Date: Saturday, September 16
Kickoff Time: 11:00am CT
Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, TN)
Series Record: UCLA leads 1-0
Spread: UCLA -3
At the beginning of the season, this game was circled as one of the best opportunities for a Group of 5 team to make a statement against a Power 5 team. While that still remains true, Memphis has its hands full with a suddenly red-hot Bruins team. UCLA now has put up 101 points in their first two games, and Memphis will need to find a way to stop that high powered offense.
We still don’t know much about the Tigers, as they’ve only played one game this season. Their first game wasn’t much of an indicator of their team, as sloppy conditions limited their offense. Game 2 against UCF was canceled due to Hurricane Irma. If they’re going to stun the Bruins, the offense needs to put up points, and the defensive secondary needs to be sharp.
Riley Ferguson isn’t a name that the nation knows, but he is presented with an opportunity to make a statement against one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Finding Anthony Miller, Phil Mayhue, and Tony Pollard early and often will be a key for the offense, but it might be the running game that makes the biggest difference. UCLA’s defense is surrendering 331 rushing yards per game. That can only mean good things for Doroland Dorceus, Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson. Henderson and Taylor both surpassed 100 yards in the game against UL-Monroe.
Defensively, the Tigers are looking to replace multiple contributors at various positions. Jared Gentry’s injury hurts the defensive line, and Jonathan Wilson’s targeting penalty from the first game will keep him out for the first half. Linebackers Darian Porter and Jackson Dillon will be missed this season, but Genard Avery and Curtis Akins are big time playmakers. Facing Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen will put a lot of pressure on the secondary, and someone not named Jonathan Cook will have to step up.
Head coach Jim Mora’s seat was getting fairly hot after last season, and the pressure was mounting as the Bruins fell behind Texas A&M 44-10 in their first game. A miraculous comeback by Rosen gave the Bruins a 45-44 win, and they followed that up with a 56-23 win over Hawaii. While his seat has cooled slightly, Mora’s defense could be the reason why it heats back up.
As mentioned before, UCLA’s defense can’t stop the run, but they will compete with Ferguson and the Memphis passing game. If the front seven can, force Memphis to pass, they may stifle the Tigers. Freshman defensive end Jaelan Phillips has already proved to be a force, but he can’t stop Memphis by himself. When your leading tackler is a defensive back, your front seven aren’t doing their jobs, and the Bruins need to fix that tremendous problem fast.
Rosen is star, there’s no doubt about that, but there is a way to rattle him. In every game in which he threw multiple interceptions, the defenses forced those turnovers early. If Memphis can bait him into early turnovers, they have a chance but it won’t be easy. Rosen is one of the best for a reason, and he has the tools to torch the Tigers defense and turn this game into a blowout.
It’s extremely difficult to gauge this Memphis team, and only one sloppy game of experience is what we have to base them on. But so does UCLA. Even with their familiarity from Memphis head coach Mike Norvell’s days as Arizona State offensive coordinator, they haven’t seen most of these players. Since Memphis is hosting, and UCLA is vulnerable, why not pick an upset?
Memphis 45 UCLA 38