Much like East Carolina did two weeks ago, Memphis will look to erase years of head-to-head heartache and bid UCF a not-so-fond farewell Saturday in the teams' last showdown as conference rivals for the foreseeable future.
UCF (6-2, 3-1 AAC), ranked No. 25 in all three major college football polls this week after toppling Cincinnati, plays the first of back-to-back away games against Memphis at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Tigers (4-4, 2-3) have lost three in a row, but are coming out of a bye.
Memphis has thrived in similar situations of late. Dating back to 2015, when they toppled No. 12 Ole Miss, the Tigers are 8-1 at home against ranked opponents, including wins in each of their last four tries.
However, UCF has long had the Tigers' number with 14 wins in 16 all-time matchups.
To preview this final clash between longtime conference rivals and talk all things Tigers, Evan Barnes from the Commercial Appeal joins for this week's edition of Know Your Foe.
Boyle: UCF is 2-5 on the road under Gus Malzahn, with just one win in AAC play. What is the atmosphere expected to be like at the Liberty Bowl for homecoming this weekend, and what did the Tigers focus on most during their bye week?
Barnes: UCF should expect a fairly decent crowd since it’s homecoming, but Memphis has struggled with attendance all season. The Tigers are on pace for their lowest home attendance since 2012 but, that said, Memphis fans will gear up for one last chance to see UCF.
During its bye week, Memphis focused on trying to avoid turnovers and improve kick return coverage. Both have been key reasons why they’re on a three-game losing streak.
Boyle: Memphis dug itself a 35-0 hole at Tulane, but made it a game late. What positives did the Tigers take from the second half that they feel can translate into the stretch run?
Barnes: One key from Memphis’ second half was being efficient. They took care of the ball, made drives methodical and found some big plays when they could. For them to regain control in November, that’s going to be a key formula, especially in the passing game. Don’t try to get every play back at once, but focus on chipping away and then letting that set up the big play opportunity.
Boyle: Last week, you wrote that head coach Ryan Silverfield is not 'oblivious' to outside noise in regards to his long-term future. With an 18-13 record in three seasons in charge, is he truly in danger of losing his job? What would be seen as an acceptable final month?
Barnes: Silverfield’s seat is getting warmer because the Tigers have been an average team the last two seasons (10-10) with no sign of improving. Attendance is declining, the offense — once Memphis’ crown jewel — isn’t producing the same playmakers, and the Tigers have four losses since the start of last season after leading by double digits. A win against UCF would quiet some of the noise, but a loss would put a lot of pressure on him and the Tigers are hosting Tulsa next Thursday. For Memphis, being 2-2 in November might help Silverfield because that would qualify them to be bowl-eligible even if it’s another 6-6 season. Finishing 3-1 would be better for him.
Boyle: You also evaluated each position group entering the open week, and the grades were mostly subpar. Which area of the team is the biggest concern, specifically in regards to the UCF matchup?
Barnes: The Memphis offensive line concerns me the most. The Tigers haven’t been able to run the ball well the past three seasons and that falls on the position that Silverfield used to coach. Memphis has also given up a ton of sacks, and that’s on poor pass protection. I expect UCF to be a physical defense up front so if they pressure Seth Henigan well, a questionable offensive line should worry fans more than a secondary that’s contributed to one of the nation’s worst pass defenses.
Boyle: Malzahn mentioned Quindell Johnson as one of the top defensive players in the league and complemented the Tigers' kicking game and quarterback Henigan in his opening statement Monday. Which other Tigers have stood out this season, and who needs to finish the year strong to get Memphis back into a bowl game?
Barnes: Besides Henigan and Johnson, the Tigers’ kicking game has been outstanding. Chris Howard is 14-for-14 this season on field goals while Joe Doyle is one of the nation’s leaders in net punting average. Tight end Caden Preiskorn has been the team’s most consistent receiver and, at 6-foot-5, he’s enjoying a breakout season. Defensive end Jaylon Allen and linebacker Xavier Cullens have led the front seven with good noses for the ball.
If the Tigers want to reach a bowl game, those players I named as well as the Memphis receivers, led by Eddie Lewis, Gabe Rogers and Javon Ivory, must either keep up their level of play or raise it during this final month.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: UCF Knights football: Know Your Foe, Memphis Tigers