four of those big plays were on third down. The Tigers went 9/14 on third down, with seven of them through the air. This is still a pain point for the defense.

While third down conversions are still an issue, UCF was able to clamp down on defense in the fourth quarter as a whole, only giving up 83 yards of total offense(73 pass/10 rush). 61 of these yards were in one scoring drive that brought the Tigers within one score. Outside of that, the Tigers had a whopping 22 yards of offense in the fourth quarter as the defense was not going to let Memphis win.

An area UCF has struggled badly in is with defensive turnovers. Coming into this game, UCF had only two interceptions all year with one in the last six games. The defense was able to get two interceptions off Henigan. The first was a bobbled passed by Jeyvon Ducker in the redzone that was tipped around until Davonte Brown came down with it to avoid Memphis scoring points. The second was on an overthrow to Caden Prieskorn that went right to Divaad Wilson. Defensive opportunism isn’t a bad thing, but I’d like to see the defense play a bit tighter.

So how did UCF win?

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis
UCF WR Stephen Martin catches a touchdown pass from RB Isaiah Bowser
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the game, Gus Malzahn was very coy about the status of quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee, who had started every other game, suffered a concussion in last week’s win against Cincinnati. Mikey Keene stepped in and helped the team come back from being down twice to take the lead.

During the week, Malzahn said that Plumlee did practice and he was listed as QB1 on the depth chart. This was by design. One, Malzahn did not specify how much Plumlee practiced, only that he did. Also, leaving him as QB1, forced Memphis to plan for two quarterbacks. Malzahn went with Keene and Plumlee, while dressed, never played.

The Knights continued their run-first mentality as Isaiah Bowser started and looked good, averaging more than four yards a carry and helped run the clock down Bowser in the wildcat continues to be unstoppable in the goal line situation as Bowser had a passing touchdown to Stephen Martin. As mentioned above, the offense also relied heavily on RJ Harvey, who continues to earn more and more playing time.

Uniform review

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis
UCF went with an all-white uniform with standard decals
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

UCF went with their all-white combo using a non-chrome helmet decal. You can’t go wrong with this on the road. Memphis counting with an all-blue uniform makes for a nice contrast.

Stat Leaders

UCF: Mikey Keene: 22/28 for 219 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int
Mem: Seth Henigan: 26/39 for 284 yards, 1 TD, 2 Int

UCF: RJ Harvey: 17 carries for 151 yards, 1 TD
Mem: Seth Henigan: 16 carries for 69 yards, 1 TD

UCF: Ryan O’Keefe: 10 catches for 75 yards, 0 TD
Mem: Asa Martin: 7 catches for 61 yards, 0 TD

Game Notes

  • UCF leads the series 15-2.
  • After setting a personal best with 84 rushing yards last week, running back RJ Harvey broke that personal record with 151 yards.
  • The last time UCF had a 150+ yard rusher was Isaiah Bowser(155) vs Florida at the 2021 Gasparilla Bowl .
  • UCF with two interception takeaways matches their previous season total.
  • Today had the second offensive targeting call that I’ve seen. The first was by then UCF WR Ja’Cyais Credle in 2020.
  • Sorry, it’s not my best, but I got winded trying to keep up with RJ Harvey.