Using Analytics to Breakdown How Memphis’ Offense and UCF’s Defense Matchup with Each Other

UCF heads on the road to Memphis this week in without a doubt their most challenging game this season to date.

Memphis, is the team a lot of people were saying would potentially be the ones that would finally end UCF’s winning streak and shut up their fan base.

However, they have not exactly played up to their expectations this year, already losing to conference games; @ Navy and @ Tulane.

Both those losses were on the road, they get UCF @ home in the AAC championship rematch and they should have a solid crowd.

This game will feature plenty of points as both these teams are both top 10 scoring offenses, Memphis is the #3 scoring offense at home.

I broke down Memphis’ offense through their first 5 FBS games in about every way possible and tried to look at how UCF’s defense has fared against each particular thing that Memphis will throw at them.

I was going to do the same with UCF’s offense vs. Memphis defense, but kind of ran out of time and I just think UCF is going to score no matter what defense they’re playing against. If the defense can get stops they’ll win.


I’m sure most of you have already seen Darrell Henderson’s raw stats for this season. He has been by far the best running back in the country statistically and it really isn’t even close.

Memphis plays 3 running backs throughout the game. Henderson is obviously their main guy, but Patrick Taylor has been extremely good this season as well. Tony Pollard probably plays the most snaps out of all 3, but he primarily will line up in the slot. He plays a similar role as to how Otis Anderson has been used so far this season.

I broke down both Henderson’s and Taylor’s rushing numbers through Memphis’ first 5 FBS games.

 67 carries for Henderson through 5 games only comes out to about 13.4 again which isn’t a lot for a guy as productive as Henderson, but game flow has also played a part in mostly all their games. Expect him to get 15+ carries this week.

Memphis loves the outside run. 32 of Henderson’s 67 runs have gone to the outside, he’s been successful on 20 of them for a remarkable 62.5% success rate.

Let’s take a look at how UCF’s defense has fared against outside runs so far this season:

These are only on rushes by RB’s. Brady White, Memphis QB is not a run threat so pretty much all rushes will be coming from RB’s with maybe 1 or 2 from Pop Williams.

So, UCF has faced 56 outside rushes, with 29 (51.79%) being successful. However, there is a drastic difference in left end rushes and right rushes. This could be because the right side of the line is better, but the thing that sticks out is the tackling. On rushes to the LE, UCF has missed 12 tackles, accounting for 3.74 yards per rush. To the RE, they have only missed 5, accounting for 1.07 yards per rush.

They’ve also allowed 4.11 yards after contact on LE rushes and only 1.97 on RE rushes. Looking at this, Memphis should try to run left more than right, but their season split with Henderson and Taylor is almost exactly 50/50.

I mentioned missed tackles on the outside rushes. It’s going to be a major factor in the outcome of this game. The only way Memphis wins this game, is by dominating the ground game and I’ll get more into this later.

Henderson has forced 28 missed tackles on 67 attempts this season. About 40% of his carries. On those 28 missed tackles, he’s accrued a whopping 498 yards, that’s 7.43 ypc and 100 yards rushing alone on missed tackles. UCF just had their first 100 yard rushing game by a RB in a long time against SMU and Henderson does that routinely on forced missed tackles alone.

The good news, for UCF, is their tackling has improved tremendously as the season has progressed.

As you can see, every game, tackling has improved. The SMU game doesn’t include the final two drives with “2”s” in, but if the “2’s” are in against Memphis, that will be the game is out of reach either way.

The one game that is concerning here is FAU. Devin Singletary is about as comparable of a back to Henderson that UCF will face. Singletary forced missed tackles on 50% of rushes last season and UCF had 27 missed tackles on 62 plays in that game. However, the improved tackling the last two weeks leads you to believe Henderson will get his fair share, but not an excessive amount of yards after missed tackles forced.

Men in Box:

The easiest response to “stopping the run” is to stack the box. Which in today’s football is almost impossible to do.

The most common box today is a 6 or 7 man box just because of the way college teams spread out defenses now, it’s just impossible to put 8 consistently in the box.

I filtered out all plays inside the red zone for the purpose of this.

You’ll see that against a 3/4/5 man box, Memphis didn’t even attempt to run the ball.

Vs. a 4 man box, they faced 6 3rd and 10+’s, all unsuccessful. Their one successful play was a 1st and 10.

Vs. a 5 man box, they only ran two plays out of 17 with 5 or less yards to gain.

Getting this team in obvious passing situations, will lead to a lot of success and I’ll reiterate that going forward.

You’ll see that Memphis has no problem running the ball against a 6 or 7 man box and they averaged over 10 ypc against both.

They did struggle a bit against an 8 man box in terms of running, but had great success throwing in a smaller sample size, but that’s why it’s so hard to stack the box.

If you look at how UCF has played on defense in retrospect with how many players they had in the box, you’ll see they as well primarily will play 6 or 7. They stacked the box 17 times, and it was by far the worst defense they’ve played. Smaller sample size of course, but I don’t think that’s the answer.

They played incredible vs. the run with a 7 man box and very good with a 6 man box, there’s no need to over adjust this week.

Also, just looking at these numbers, gives you a great picture of how good this defense has been under Randy Shannon.


Ahhh, my favorite topic. Except this time I won’t rant about UCF’s personnel usage except for the fact I wish it looked a lot more like Memphis’.

Memphis loves using two running backs. It’s in large part because they want Tony Pollard on the field as much as possible, much like UCF with Otis.

Pollard has lined up as a receiver on 137 of 269 plays (51%). He only has 10 carries on the season, 4 coming from the slot, 6 coming from the backfield. He’s hit on 7 out of 10 of those rushes, so you need to account for him.

He has 20 targets, 2 have been out of the backfield, 18 coming out wide. So he’s used more as a WR, but he’s listed as an RB and you need to account for him lining up or motioning into the backfield.

They also like having two tight ends on the field, something UCF struggled to defend the run against while playing Pitt. Joey Magnifico and Sean Dykes are both great tight ends, so you can’t really argue with getting them on the field together.

Magnifico and Dykes have combined for 15 targets, good for 10 catches, 0 drops and a 66.67% success rate.

They will both split out at times, but only 5 of their targets have come split out. You would also think the tight end would play a big part in their play action passing attack, but only 3 of their targets have come on play action.

Memphis loves to throw out different personnel groupings and with a majority of their talent being at the tight end and running back positions, you can’t blame them. It’s a matchup nightmare for defenses to deal with.

If you look at how UCF’s defense has played in retrospect to the personnel they were matched up against, you’ll see that the one area you can say they struggled is against two tight end looks. They’ve allowed a 56.67% rush success rate which is by far their highest with a decent sample size.

Memphis does not run a lot of “11” personnel, a matchup UCF has been very good again. All 14 of Memphis’ plays in 22 personnel came last week against UConn, I 100% expect them to roll out Magnifico and Dykes together with Henderson/Taylor and Pollard together a lot against UCF.

UCF has faced only one pass against 2 RB looks so far so it is a land of unknown for the defense. Combine that with their somewhat struggle to defend the run against two tight end looks, it makes the most sense. Also what makes the most sense, hardly ever occurs.

Passing Game:

This isn’t Memphis’ strength because of how good their running game is, but the effectiveness of the rushing attack can lead to passing success.

Let’s remember as well that Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller aren’t walking out of the tunnel for Memphis this week, so no matter what, that’s a win for UCF.

White’s been pretty accurate this season so he’s not a major downgrade from Ferguson, but I have found where they really struggle to pass the ball and I’ll key on that later.

A majority of his passes are thrown at or behind the LOS, easy throws to make normally screens and when you have Henderson and Taylor in the backfield, that’s smart.

However, when he has open receivers downfield, he’s delivering the ball accurately at about a 58% clip. Milton was around 60% last on 21+ passes and was the best deep ball passer in the entire NCAA, so White, while the sample size is significantly smaller, has been effective in this area.

I charted 49 play action passes out of 128 attempts which is about 38% of passes. This is a pretty high number and would probably rank as the highest in the NFL. They’ve been successful on 30 (61%) of these. Everyone knows about Memphis two-back attack in the run game and it helps out their passing game a ton. They average 10.89 yards per attempt on play action passes, a significant gain.

Another way to get your QB easy completions and take advantage of a defense gearing up for the run, screen passes. Memphis has thrown 34 of them, successful on an incredible 21 (61.76%) of them, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt. These 34 passes have traveled a combine -68 yards behind the LOS.

I’ve charted 136 pass attempts (not including sacks) against UCF this season. They’ve faced a play action fake on 48 of them and have only allowed 20 to result in successful plays which definitely indicates on their ability to not bite on the run and stay disciplined.

They’ve only faced 7 screens in 4 games so a very small sample size with only 3 being successful. I can promise you the screen game will be a part of Memphis’ gameplan this week.

I mentioned before the involvement of Dykes and Magnifico in the passing game. Against UConn, UCF allowed 6 successful plays on 9 tight end targets.  Since, they’ve only allowed 4 on 16 targets. Definitely an area that has been dominant after that UConn game.

Memphis really only has one true starting WR. Damonte Coxie plays significantly more WR snaps than the other handful of guys who will rotate. Coxie is a really good receiver. He has 40 targets, by far the most on Memphis.

His average depth of target is 10.75 yards. He has 26 catches (65% catch rate), but only 18 successful plays. They definitely try to get him the ball downfield, but he will be targeted all over the place, and frequently.

Get Memphis in Obvious Passing Situations:

Alright, this is my final point, and the by far the biggest key to the game in my opinion.

Now, it sounds obvious, but if you look at the data I’m about to show you, you might actually think I’m on to something for once.

Early down success (1st and 2nd down) is something I’m high on. It’s key to being a good football team. That is exponentially true with Memphis.

As you can see, they are very good in this category. High success rates, high YPC and YPA. I don’t include sacks in passes, that is why the numbers won’t add up.

Now, when you look at Memphis on third down:

It’s a whole different story.

They only convert at a 44% clip on third down, nowhere near UCF’s 59%.

It’s in large part to getting behind the chains. They’ve only ran the ball on 3rd down 7 times and running is their strong suit. On those 7 rushes, their average yards to gain is 4, which includes one 12 ytg situation, so it is actually lower.

Now, on the 35 passes, their average YTG is 9.91 (obvious passing situation). They’ve only been successful on 16 of those (45%). They’ve also been sacked or had an unsuccessful scramble 5 times. So on 40 third down dropbacks, they are only hitting at a 40% success rate.

So how does UCF’s defense do in these situations?

On 1st and 2nd down, their numbers are incredible. As good as Memphis was, UCFs defense is even better. I would also argue the offenses that UCF has played are significantly better than the defenses Memphis has faced.

If UCF can hold even moderately true to these numbers on Saturday, Memphis will have no chance.

UCF’s defense on third down? Great. On 42 dropbacks, they’ve forced 7 scrambles and have one sack. On 34 passes, they’ve only allowed 12 successful plays (35%), amazing. UCF can feast defensively on third downs here, but the key will be forcing Memphis into these situations which UCF has been able to do their opponents early on.

The final thing I looked at in this category was how Memphis played when they were down by two scores or less in the second half. I consider these still situations where you the game is in reach, and you don’t have to abandon the run and your strengths.

On 37 plays in this type of situation, they’ve thrown a pass 62% of the time, clearly out of their comfort zone and it shows with their 30% success rate.

If UCF gets up early it’s going to be hard for Memphis to play catchup without Ferguson and Miller like they were able to in the AAC championship.

Offensive Line:

I forgot to talk about this, but it will be quick. Memphis’ O’Line is not very good, despite their crazy ability to run the football. It shows how good Henderson truly is.

They’ve allowed a run disruption/hurry/knockdown/sack on 40 of 250 plays which is probably a little lenient. On those 40 plays, only 4 have been successful. Without a mobile QB, it makes it hard when you allow so many pressures and a run disruption always will make it difficult no matter who is running the ball.

UCF has a run disruption/hurry/knockdown/sack on 89 of 280 defensive plays against FBS teams. Advantage UCF again.


Going on the road in college football is always difficult no matter who the opponent is. Memphis is in a big revenge spot here and after the way their season started, this is pretty much their super bowl so expect all the tricks and an all out effort from Memphis.

UCF is going to put up points. They’ve scored 30+ in 18 straight and there is just no reason to think Memphis who allowed 40 to Tulane and 35 to South Alabama will be the team to stop that streak.

So for Memphis, they need to be able to score with UCF.

In order to do that, I think they need to run Henderson and Taylor to the outside and often. Make UCF match up against two tight end sets as much as possible and force them to tackle in space. It is the one weakness this team has shown throughout the season.

Memphis just can’t afford to be put in obvious passing situations. UCF’s secondary is by far the best Memphis will have faced, and they struggled mightily in these situations in their other games, so there is no reason to expect that to change here.

Brady White has shown he is a very accurate QB and thrives in the PA and Screen game, but that is all taken away when the defense is expecting pass.


2 thoughts on “Using Analytics to Breakdown How Memphis’ Offense and UCF’s Defense Matchup with Each Other

  1. Very detailed and interesting, great job. But you perhaps overlooked one thing, generally. Both losses have come in the rain. Navy was a torrid downpour, Tulane somewhat less. White struggled in those games.

    White is a very accurate passer, but not quite the arm strength of Ferguson or Lynch. Still very accurate however.

    Hard to predict this game, but remember Memphis loss last year was there. Now we have you at home.

    Don’t under-estimate Memphis offense, that would be a mistake. We don’t have the long passing game from last year, however Henderson is 20 pounds heavier that makes up for it a bit.

    Either 50-38 UCF, or a closer 48-44 Memphis win. This will be a barn-burner. UCF favored by about 4 to me is negated by the home field advantage. Two great teams, but Memphis wins a close one.

    Ultimately, you can probably stat all you want. Whoever wins the turnover battle probably wins this game. My question is–Does Memphis play with our usual pace, or do we slow it down a bit to keep UCF off the field? We seemingly have the weapons to do that. Good luck guys!

  2. The way Memphis runs the ball, I would say playing in the rain is an advantage for them.

    I mentioned White has been an extremely accurate passer this season, but he has struggled throwing the ball in situations where the defense does not have to account for the run.

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