What happened last Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium shocked a lot of people. The Memphis Tigers dominated every aspect of the game on their way to a 31-7 trouncing of Arkansas State, a team that beat Memphis 47-3 just two years ago.
The progression made under head coach Justin Fuente is evident. The Tigers, despite their 1-2 record, have been competitive in every game and are 4-2 in their last six games dating back to last year. The next opponent coming up on the slate is the Central Florida Knights (3-0), who won at Penn State, 34-31, in week three.
While the Knights travel to South Carolina this weekend, the Tigers will have two weeks to prepare for the game with as they are idle Saturday.
The bye will be huge for Memphis as it continues to work towards winning against good teams on a consistent basis. The Knights have a talented team that will give the Tigers a big challenge at home. It will be a matchup against UCF squad that ranks in the top 50 in both total offense and defense. If Memphis can pull out the win, it would be considered a huge win for the Tigers, their momentum and confidence heading into the rest of the AAC slate.
The Memphis D-line dominated the line of scrimmage against Arkansas State, holding the Red Wolves to under 100 yards rushing and 300 yards of total offense. The Memphis defense has an opportunity to legitimize themselves as not only one of the best in the AAC, but in the entire country. That is quite remarkable considering just two seasons ago, the Tigers defense was one of the worst in the NCAA.
However, to do that, Fuente’s squad must contain quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson. They make up one of the most dangerous backfields in the conference.
Bortles is playing the best he has in his whole career, throwing for 816 yards, seven touchdowns and just one pick through three games. He also has the option to hand the ball off to Johnson, who has rushed for 305 yards on 55 carries (5.5 yards per carry) for six trips to the end zone.
They have yet to face a defensive line as talented as the Tigers, which is second in the NCAA in sacks per game at 4.33. Getting to Bortles will be key. If they can disrupt his rhythm and make the Knights one-dimensional, Memphis will put itself in position to pull off the upset.
Whether or not the Tigers win largely hinges on the offense and their production. Redshirt-freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch has been making strides and running the ball like the team did versus Arkansas State will only help him and the receivers to get more open looks. Freshman Marquis Warford and senior Brandon Hayes combined for 287 yards on the ground and two scores. Fuente needs another productive day on the ground to keep the Knights offense off the field.
It’s going to take a sound game on both sides of the ball for the Tigers to move to 2-2 and 1-0 in the AAC, but they proved against Arkansas State that they are more than capable of that. Having two weeks to scheme and prepare for UCF should give Memphis an edge when it comes to game planning for the matchup.
A few years ago, anytime the Tigers were on the tube, it would’ve been advisable to change the channel. But if you haven’t watched what Fuente is building down in the Bluff City, you might want to catch one of their games. Memphis can no longer be chalked up as an easy win and next Saturday, it has a chance to show the nation that the Tigers are for real.