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October 4, 2013

UCF plays Memphis in American opener

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Memphis coach Justin Fuente is about to get a firsthand look at the team he wants the Tigers to emulate.

The UCF Knights are off to a 3-1 start under coach George O'Leary with a victory over Penn State this season. They are coming off a disappointing 28-25 loss last week to No. 13 South Carolina.


"They are very well-coached, disciplined and in a lot of ways, their program is what we aspire to be on the field - just fundamentally sound and tough," Fuente said.

His Tigers (1-2) host UCF on Saturday in the first American Athletic Conference game this season for these former Conference USA teams.

Memphis is coming off a bye after a 31-7 victory over Arkansas State in the Tigers' best performance this season. Marquis Warford rushed for 173 yards, while Brandon Hayes added 114 yards as Memphis racked up 505 yards total offense. The Tigers held a high-powered offense to 255 yards with Martin Ifedi had 10 tackles, including 4 for losses.

Fuente realizes Memphis must continue that improvement to stay with UCF.

"They may be the most complete football team we've played since I've been here," he said. "They lost a really tough game against one of the top 10 or 15 teams in all of America. We'll absolutely have our hands full."

UCF boasts a balanced attack with Blake Bortles, who has thrown a touchdown pass in 12 straight games, including nine TDs this season. He completes almost 71 percent of his throws, and the Knights have big-play capabilities with receivers averaging 15.3 yards a catch.

The Knights insist they won't be hung over from losing to South Carolina, a game they held a 10-0 lead before turnovers and a late rally fell short. They are very focused on their new league.

"I hate to say we're satisfied because we won't be satisfied until the end of the season when we're conference champions," offensive lineman Chris Martin said.

UCF safety Clayton Geathers said they want to win every game to reach that goal.

"It's a big opportunity, and we're ready to step up for the challenge," Geathers said.

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Here are five things to know about this first AAC game for both UCF and Memphis:

KNIGHT-MARES: After losing in 1990 to open this series, UCF has won the last eight over Memphis matching the Knights' longest domination over any team. UCF also has defeated Marshall eight straight times.

MEMPHIS-BOUND AGAIN: UCF will play Memphis on the road for the second year in a row. The Knights and Tigers were members of Conference USA last season and UCF won 35-17 in Memphis. In fact, this will mark UCF's fourth game in Memphis over the last four seasons including twice in 2010 when they beat the Tigers in the regular season and downed a 10-6 win over Georgia in the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve.

OFFENSIVE BURST: Memphis will be looking to repeat how it played offensively against Arkansas State - its best in five years. The last time the Tigers topped 500 yards of total offense, had two 100-yard rushers and 329 yards rushing were all in games during the 2008 season.

PUSH vs. SHOVE: Both teams boast stingy defenses. The Knights are third in the AAC allowing 16.5 points a game and the Tigers fourth allowing 17.3 points. Memphis is giving up 336.3 yards a game, good for fourth in the conference, while UCF is right below the Tigers holding opponents to 342 yards a game.

UCF DOMINANCE: In its eight-game winning streak over the Tigers, UCF scored at least 26 points every game, including 32 points or more in the last four. Meanwhile, the Knights have limited Memphis to 24 points or less over the same span. Over the last four games, UCF has outscored the Tigers by average of 36.2-12.





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