After a bye week where the UCF public was left stewing in the home-opening loss to Tulsa, the Knights are scheduled for their third national television appearance on ABC in four weeks. They’ll be traveling to Memphis to take on the Tigers Saturday afternoon at 3:30 pm EST.
Under new head coach Ryan Silverfield, it’s possible that this game could be the Tigers’ best opportunity to defeat the Knights for the first time since 1990. Back then, UCF was still an I-AA school and George H.W. Bush was the President of the United States.
Recent history alone certainly gives Memphis a motivational edge. Memphis’s woes in attempting to establish itself in the national conversation have been constantly stymied by the Black and Gold. The clearest example of this is the back-to-back losses in the 2017 and 2018 American Athletic Conference Championships. And surely Memphis fans also remember UCF’s last trip to Liberty Bowl in 2018, where the Knights squeaked by 31-30, after being down 30-14 in the second quarter.
Tiger quarterback Brady White was under center for the 2018 games. After two contests this season, he has seven passing touchdowns in two games against only three interceptions with 576 yards in the air. Wide receivers Sean Dykes and Damonte Coxie have combined for 397 of those yards gained with the pass. On the ground, running backs Rodrigues Clark and Kylan Watkins together have contributed 323 ground yards.
While those numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, it’s the balance of this team’s offense that should worry UCF. 79 passes to 81 rushes means it’s somewhat hard for a defense to key in on a particular threat to neutralize production. It also implies that the Memphis defense has kept games close enough to prevent abandoning the run.
While the Tigers have multiple players on the defense with a sack, UCF fans would tell you that it’s not O’Bryan Goodson or any of the defensive front that represent the biggest hurdle on the field…it is the Knights themselves.
The numerous false start penalties on the still-developing offensive line have destroyed the mobility of the offense at times. In addition, the football gods have not been kind to UCF in other ways. The top wide receivers for the squad, Tre Nixon and Marlon Williams, are both expected to miss Saturday.
The good news is that freshman Jaylon Robinson has already recorded three 100-yard performances this season. The kid they call “J-Flash” will certainly be a popular target for his field general Dillon Gabriel. The Knights will also have their entire running back corps ready to go.
Knight head coach Josh Heupel isn’t letting the success of the past impact his message. Heupel acknowledged the history between these teams and the urgency it brings in preparing for the upcoming contest over and above everything else: “If you look at the games [in this series] they’ve come down to the very end. You got to prepare to put yourself in position to make the play that makes the difference in the ball game – and every play is that play.”
If UCF hopes to even bring the game within a single play, the mistakes from the previous two outings must be eliminated.