Everybody in college football knows about the magic of Josh Rosen, the new Wizard of Westwood, who led the Bruins from a 44-10 deficit in week one to beat Texas A&M and immediately entered Bruin lore. But did you know about Memphis’ Riley Ferguson? Oh, you will soon. The 6-foot-4, strong-armed, dual-threat flinger might be the best kept secret in our sport. Both of these field generals will be gracing NFL backfields next season and have the potential to pick apart opposing defenses. And of course it doesn’t hurt that both of these defenses are certainly pick-apart-able, if that’s a word.
The Tigers are particularly chomping at the bit to get back out on the field since last week’s game vs. UCF was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. The Bruins have played both of their scheduled games, epically beating A&M and downing Hawaii 56-23 last Saturday.
This is a recipe for one very exciting and entertaining football game. Sit down. Strap in. Hold on. This’ll be some wicked fun.
UCLA at Memphis
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: UCLA -3
Three Things To Watch
1. Memphis running backs vs. UCLA’s defense
In their first game of the season the Tigers got a pair of 100-plus-yard outputs from Darrell Henderson (12 carries, 169 yards) and Patrick Taylor (15 carries, 131 yards) as part of a 319-yard grind machine on the ground. The Bruin defense has shown signs of being very soft, and not just in the first three quarters of the A&M game. Last week, Hawaii’s Diocemy Saint Juste charged through the Blue & Gold for 154 yards as the Warriors rushed for 281 yards as a team for the night. Soft as a California Roll, the Bruins’ front seven need to hunker down or else the Tigers will control the clock and keep Josh Rosen and Co. off the field.
2. Riley Ferguson needs to amp it up
The Memphis QB came into 2017 with a ton of acclaim after throwing for 3,776 yards and 32 touchdowns last season, garnering some serious draft attention. But against ULM, he threw for a measly 97 yards on 10-for-25 passing. There is no doubt that the Tigers will have a tougher time running the ball this week so a vastly better passing attack will be vital. Keep an eye on Tiger wideout Anthony Miller, who set the school record with 1,434 yards receiving a year ago, but had just two catches vs. ULM.
3. Dear fans, don’t leave the game early
No matter what the score is or how much time is left, any game involving UCLA is never over. Remember, this IS Josh Rosen here, people. But the key to the Bruin offensive success this week will be how his receivers – particularly wideouts Caleb Wilson and Darren Andrews – do in getting separation from the youthful Memphis DBs and if the O-line protects like it did in the fourth quarter of the Texas A&M game, not like in the first three quarters. Hawaii got three sacks on Rosen last week, but he did not throw a pick and went 22-for-25.
I didn’t include it in the top three keys above, but another factor could be that it’s a 9 a.m. start Pacific time, the kind of start time that usually doesn’t bode well for those Occidental teams who travel East. Give the “wake up” advantage to the Tigers. But remember that the Bruins are never out of any game – you know, that whole Josh Rosen factor we just discussed above. Even though the Bruins are given a 61 percent chance to win according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, look for this one to be a back-and-forth affair with lots of fireworks and lots of LED bulbs on the scoreboard going on the fritz.
Memphis will get the early lead, but that Bruin momentum will come around and rally in the second half. Both Rosen and Riley Ferguson will get their shots in, but in the end the Bruins pull away with a hard-fought win in a four-hour-plus game.
Prediction: UCLA 47, Memphis 38
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.