UCF’s outlook this season and the career of quarterback McKenzie Milton took a major hit in an unfortunate way last week, though the Knights probably wouldn’t have made the College Football Playoff either way. They at least would’ve been bigger favorites for the AAC Championship Game. The Knights were just -3.5 home favorites with an over/under of 70 as of Tuesday at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
Similar to the year before, UCF cruised through its Schedule and was only challenged once in the trip to Memphis that ended 31-30. That Game had an added element of rain, which UCF benefitted from as it scored the only 14 points of the second half. But there was still a clear path for the Tigers to win as they ran for 281 yards on 5.4 yards per carry.
UCF isn’t the same team as a year ago as the defense has dropped off a bit and that’s led to some tighter results despite giving up only 23 points the last two Games. As for Memphis, its defense is usually bad and that’s why it had Four losses, giving up 40 points to Tulane and 65 to Missouri. The Tigers can still put up points and that’s how they’ll win this one.
It’s likely Memphis will take that run-first approach once again even if the weather is nice. Darrell Henderson ran for 199 yards in the first meeting and that’s what he’s done all season en route to 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns on 8.6 yards per carry. Patrick Taylor has been more of a bruiser, but he still has 894 yards and 14 touchdowns. Quarterback Brady White has done the rest, but Memphis would like to focus on the rushing attack in this matchup. White has thrown Four picks in the last two Games and only has 25 touchdowns because of the level of defenses that Memphis has faced.
The reason Memphis can win and control this Game is because UCF has struggled to stop the run all season, giving up 211 rushing yards per Game on 4.5 yards per carry. That showed up in the first meeting and there’s no reason that will change in this one. If that works, White may not even be needed for the offense to succeed.
It’s a little different on the other side, though Milton’s numbers were down across the board and they’re about equal to White’s outside of Milton’s 307 rushing yards. Freshman backup Darriel MACk came in against USF and didn’t really do anything through the air and he’s just 21-of-43 for the season. Because of that, the Knights will likely focus on the ground Game between MACk, Greg McCrae and Adrian Killins. The sophomore McCrae has taken up a bigger role and is at 9.0 yards per carry leading the team. That run-heavy look worked against USF but that’s not really what the Bulls planned for going into the Game.
And while Memphis doesn’t have a good rush defense, it’s actually performed better than UCF’s allowing 154 yards per Game on 3.9 yards per carry. In the first meeting, Memphis held its ground and if it weren’t for a 71-yarder, would’ve held UCF to under 100 rushing yards. If it can put in a similar effort, that would be trouble for UCF.
The Tigers have covered in their last Four and are 15-5-1 ATS in their last 21 Conference Games. The Knights are 6-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record and 5-1 ATS in their last six at home. The home team is 11-1 ATS in the last 12 meetings between these schools and the under is 5-2-1 in the last eight.
Our Pick – Obviously, the million dollar question for this one will be how much of an impact the loss of QB McKenzie Milton will have on Central Florida.
Historically, unless we’re talking about an absolute super star, the QB position in college football tends to be the most overrated position on the field. Afterall, when a starting QB goes down, it’s not as if teams are forced to dress the water boy. They simply move on to another highly qualified, heavily recruited, capable replacement.
Often times, we are getting tremendous line value in these situations. Remember, there are 10 other offensive players on the field, not to mention 11 defensive players, along with all of the other players who see action each week. All of them contribute to a teams success.
With that in mind, we’re going to lay the small spot with UCF as they remain unbeaten for the 2nd year in a row. UCF -3