It took two overtime periods for the UCF Knights to vanquish the team with the worst record in Conference USA. Now the Knights (4-2, 2-0) are hoping to make shorter work of a Memphis team that’s struggled against far weaker opponents than the Southern Miss squad the Knights beat in a 38-31 thriller on Oct. 13. But they’ll have to do it on the road.
Knowing that Southern Miss (0-6, 0-2) owned the worst record in the conference, the Knights were shocked to find the Golden Eagles keeping pace with them the entire game. That came despite quarterback Blake Bortles throwing a personal best 272 passing yards, and running back Storm Johnson and wide receiver J.J. Worton both having some of their best performances of their careers.
UCF’s defense couldn’t seem to stop the Southern Miss offense, at least on the ground, where they ran for 194 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the process. That led to some easy first downs for the Eagles, who kept pace with the Knights throughout the game.
But the Knights excelled in crucial plays, converting all three of their fourth down attempts.
Where they struggled was on their offensive and defensive lines, which both allowed the Eagles to penetrate far more often than the Knights are used to. Bortles was sacked three times in the game, and the Knights were collectively tackled behind the line of scrimmage nearly a dozen times. Meanwhile Eagles running back Jalen Richard perforated the Knights D-line for 88 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
Staring down another C-USA team with a deeply flawed record, the Knights are looking at another opportunity for an easy win.
Memphis’ record could prove less deceptive than that of Southern Miss. While the Golden Eagles’ winless record came from a punishing schedule against NCAA contenders Nebraska, Louisville and Boise State, the Tigers have struggled against such obscure teams as Tennessee-Martin, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee State. The only team the Tigers have played all season that the Knights have experience with is East Carolina. The difference in those outcomes may be the most telling: in consecutive weeks UCF beat the Pirates 40-20 and Memphis lost to them 41-7.
The game kicks off at 8 p.m. Saturday in Memphis, televised on CSS Sports.