Preview: Memphis at Central Florida
Seventh-ranked Central Florida attempts to finish the job after an emotional week and earn a second straight American Athletic Conference title when it hosts surging Memphis in the championship game Saturday. The Knights extended their national-best winning streak to 24 games with a resounding 38-10 victory at South Florida last Friday, but the triumph came at a cost as star quarterback McKenzie Milton was lost to a severe right knee injury.
“Everyone in our program has great love and respect for McKenzie and our thoughts and prayers are constantly with him,” UCF coach Josh Heupel told reporters regarding the junior from Hawaii, who was responsible for 34 touchdowns this year. “At the same time, we’re gonna go out and play our hearts out. He’ll be part of who and what we’re doing on the field.” UCF, which is eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings, will hand out 40,000 leis to fans at the game to honor Milton, while freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. gets the job of trying to lead the Knights to another title. Memphis comes to Orlando, Fla. with one of the nation’s best running backs in junior Darrell Henderson, a four-game winning streak and the confidence of two near misses against UCF during the Knights’ winning streak – but a 1-12 all-time record against the Knights. “We’ve competed extremely well against them, but at the same point, we always had mistakes late in games that have cost us,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell, whose team lost in double-overtime at last year’s title game and 31-30 against UCF on Oct. 13, told reporters. “They’ve made plays late in games that have helped them to victory.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: UCF -3
ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4, 5-3 American): Henderson is second in the nation in rushing yards (1,699), tied for second in TDs on the ground (19) and second in yards per carry (8.6) after gaining 178 and scoring twice in the 52-31 win over Houston last week. Junior quarterback Brady White is 53 passing yards from reaching 3,000 on the season, but has thrown four interceptions (seven overall) and three TD strikes (25 overall) in the last two games. Sophomore wide receiver Damonte Coxie is White’s top target with 63 catches for 1,062 yards and seven scores while junior Tony Pollard had career highs of eight receptions and 116 yards last week and is one of the top kick returners in the nation.
ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (11-0, 8-0): The Knights will lean more toward the ground attack with the 6-3, 230-pound Mack at the helm as he has run for 281 yards (7.0 per carry) and completed just 48.8 percent of his passes in a limited role. UCF’s rushing attack has gotten better each game and sophomore Greg McCrae (895 yards, eight TDs on the ground) took the leading role at the end of October while junior Adrian Killins Jr. (1,023 yards rushing and receiving) is always a threat. The Knights’ defense, led by sophomore defensive back Richie Grant (team highs of 98 tackles, five interceptions) and senior lineman Titus Davis (six sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss), must step up again versus the talented Tigers.
1. Memphis junior RB Patrick Taylor Jr. needs 106 yards rushing to give the Tigers two players with 1,000 in a season.
2. UCF sophomore WR Gabriel Davis leads a balanced receiving corps with 44 catches for 655 yards and six TDs.
3. Tigers LB Bryce Huff is tied for 14th in the nation is tackles for loss per game (1.5) with 18 overall.