Battle for the AAC Championship
This is a unique situation for our previews because both of these teams were featured in as our Friday Night Spotlights — both UCF and Memphis. Both of these teams are fighting for legitimacy in a conference that feels snubbed. UCF is trying to make a case that they belong in the top 4 as an undefeated team. While Memphis would love to add a Championship to their resume and use it to help build future year’s teams.
UCF has continued to rise through the rankings as their undefeated season drags on, but they feel hard done by because they aren’t getting the respect they think they ought to.
UCF’s offense has been a powerhouse in the AAC this year. They’ve amassed just under 3000 yards rushing so far this season. They are averaging just under 270 rushing yards per game on the sesason. The Knights passing offense has averaged almost another 260 yards per game, although their success through the air will be tested with a new QB in the backfield.
Passing: UCF’s passing game will probably take a little different approach now that McKenzie Milton was injured in their game against USF. Likely this means that freshman Darriel Mack, Jr. will start at quarterback for the Knights. There’s not much of a sample size to project how he will perform this season because although he’s played in 8 games, he’s only accrued 43 attempts and only 21 completions. Based off of the limited sample size he’s averaging about 4 yards per attempt, but only completing about 50% of his passes. He is also yet to record a touchdown (or an interception).
Rushing: The knights have been on fire averaging 257 yards of rush offense per game at home and just under 300 yards on the road. Their attack has been particularly dangerous because it’s spread around. 5 players boast at least 4 rushing touchdowns (including the injured-McKenzie Milton). They average about 45 attempts per game regardless of location, though they do gain about 0.5 yard more per carry at home. The sample-size for away games is smaller than most teams at this point in the season having had only 4 neutral site/away games on the season. The touchdown ratio looks way more inflated that it really is (they have almost double, but they’ve also play nearly double the home games). On the whole UCF has pretty similar statistics through their passing game repertoire with the exception of interceptions. At home they have 5 interceptions as opposed to only one on the road, even taking into consider playing more home games they are still almost 2.5x as likely to throw an interception at home.
Passing: On the road UCF is giving up almost a full 100 yards more passing yards on average. They give up almost an extra 0.5 yard per attempt and have allowed almost as many completions as at home (in four games instead of seven). They are also averaging a 0.5 sack less per game on the road. UCF will likely have to play exactly their game, outscoring their opponent rather than limiting them.
Rushing: UCF has really been the sort of team that is out to score more points than you. That’s reflected a bit in the 200+ yards of rushing they’ve allowed at home and on the road this season. Much like the we noted in the (offensive) rushing statistics, the touchdown statistics at home and on the road are not great indicators because of the dispartity between home and road games. Acknowledging the breakdown of home and away games, there’s not really anything that jumps out as far as home and away splits — they are very close (and the away sample is tiny).
Memphis come into this game with a real opportunity to play spoiler on the Knights perfect season. They will be looking to get revenge on then 10th-ranked UCF for the one point victory back in mid October.
Memphis’ passing game has averaged about 250 yards per game on the season, but the Tigers have relied on the run for a huge part of their touchdowns. They also have a running back duo that is splitting time almost down the middle. Between them they’ve rushed almost 2600 yards and accounted for 33 touchdowns.
Passing: Comparatively, the Tigers have only minimal difference between home and away — about 30 yards. They’re averaging 266 at home and 237 on the road. They lose 2 yards per attempt by leaving the confines of home. Both their touchdown and interception numbers are notably worse on the road. In their 7 home games they amassed 17 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions, while in the 5 road games they managed 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Rushing: Memphis has used two backs, both average 5.5 yards per carry or better and at least 14 touchdowns. Memphis has struggled to replicate their rushing production away from home. At home they are averaging almost 340 yards per game as opposed to the (relatively) more pedestrian 190 on the road. They lose almost 2 yards per carry on the road and just under 2/3rds of the total touchdowns. Some of this looks to be a result of playing opponent playing styles. There are 11 more attempts at home than on the road.
Passing: Memphis gives up almost 280 yards passing per game, as opposed to 220 at home. The touchdowns are pretty similar between home and away. The one thing that really strikes me is that at home they are averaging an interception per game. On the road, however, they have only one interception on the season. They are also averaging a full sack per game less on the road than at home.
Rushing: As with most of their statistics, Memphis has been much better at home. Away from home they allow just under 200 yards per game compared to the 120 at home. Away from home they do see about 9 more rushing attempts per game, however most other statistics are very similar. They do allow slightly more rushing TDs away from home than they do at home. During away games they’ve allowed 13 rushing touchdowns in 5 games, versus 10 rushing touchdowns at home in 7.
The game is played at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida with kickoff at 12:30p PST/3:30p EST).
The neutrals are expecting at least 64 points to be put up on the board and UCF to come out on top (~3 points).
Keys to a win for each side
- Establish Mack (Jr.) early. Mack, Jr. has very limited playing time so far for the Knights. It’s important to make simple plays and get him some confidence.
- Live to play another down. Memphis’ defense suffers mightily away from home. Exploit that by making intelligent throws and not forcing things. It’s ok to throw the ball away or waste a down if it means maintaining possession.
- Stay balanced. This should help the Knights in a number of ways including building on Mack’s success and keeping the Tigers guessing.
- There’s no place like home. Bring the home form with you on the road. This is technically a neutral site game, but I imagine UCF will have the majority. The Tigers need to find a way to keep their form.
- Throw it! The Tigers need to get the passing game more involved especially in touchdowns. By having such a huge portion of their offense is rushing-related, this should help remove some pressure from the running game.
- Take it away. The Tigers really need to find some turnovers in this game, they haven’t managed many on the season and this would go a long way towards relieving pressure on the offense (and give the defense a rest).