Know Your Opponent: UCLA Football vs. Memphis Tigers

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Memphis Offense

In their first game of the season, Memphis used their potent rushing attack to wear down the University of Louisiana-Monroe’s defense. Taylor Jr. got that game going with a 66-yard touchdown run, while Henderson tacked on touchdowns of 55 and 63 yards as the match progressed. Taylor Jr. finished with 131 yards in total, while Henderson finished with 169.

These video game-like numbers did come against a Warhawks team not known at all for their defense. They allowed opponents to score 39 points per game against them a season ago, which explains how Memphis was able to hang 37 points on Louisiana-Monroe with such ease. Against the run, the Warhawks allowed opposing runners 260.4 yards per game.

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This would be comforting news, if UCLA hadn’t already demonstrated an inability to stop the run so far in 2017. Trayveon Williams (203 yards, two touchdowns) and Keith Ford (114 yards, three touchdowns), had a field day agains the Bruins’ defense, and were the main reason UCLA needed to come back from 34 points down against Texas A&M. Even against a Hawaii team they dominated 56-23, the Bruins allowed Warriors running back Diocemy Saint Juste to run for 154 yards with a 5.7 yards per average.

A bright spot in UCLA’s front seven has been true freshman defensive end, Jaelan Phillips, who’s 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks are the best in both category. His propensity for making plays in the backfield will be looked to in order to stifle Memphis’ running backs. A defensive line of Phillips, Rick Wade, Osa Odighizuwa, and Keisean Lucier-South, look good on paper, so hopefully their struggles against the run are growing pains as the unit gels.

If they can slow down Taylor Jr. and Henderson, UCLA still has to contend with quarterback Riley Ferguson. Ferguson was named to the Manning Award Trophy Watch List in the offseason, and despite having a rough first game to start the year, he threw for 3,698 yards with 32 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in 2016.

Ferguson will have his top target in Anthony Miller back this season, a year removed from a 1,434 yard, 14 touchdown season. The Bruins’ secondary has been strong against the pass, allowing just one touchdown per game, but have only collected one interception, which Darnay Holmes took 30-yards to the house for a touchdown against Hawaii.

They have been fortunate however in playing against Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond, and Hawaii’s Dru Brown. Ferguson will be the first real test for UCLA Football, and it will be very telling to see how they respond to good quarterback play, before taking on the likes of Sam Darnold, Luke Falk, and Jake Browning.