Knights Face Tough Test Versus Miami

Last year's game against Miami may not be telling for this week's. Both UCF and Miami are completely different teams, especially at their quarterback positions.

When the Knights' football schedule was released following the 2007 season, one of the games that caught everyone's eyes was the road trip to Miami Gardens, as UCF would take on historic college football power Miami. Some thought that UCF had a chance for a win, as the Hurricanes were facing a transition year. Coming off his first year as a head coach, Randy Shannon made many changes to the program in Miami by first removing the names from the jerseys. His team finished with a 5-7 mark, and missed a bowl game for the first time in ten years. According to the Sporting News, Shannon entered 2008 as the lowest rated coach out of all 66 BCS teams. When the Knights played the 'Canes, Miami won 20-14 in a very ugly game for UCF. They accumulated just 10 first downs (three via penalties), gained 78 yards of total offense and their two scores came from an interception and a kickoff return. They rushed 27 times for a total of four yards and quarterbacks Rob Calabrese and Michael Greco completed 11 of 37 passes combined. The defense did well though, holding the Hurricanes to 216 total yards of offense. Special teams were often on the field for both sides, punting 23 times combined.

After the game, UCF head coach George O'Leary said, "I'm real proud of the defense. We put them in some awful tough situations and too often out there."

The defense will be tested once again versus a very potent Hurricane offense, led by quarterback Jacory Harris.

Miami has been one of the surprise teams of the year, defeating three of their first four opponents (all nationally ranked), two of those wins against ACC opponents. They were the first team to schedule four ranked opponents to start a year and win at least three of them (UCF did this in 2000 and ended up 0-4). Jacory Harris has been especially impressive for the Hurricanes, completing 61-percent of his passes thus far, throwing eight touchdowns and five interceptions, already exceeding 1000 yards through the air. There are four receivers who have caught at least nine balls and acquired over 130 yards on the season. Running backs Javarris James and Graig Cooper have rushed for a combined 493 yards and four touchdowns.

When asked about his offense after the Oklahoma win, Randy Shannon said, "That's our offense – we make you stop the run. If you can't stop the run then we are just going to keep pounding and pounding."

This offense may give the Knights young defensive backfield trouble this year. In the previous games, UCF has allowed 246 passing yards per game, but the defensive line picks up the slack, only allowing 95 yards rushing per contest.

UCF may have an advantage against the Miami defense. Last year, Calabrese and Greco were fighting for the starting job for the Knights, and neither did well against the Hurricanes (or really anyone else). This year, UCF seemed to find a suitable quarterback in senior transfer, Brett Hodges. Since getting the start in week three versus Buffalo, Hodges has been consistent, completing 52 of 82 passes for 621 yards. Tailback Brynn Harvey is putting up career-like numbers for the Knights this year, rushing for 228 yards versus Memphis and 546 overall. Add in receivers Rocky Ross, Kamar Aiken, Jamar Newsome, A.J. Guyton and Ricky Kay and the Knights have a strong receiving core that can move the chains.

Miami as a defense that has only intercepted one pass on the year, allowing 38-percent completion on third downs and allow 335 total yards per game.

Special teams, which was highlighted last year due to the 23 punts, may be a determining factor in this game via field position. Miami averages 26 yards per kickoff return while allowing their opponents only 18. UCF's kicker Nick Cattoi is 9 for 13 with a long of 50 yards this year. Miami's Matt Bosher is only two of four in field goal attempts on the year, but has converted all 13 of his extra points.

Looking ahead to this game, both teams have improved offenses and decent special teams. The keys to the game are field position, turnovers/penalties and time of possession. If the Knights want to claim their first major win at home since clinching the Conference USA Championship in 2007, they must limit their mistakes, move the chains on offense and keep Jacory Harris off the field.

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