Memphis coach Mike Norvell has mentioned ahead of Saturday’s home game against No. 10 Central Florida that the Tigers are facing a better team than the unbeaten Knights featured in last year’s AAC championship game.
Central Florida won that game 62-55 in double overtime, preserving their perfect record. The Knights would finish 13-0 under former coach Scott Frost after defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
Josh Heupel is coaching Central Florida now after Frost left for Nebraska and the Knights have continued their dominance, starting 5-0 to increase their winning streak to 18 games.
They are 2-0 in the American Athletic Conference, tied atop the East division with No. 25 Cincinnati and Temple. Memphis is 4-2 overall and in fifth place in the West with a 1-2 record.
“They’re probably playing even faster than what they did last year,” Norvell said of Central Florida during the AAC’s weekly teleconference. “Their tempo is at warp speed. They’re snapping the ball anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds after the previous play, which is extraordinary.”
Central Florida is third in the nation in total offense with 574.4 yards per game, which is more than last year’s average of 530.5. The Knights have scored 38 or more points in each game this season.
Junior quarterback McKenzie Milton is 13th nationally throwing for 300.2 yards a game while completing 102 of 171 passes for 1,501 yards with 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He has also rushed for 215 yards on 37 carries with five touchdowns.
“They’re playing at a dominant stage regardless of who they played,” Norvell said.
Milton, who has started 28 consecutive games, had an injury scare in last week’s 48-20 win over SMU. He took a hit while trying to earn a first down, sandwiched by SMU defenders. He lay on the ground for a few minutes as trainers tended to him. He managed to walk off the field.
“We tell him to get down, but he doesn’t like to do that too often,” Heupel said. “We want to keep him as healthy as possible without eliminating or taking away a portion of his game. Certainly, glad he was healthy and able to play.”
Memphis is equally efficient to last season, Heupel said, despite the Tigers featuring a new quarterback in Brady White. Heupel said during the teleconference that White is efficient and that he is impressed with running back Darrell Henderson’s speed and vision.
White is completing almost 70 percent of his passes (69.2 percent), hitting 108 of 156 passes for 1,549 yards with 15 touchdowns and only one interception. His passing rating of 183.08 tops the AAC and is seventh nationally.
Henderson tops the AAC with 155.7 yards rushing a game, gaining 934 yards on 79 carries with 12 touchdowns. He leads the nation with his rushing yards and 11.8 yards per carry.
Heupel also mentioned Memphis is more physical than the teams Central Florida has faced this season.
“That’s kind of the secret to their sauce,” Heupel said during the AAC teleconference. “They got dynamic players and they’re really physical and that’s typically true of really good football teams.”
Both teams are ranked in the nation’s top 10 in total offense. Memphis is No. 6, averaging 547.2 yards a game.
Central Florida boasts a defense that is allowing only 17.4 points per game, but Memphis, which is allowing 24.5 points a game, has a higher ranked defense at No. 38 (348.7 yards allowed a game) compared to the Knights at No. 47 (356.4).
If the game comes down to the quarterback, Central Florida has the No. 3 pass-defense team in the AAC, limiting opponents to 174.6 yards a game through the air. The Knights’ sophomore cornerback Richie Grant has three interceptions, which is tied for the league lead with Tulsa’s Cooper Edmiston.
“They were a well-coached team this last year and they’re a really well-coached team this year,” Norvell said. “It’s just a little bit different presentation.”