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UCF will be Facing an Abysmal Memphis' Pass Defense

With a Memphis team coming to the Bounce House that’s not been able to stop opposing passing offenses this season, UCF must take advantage.

ORLANDO - When going up against the nation’s No. 116 passing defense, an offensive passing attack must dominate that opponent’s secondary. This Friday provides that opportunity when UCF hosts a Memphis passing defense allowing a porous 277.3 yards passing per game.

This will be Mikey Keene’s fourth start at quarterback for the Knights. Will he be ready to take the next step and deliver down-the-field strikes to his receivers? If the Memphis defense sits back in a deep zone will Keene be patient enough to target the proper receivers so that they can make plays after the catch?

Minus safety Quindell Johnson, a playmaker that recorded 62 tackles and five pass breakups this season, UCF should be able to go after most of the other Memphis defensive backs, regardless of coverage schemes.

Cornerback Jacobi Francis could be the one Memphis defensive back that UCF stays away from even if it’s just due to his experience. Francis is a fifth-year senior that has played a lot of college football. He’s far more experienced than the other starting cornerback for the Tigers, which will be detailed below.

While it might be hard to project what Keene will see from a coverage perspective this weekend or exactly which member of the Tigers’ secondary he goes after, the statistics for Memphis hold the definitive truth that UCF must be able to consistently pass the football.

Here are the numbers showing why the Memphis passing defense struggled this season, beginning with allowing wide receivers to produce huge individual games.

Individual Performances Against Memphis Tell the Tale

Prior to playing an FBS opponent, Memphis played Nichols State, a Football Championship Subdivision program, one step below FBS. Wide receiver Dai’Jean Dixon tallied seven receptions for 107 yards. That was an omen of things to come.

Sometimes, the numbers stand out like a sore thumb, and they just keep on coming. Take Tulsa wide receiver Josh Johnson as a prime example. A talented wide receiver, no doubt, but Memphis also helped his cause. He caught 42 passes, for 555 yards, a 13.2 average, and three touchdowns so far this season. What he did against Memphis really helped to bolster his statistics, however.

Josh Johnson, Wide Receiver, Tulsa

Josh Johnson, Wide Receiver, Tulsa

Against Memphis, Johnson accumulated eight receptions for 140 yards, a 17.5 average, and scored one touchdown. He’s just one of four wide receivers from the FBS level that Memphis simply could not stop this season. Here are the other three:

Arkansas State wide receiver Te’Vailance Hunt caught nine passes for 123 yards and one touchdown. The next game against Mississippi State, Memphis allowed wide receiver Makai Polk to catch 11 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown. Finally, Temple wide receiver Amad Anderson went over the century mark with three catches for 108 yards and one touchdown.

To say the least, UCF will be playing against a secondary that struggles to stop big passing plays. Perhaps that’s at least partially due to how teams have adjusted to one of the cornerbacks for Memphis.

Feast or Famine

The Tigers feature a freshman cornerback, Greg Rubin, that tallied 10 pass breakups within his first three games as a college football player. During the last four games, however, he’s just been able to record one pass breakup.

Teams undoubtedly saw Rubin play on film, adjusted their routes and where they would pass the football. Perhaps that also helps to explain why Memphis was torched for 322 yards passing when they went on the road to play Temple, despite the Owls averaging just 221.3 yards passing per game. During the next game for Memphis at Tulsa, there was a different issue with the passing defense.

Digging Deeper into the Statistics

While the Tigers held the Golden Hurricane to a mere 182 yards passing. That’s good, but there’s one major issue. With just 11 receptions, the Tulsa passing game averaged 16.6 yards per reception. That’s a very high number. For a good defense, 8-to-10 yards per reception being a more normal total. Here’s another statistical fact about the Memphis passing defense.

For the first seven games that Memphis played this season, five of the seven opponents saw a 10.2 or greater average per catch. Arkansas State provided the second highest per catch average with a 13.9 yards per catch average.

These statistical facts provide an opportunity for the Knights to get their passing game on track.

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UCF Wide Receivers, Ready to Make Plays?

Averaging just 8.8 and 8.4 yards per reception against East Carolina and Cincinnati, the Knights must do far better than that against a Memphis’ pass defense that’s proven to be quite vulnerable this season.

To help make that happen, UCF needs to create a big passing play during the early portion of the game. That could be a simple go-route to a wide receiver such as Ryan O’Keefe or Brandon Johnson, or perhaps it’s a bubble screen to wide receiver Amari Johnson.

Bottom line, whatever the UCF coaching staff decides to do, there must be better execution on the field and the Knights must find a way to create the chunk-yardage passing plays that were missing during the prior two games.

Final Thoughts

How and when UCF attacks the Memphis secondary, as well as specifically throwing in the direction of Rubin, will prove to be interesting and could dictate which team comes out victorious.

Overall, it’s still a bad Memphis pass defense. The Knights will play a freshman quarterback, but he’s capable of delivering passes down the field. Look for the Knights to take some early shots against the Tigers, as well as a few more throughout the football game.

For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast. It will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For more UCF and recruiting information, go to Twitter: @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!

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