Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan throws the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

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True freshman QBs take center stage in Memphis-UCF matchup

When the Memphis Tigers visit the UCF Knights on Friday night in Orlando, it could come down to a battle between true freshman quarterbacks.

Memphis (4-3, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) is powered by Seth Henigan, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from the Dallas area who is the first true freshman to start a Tigers season opener.

UCF (3-3, 1-2) is led by Mikey Keene, a 5-11, 180-pounder who went 23-0 and won a pair of state titles over the past two years in Arizona.

Henigan, who has started all seven of Memphis’ games, is second in the AAC in passing yards per game (307.6) and in TD passes (16).

“One of the things that brought me to Memphis was their winning culture,” Henigan said.

Indeed, the past three Memphis starters at quarterback have been standouts: Paxton Lynch, an NFL first-round pick in 2016, Riley Ferguson and Brady White.

This year, the Tigers got off to a 3-0 start, including an upset win over Mississippi State. But then Memphis’ 22-game non-conference home winning streak was snapped with a 31-28 loss to UTSA. The Tigers then lost league games to Temple and Tulsa before ending their three-game skid last week with a 35-17 win over Navy.

Now comes UCF, a team that had beaten Memphis 13 consecutive times before last year, when the Tigers rallied to beat the Knights 50-49.

On Friday, of course, there will be two different starting quarterbacks. For UCF, that’s Keene, who in four games is ninth in the league in passing yards (142.0 per contest).

Keene, who has tossed four TD passes and the same number of interceptions, has been filling in for injured standout Dillon Gabriel.

In the games Gabriel started and completed, UCF went 2-0. Since Keene became the starter, the Knights are 1-2, including a blowout loss last week to then third-ranked Cincinnati.

UCF’s top playmakers are running back Johnny Richardson (team-high 317 rushing yards, 6.1 average) and receiver Ryan O’Keefe (team-high 35 catches and 375 yards). Running back Isaiah Bowser and wide receiver Brandon Johnson — a Tennessee Volunteers transfer — are tied for the team high with six touchdowns.

“We’ve got to have big plays,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’re halfway through the season. We’ve got to get better.”

Memphis’ top playmaker is Calvin Austin III, who has 10 TDs this season — eight on receptions, one on a 69-yard reverse, and one on a punt return.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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