UCLA’s offensive line can take a bit of a breather this week, as getting to the quarterback is not Memphis’ strength on defense. In 2016, they tallied just 23 sacks in 12 games, which averages out to less than two sacks per game. Linebacker Gerald Avery led the team with five, but left the game against Louisiana-Monroe with an undisclosed injury before registering a sack. Avery is probable to play against UCLA.
"Did You Know… Memphis’ school colors of blue and gray were selected in the early 1900s to show unity as America recovered from the Civil War."
While the Tigers’ linebackers don’t often take down the opposing quarterback, the unit excels in pass coverage, Avery was one of five players with two interceptions last season, both of which he returned for touchdowns. Curtis Atkins, who had one interception last season, is also doing his part to cover the field in 2017, defending two passes in the game against the Warhawks.
When hot-hand QB, Josh Rosen, completes a pass against these linebackers, don’t think UCLA’s offense is out of the woods yet. Against Louisiana-Monroe, Avery forced two fumbles, while linebacker Tim Hart forced a third. The Bruins are fortunate to have a strong receiving tight end in Caleb Wilson, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Wilson struggles a bit against an equally strong linebacking core.
Memphis’s secondary took a hit with the loss of Arthur Maulet and Chris Morley. Both defensive backs had two interceptions in 2016, with Maulet defending 12 passes as well. This doesn’t mean that the Tigers’ secondary is full of holes, however.
Austin Hall, a redshirt sophomore, stands at 6’2” and 205 pounds, and has Memphis’ lone interception of the young season. His height will allow him to matchup with any one of Jordan Lasley, Theo Howard, or Eldridge Massington. True freshman Terrell Carter (6’2”, 185 pounds) has the size to cover any receiver Hall isn’t on.
Over the top Memphis has safeties Shaun Rupert (6’1”, 195 pounds) and Jonathan Cook (6’0”, 198 pounds), who combined for 10 total tackles, and three defended passes. Cook proved to be the ballhawk the team needed at free safety last season, defending against eight passes, good for second behind Maulet.
The Tigers are also adequately prepared to take on slot receiver Darren Andrews, who has already amassed five touchdowns in two games. Aside from Memphis’ linebackers covering the middle of the field, the combination of Christian Slaughter, Tito Windham, and Tim Gordon may be tough to figure out.
A non-conference game against the likes of Memphis spells trap game. With all of the tools the Tigers have at their disposal, this UCLA Football team will lose if they get caught looking ahead to Stanford. That being said, it’s hard to imagine the Bruins won’t take this match up seriously, and should come out the winners of this game.
When Rosen has time in the pocket, which he should on Saturday, he makes magic happen. He may have trouble finding his targets at times with the variety of pass defenders Memphis has, but Rosen will ultimately have success against this secondary.
The backfield of Ferguson, Taylor Jr., and Henderson will cause problems for UCLA’s defense, and all signs point to a good old-fashioned shootout. Fortunately, UCLA has the best gunslinger in the country in Rosen.
UCLA 45 – Memphis 31