For roughly a third of UConn’s matchup against Memphis last season, the Huskies were in the hunt, tied 21-21 with the Tigers through a chunk of the second quarter.
Then the wheels fell off for UConn. Completely off.
Memphis scored 49 points in roughly 37 minutes of football, racking up over 700 yards of offense for the game en route an absolute throttling of the Huskies and a 70-31 win for the Tigers. With an offense as good as Memphis’ was last season, it wasn’t totally surprising for them to dismantle a porous UConn defense, but giving up 70 points is hard to justify in football, even for a young team.
This season, many of the Tigers’ best players are back, making them one of the favorites to win the AAC West and to beat the Huskies thoroughly this season when UConn travels down to Tennessee this season on Oct. 6.
In their second year under head coach Mike Norvell, the Tigers had a video-game approach to just try and outscore everyone. Most of the time, it worked pretty well, with Memphis posting a 10-2 regular season record losing both games to 2017 national champion UCF, including a heartbreaking 62-55(!) defeat in the last week of the season. The Tigers would round out their season with a 21-20 loss to Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, held at their own stadium.
With an offense that was fourth in S&P+ and second in the country with 49.3 points per game, quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Anthony Miller were critical cogs in keeping the Tigers in games. They had their work cut out for them with a defense that at times was just as bad at UConn’s, ranking 102nd in S&P+ and giving 35.2 points per game.
In their final seasons at Memphis, Ferguson threw 39 touchdowns and eight interceptions Miller hauled in 18 touchdown catches for 1,462 yards and nearly 100 receptions. As good as this duo was, Memphis still had plenty more offensive weapons, including sophomore backs Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson, who combined for 25 total touchdowns (22 rushing) and more than 2,000 yards on the ground.
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly says that Norvell’s offense needs a lot of skill players to work effectively. Even after losing two of the American’s best offensive players in 2017, the Tigers still have plenty to make things work.
Ferguson and Miller graduating is certainly good for UConn, as Ferguson threw for 431 yards and Miller racked up 224 of them. However, with weapons like Taylor Jr., Henderson and fellow running back Tony Pollard (736 yards from scrimmage, 10 total touchdowns) in the backfield, the Tigers still could be one of the best offenses in the country. Replacing a stud like Ferguson won’t be easy, but Memphis should be able to find solid QB play from junior Brady White, who was the No. 4 pro-style QB in the class of 2015.
Defensively, the Tigers were young last year, with six freshmen defensive backs seeing significant time and racking up seven picks. This youth movement extended through the linebackers, and in a way mirrors what UConn is going through right now. But this Memphis unit showed more flashes of competence last season, and it’s likely that all those underclassmen earning playing time last year makes things easier for them this year. After ranking so poorly defensively last year, there’s really only room to improve.
All in all, Memphis is going to be very good and have a real chance to take down Houston and win the AAC West. Norvel still has some of the best offensive weapons in this conference, and if the defense improves even a little bit, they’ll be as dangerous as ever. That’s bad news for UConn.
Prediction: Memphis 49, UConn 27.