The first time the Memphis Tigers lost to the University of Central Florida last season, it was a 40-13 loss, a game rescheduled after Hurricane Irma blew through Florida in September. The second time UCF beat Memphis last season it was for the American Athletic Championship, a 62-55 loss.
So you can believe that when the Tigers hit the Liberty Bowl field on Saturday, they’ve got revenge on their minds.
The national spotlight has dimmed a bit, with the Tigers stumbling twice this season against inferior opponents (Navy and Tulane). But if the Tigers hope to winning the AAC-West this season, Saturday’s game against No. 10 Central Florida is a must win.
Here are a few things to look for in this game of conference rivals:
A streak will be broken
The Tigers have a 12-game home-winning streak at the Liberty Bowl. They’ve also defeated a Top-25 ranked team in each of the last three seasons (Ole Miss, Houston and UCLA). This may be the only chance the Tigers get to extend that streak this year.
Meanwhile, UCF comes into the game with the nation’s longest current winning streak with 18 wins. And while Memphis may consider it a rivalry, UCF does not. The Golden Knights have won 11 of 12 meetings with Memphis, and don’t look at Memphis as main rivals.
“It’s just another game on our schedule. Our rivals are the other people down south,” UCF linebacker Wyatt Miller told The Orlando Sentinel, alluding to University of South Florida. “That’s our rivalry game, this is just another game on our schedule.”
Whoever wins, a streak will end.
The newest Tiger will probably sleep through this game
Tigers redshirt senior LB Curtis Atkins Jr. left the UConn game at halftime for the arrival of his firstborn, Curtis Atkins III.
“Whew,” the proud papa said when asked about his baby boy. “He is cutting up, but (being a dad) is the greatest feeling in the world.” Atkins later joked about asking Tiger Coach Mike Norvell about a scholarship for the infant.
Stopping an offensive machine
The Knights are second in total offense in the AAC, partially because QB McKenzie Milton has given teams fits this season.
Milton can beat you with his arm (1,500 passing yards, 18 TDs) or his legs (215 rushing yards, five TDs). Milton has spread the football around. He has thrown a touchdown to eight different receivers. UCF has scored at least 38 points in every game this year.
“Milton is a very difficult young man to prepare for, because he can do so many things,” Norvell said. “He is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country. We have to do our jobs and be in the right position.”
“First we have to take care of ourselves,” added Tigers Defensive Coordinator Chris Ball. “We have to correct some things that we made mistakes on last week. We have got to be able to execute on a high level.”
Ground and pound
Sometimes a good defense is a great offense. If the Tigers are patient and put the game in the hands of Tiger RB Darrell Henderson – who leads the nation with 934 rushing yards – they may be able to disrupt the Knights offensive flow by limiting UCF’s time of possession. It is hard to score if you don’t have the football.
Last week, the Tigers showed how productive they can be when they ran the football. Henderson and Patrick Taylor each rushed for over 100 yards in the first half against UCONN.
“It is going to be a great atmosphere and we’re going to be ready to go,” Taylor said. “We have got to get revenge. It’s going to be a dog fight.”