NCAAF Week 3: #25 UCLA @ Memphis, Preview & Prediction

UCLA arrives in Memphis looking to keep its record unblemished against an upset-seeking Tigers.

Saturday, September 16th 2017, 12.00 PM ET – No. 25 UCLA flies to Memphis in search of another victim, but an opportunistic Tigers squad may have other plans in store for Josh Rosen and company. 

Week 2 Recap

UCLA Bruins – On the heels of a fantastic come-from-behind 45-44 victory over Texas A&M in Week 1, the Bruins made sure they weren’t going to be upset by a relatively lighter opponent in the following game, defeating Hawaii at home last Saturday, 56-23. It would be criminal not to mention Josh Rosen when discussing the win over the Rainbow Warriors, as the quarterback sliced Hawaii’s defense with almost surgical precision, passing for 329 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions on 22 of 25 attempts. 

A quick glance at Rosen’s numbers so far this season should make some bad quarterback-needy NFL teams wonder whether it’s really worth it to tank for the Bruins’ signal-caller. In two games, Rosen has amassed 820 passing yards and nine touchdowns on a 67.9 percent completion rate. We’re still waiting for him to throw his first pick. On the other side of the ball, UCLA’s run defense continues to be a wreck. After surrendering 328 rushing yards to the Aggies, the Bruins were fed with 281 more by Hawaii. 

Memphis Tigers – Memphis enter this Saturday’s contest after an extended layoff with their Week 2 assignment against UCF canceled with Hurricane Irma parking near Florida’s coast. This leaves us with the Tigers’ 37-29 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 31 as the only basis of what’s to come from Memphis. The Tigers would’ve looked better versus Louisiana-Monroe if the game ended after three quarters since they were up 37-14 at the conclusion of the penultimate period before proceeding to cede 15 unanswered points to the Warhawks.

Riley Ferguson didn’t look good under center, completing just 10 of 25 passes for 97 yards while also coughing up an interception. Memphis’ ground game, however, saved the day for the Tigers with Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. combining for 300 of the team’s 319 total rushing yards while also supplying three rushing touchdowns. 

Keys to the Game                                               

Can the Tigers apply pressure on Rosen? – Memphis’ stop unit last year needed work over the offseason, so if the Tigers’ defense ever wanted an acid test this year, it’ll get exactly that this coming Saturday against the Bruins, who are averaging 529.5 total yards per game this season. 

The pass rush must step up for Memphis. It can’t simply afford Rosen to get too comfortable inside the pocket. Otherwise, the Tigers will have to rely more on a suspect and inconsistent secondary that was recently taken advantage of by the Warhawks in a failed comeback bid in Week 1, when two Louisiana-Monroe quarterbacks each had a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. 

Genard Avery led the Tigers last year with five sacks, but while he’s didn’t record one against the Warhawks, Memphis had two coming from O’Bryan Goodson and Ernest Suttles.

How deep will the Memphis’ ground attack bore through UCLA’s defense? –  Ferguson didn’t do anything in the Warhawks game to convince us that his arm will cause UCLA’s defense any trouble. But even if he had a solid passing game in Week 1, it’ll be hard to ignore the promise of Memphis’ ground game to smash through the seemingly porous defensive line of the Bruins. As mentioned earlier, the Aggies and the Rainbow Warriors both had tremendous success in steamrolling through UCLA’s defense against the run, so why not the Tigers, who shouldn’t shy away from pounding the rock on their backfield duo of Henderson and Taylor. 

Will Rosen blossom anew? – With the way he’s been tossing the ball through two games this year, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Rosen is going to light up the air against Memphis. After all, the Tigers don’t have that imposing defense that’s making Rosen lose some sleep over it. It doesn’t even matter who’s downfield for Rosen. 

Caleb Wilson led the team in receptions and receiving yards with 15 and 208 respectively against the Aggies, but got only three catches for 31 yards versus Hawaii. The receiving leader of the Hawaii game? Theo Howard, who had seven catches for 110 receiving yards – almost four times more than the 32 receiving yards on two catches he had against Texas A&M. Rosen could easily make a star out of his wideouts and a mockery of opposing defenses. 

Matchup to Watch

Memphis’ running backs vs. UCLA’s front seven – This is a fairly obvious one, especially because the Tigers sort of introduced themselves in Week 1 as a one-dimensional offensive team that has the tendency to live and die by the legs of its running backs. UCLA’s defense plays well to Memphis’ style but the Tigers could come in rusty given their more than two weeks’ worth of rest could do the Bruins’ D some favors.

Prediction – UCLA 25-21 Memphis                  

Rosen and UCLA’s offense will have their way in this game, but so will the Tigers’ backfield, making it possible for both teams to get an even share in time of possessions. The success Memphis will have on the ground should prevent UCLA from getting a ton of opportunities on offense just like it did in the first two games, thus the low-scoring nature of the contest.

What predictions do you have for this game? Discuss in the comments below!

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