UCF at Memphis Odds & Pick: Knights Should Dominate on Defense (Saturday, Oct. 17)

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Conor Kvatek/Collegiate Images/Getty Images. Pictured: Josh Celiscar #88 of the UCF Knights.

UCF at Memphis Betting Odds

UCF Odds -2.5 (-113) [BET NOW]
Memphis Odds +2.5 (-108) ( [BET NOW]
Moneyline -143/+116 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 76 [BET NOW]
Time 3:30 p.m. ET
TV ABC

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Two offensive juggernauts will be locking horns at the Liberty Bowl on Saturday afternoon, but only one has the defensive chops to create separation in the second half.

Both Memphis and UCF are ranked in the top 10 offensively in yards per game, but it’s UCF’s disruptive defense that makes it a sure bet on the road. This season, UCF’s defensive Havoc rating checks in at 22nd nationally with nearly 19% of all defensive plays ending in negative yardage, a pass deflection, a forced fumble, or a turnover.

Memphis, despite returning a veteran quarterback and soon-to-be NFL wide receiver, has struggled to create big plays. In fact, it’s shocking that Memphis is generating so many yards without the benefit of many long plays from scrimmage.

Out of 76 FBS teams currently competing, the Tigers are 55th in plays of 10-plus yards, 65th in plays of 20 or more yards, and 63rd in plays going 30-plus yards. This has translated to the Tigers running 82 plays per game (12th). If UCF’s Havoc rating stands up against the Tigers, that would translate to nearly 16 Havoc-induced plays in the Knights’ favor.

Central Florida is already second nationally in turnover margin and will receive more opportunities than usual on Saturday to create takeaways. But will those turnovers be enough to extend UCF’s 13-game winning streak against Memphis and help it cover as a short road favorite?


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UCF Knights

Under Josh Heupel, the Knights are just 6-6 against the spread as road favorites but have won those matchups by an average of 18.2 points per game. That margin indicates that when UCF is checked in, it tends to run away with games. This season, that explosive potential is fueled by its quarterback.

Dillon Gabriel leads the nation in passes of 40 yards or more with seven. And as I mentioned above, creating big plays while avoiding negative plays is a key indicator of future success. For all of his success through the air, Gabriel has one of the lowest sack rates when facing pressure (at least five rushers) in the entire country. Even in the Knights’ loss to Tulsa, one of the nation’s most disruptive defenses, Gabriel took a sack just once.

Defensively, UCF will first look to shut down Memphis’ running game, which is noticeably less explosive now that Antonio Gibson and Kenneth Gainwell are no longer with the team. Memphis hit seven runs of at least 50 yards last season, which led the nation. This season, Memphis has just two runs of 20 yards or more in its first two games, and the Tigers’ leading rusher, Rodrigues Clark, didn’t have either.

Once Memphis is forced to put the ball in the air, bad things are likely to happen. UCF has already collected four interceptions and limited opposing attacks to just 244 yards per game through the air. That last figure is impressive when you consider that both Georgia Tech and East Carolina were playing from behind for nearly 60 minutes against UCF.

From an efficiency standpoint, opposing quarterbacks are only connecting on 51.6% of their passes while turning the ball over four times per game. It’s hard to beat anyone with numbers like that.

Memphis Tigers

Memphis is 0-2 ATS this season, which has aligned with my expectations. Memphis has slightly downshifted offensively, which is a problem for a program that is so dependent on winning high-scoring affairs. This is the same Tiger squad that won a pair of critical AAC games back-to-back while surrendering 40-plus points last fall. Those kinds of defensive letdowns weren’t fatal last season, but they’ve already proven otherwise in 2020 — a loss to SMU.

To put Memphis’ defensive issues in the proper context, let’s just compare them to UCF’s numbers. The Knights’ sterling pass defense is a far cry from Memphis’, which is allowing opposing quarterbacks to connect on 66.3% of their passes.

And this isn’t just a “bend but don’t break” containment strategy at work. The Tigers have given up short, intermediate and deep passes alike, resulting in 386.5 opponent yards per game through the air. That’s dead last in all of FBS. Facing off against Garbiel — a bona fide Heisman candidate — won’t do the Tigers any favors.


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Betting Analysis & Pick

I anticipated Tulsa would cause problems for UCF two weeks ago, hitting the under with ease. But the fact that the Golden Hurricane walked away with the upset for the second year in a row is actually a gift in this spot. Had UCF won outright, I believe it would be a touchdown favorite in this spot. Instead, it’s available at another key number.

I’m swooping in on the Knights laying three and would play this all the way up to -6.5.

Pick: UCF -3 (up to -6.5)

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