On Saturday (11:00 A.M., FSN), the Central Florida Knights (2-1) play host to the Missouri Tigers (2-2, 0-2) in non-conference action. Central Florida is coming off of a bye week following a 33-20 win over Florida International. Central Florida, which is currently appealing a postseason bowl ban, is hosting an SEC opponent for the first time in the school's history.
Earlier this week, Central Florida Head Coach George O'Leary talked about the impact that the UCF fans can have on this game.
"It's big," said Coach O'Leary. "I think the fan base is critical at a home game. I think the players react to it. The fans get excited. Football is a game of momentum, and that's started by a big play on offense or defense where the fans get all excited. That generates a lot of enthusiasm. So, the fan base this Saturday is going to be critical."
Central Florida is scheduled to move from Conference USA to the Big East Conference next year (2013-2014). Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel has repeatedly praised the Central Florida football program and Coach O'Leary.
"Central Florida is a very, very good football team," said Coach Pinkel. "They're well-coached. Coach O'Leary has done a great job there of building that program. They're disciplined. And, they're just very, very impressive. They've got good size. They run well. And, they're very talented. They played Ohio State very, very close down into the fourth quarter. We've got great respect for what they're doing, and what they're getting done. So, it'll be a good test for us."
Missouri Assistant Coach Dave Steckel agreed with his head coach.
"I think UCF is unbelievably sound and unbelievably well-coached," said Coach Steckel. "George O'Leary is a really good ol' ball coach. His offense reminds me of the Bill Snyder offenses. They're very meticulous, very detail-oriented, multiple formations. There's not a running play he doesn't like. I see a lot of Bill Snyder characteristics. I think their quarterback makes good decisions. I think their tailbacks are pretty good football players. "
The Knights offense is fairly balanced, although Coach O'Leary would like to lean more heavily on the run. Sophomore QB Blake Bortles 6'4' 221 is 58-87-5 (67%) for 668 yards and 7 TDs passing, for a passer efficiency rating of 146.22. In the spring, he beat out Missouri transfer Tyler Gabbert for the starting job.
Bortles has been spreading it around among his wide receivers. Sophomore J.J. Worton 6'2" 201 leads the Knights with 12 receptions for 190 yards (15.8 yards/reception) and 1 TD. Sophomore Rannell Hall 6'2" 191 has 11 receptions on the season for a team-leading 197 yards (17.9 yards/reception) and 3 TDs. He is also the Knights kickoff returner, with a 22.2 yards/kickoff return average. Senior Quincy McDuffie 5'10" 178 has 9 receptions for 104 yards (11.6 yards/reception). McDuffie is also averaging 16 yards/punt return. In 2010, he was an All-American as a kick returner, and this year, he's on the Paul Hornung Award Watch List. Junior Jeff Godfrey has 7 receptions for 56 yards (8 yards/reception). The Knights have also frequently employed their backs as receivers.
Earlier this week, Coach O'Leary cited Bortles' "lack of experience" for most of his interceptions, saying that Bortles has been staring down his receivers. Coach O'Leary said that's something that they've been working on during the bye week, and in preparation for Missouri.
"You've got to be able to look stuff off," explained Coach O'Leary. "And, I think he's done a better job of that…………………………………………………. He has the ability to take a bad play and make a good play out of it, which is the sign of a quarterback developing."
The Knights' regular starting running back, senior Latavius Murray 6'3" 222 is expected to play against Missouri after missing the last two games due to an injury. In game one, Murray carried 14 times for 109 yards (7.7 yards/carry) and 1 TD. He's a load, and Coach O'Leary would like to get him untracked.
During Murray's two-game absence, sophomore Storm Johnson 6'1" 216 took over, and received the bulk of the carries for the Knights. On the season, Johnson has 42 carries for 187 yards (4.5 yards/carry) and 2 TDs, and also has 5 receptions for 20 yards.
Another senior, Brynn Harvey 6'1" 209, also stepped up during Murray's absence, and has 28 carries for 122 yards (4.4 yards/carry) and 1 TD, and 3 receptions for 26 yards.
Senior fullback Billy Giovanetti 5'11" 230 has just 1 rushing attempt, for 2 yards on the season, but he has 4 receptions for 33 yards (8.2 yards/reception) and 2 TDs. He's clearly a receiving threat in the red zone.
Up front, Central Florida averages 6'4" and 303 pounds across their starting offensive line. RSF LG Theo Goins 6'4" 317 has been named to the Outland Trophy Watch List, and senior C Jordan Rae 6'2" 275 has been named to the Remington Trophy Watch List.
One of Coach O'Leary's concerns going against Missouri is ball security.
"Missouri is a big CPR (club, punch, rip) team," explained Coach O'Leary. "We've been preaching it. We have our scout teams stripping our ball carriers every chance they get. Ball security, it's very important………………………………………………… In the heat of the game, you've just got to remember high and tight."
An even bigger concern for Coach O'Leary is trying to slow down Missouri's running game. UCF has defended the pass better than they have the run. Ohio State pretty well ran it down their throat (256 rushing yards on 51 carries), and FIU averaged 4.5 yards/carry against the Knights.
"It breaks down to where your front five or front six, they've got to make plays," said Coach O'Leary, whose Knights play a 4-3-4 base defense.
Senior DE Troy Davis 6'2" 249 is Central Florida's most productive defensive lineman. On the season, he has made 14 total tackles, and he leads the team with 4 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks. He has also been credited with 2 QB hurries, and he has forced 2 fumbles, and recovered one.
On the inside, sophomore DT E.J. Dunston 6'2" 302 is a very active big man who has registered 9 tackles, including 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. The UCF defense has good size, they're physical, and they can run.
Sophomore MLB Terrance Plummer 6'1" 228 leads Central Florida with 33 total tackles. He also has 2.5 TFLs, and 1 QBH, and he has a fumble recovery to his credit for the Knights this season. Earlier this week, Coach O'Leary was asked about Plummer's play, and the head coach issued a challenge to the man in the middle of his defense.
"He needs to play better, in my opinion," said Coach O'Leary, speaking of Plummer. He may have all of those tackles, but I'm looking for how many tackles-for-loss does a defense have. That's the one item that we are missing, I think, on defense right now after three games. We've had some sacks and all, but it's the TFLs that put the offense behind the chains. That's where we need to improve. That usually goes with your front or your linebackers. I've got a lot of linebackers that are making tackles ten yards down field. I'm looking at the other side. Who makes them on the other side of the line of scrimmage? That's where we need to improve. But, I think Terrance, for being a young kid, a sophomore, has done a good job. But I expect more from him."
Central Florida's top eight tacklers consist of Troy Davis and the Knights' starting back seven. Senior FS Kemal Ishmael 5'11" 206 is second on the team with 27 total tackles, and has also been around the football enough to recover a pair of fumbles. He's on the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List.
Comprising the rest of that list are senior starting OLBs Ray Shipman 6'5" 242 (19 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 QBH) and Jonathan Davis 5'9" 202 (16 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 PBU), and the rest of the Knights' starting secondary, including sophomore SS Clayton Geathers 6'3" 204 (17 tackles, 1 PBU), senior CB A.J. Bouye 6'0" 186 (16 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 PBUs, and 1 INT), and sophomore CB Jordan Ozerities 5'10" 191 (12 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery). Sophomore CB Brandon Alexander 6'1" 183, who come in as a fifth DB, is also among UCF's top defensive producers with 6 tackles, including 1 TFL, a QBH, and 2 PBUs.
Earlier this week, Missouri back-up QB Corbin Berkstresser, who could very well see action this Saturday, said that he's impressed with the Knights' defense.
"They definitely bring an attitude," said Berkstresser, speaking of the UCF defense. "They're fast and they're strong……………………………….……… It's going to be physical down there in Florida."
Central Florida is located within a recruiting hotbed, which is why it's no wonder that they have as much talent as they do. They're especially talented at the skill positions on both sides of the football.
"Our crowd is looking forward to this game," said Coach O'Leary. "Anytime you can bring in an SEC team, I think it's great! And, it's great for the fan base!"
[NCAA Ranking in Brackets]
349.00 [98th]___ Total Offense___ 389.67 [77th]
149.50 [76th]___Rushing Offense__ 159.67 [66th]
6____________TDs Rushing___________ 5
199.50 [95th]___Passing Offense_ _ 230.00 [60th]
120.41 [98th]__ Passing Efficiency__ 149.61 [33rd]
5____________TDs Passing___________ 9
29.00 [58th]____Scoring Offense___ 35.00 [36th]
317.50 [23rd]___ Total Defense___ 347.33 [46th]
107.00 [24th]__ Rushing Defense__ 159.00 [67th]
6_________ TDs Allowed Rushing_________ 5
210.50 [46th]___Passing Defense__ 188.33 [32nd]
139.32 [88th]__ Pass Effic. Defense_ 110.85 [31st]
7_________ TDs Allowed Passing_________ 4
25.50 [68th]____Scoring Defense___ 21.67 [44th]
+1.75 [11th]__ Turnover Margin__ +0.67 [38th]
10 / 3_ ______ Fumbles/Lost________ 2 / 1
2_________ Interceptions Thrown_________ 5
4_________ Interceptions Gained_________ 2
23.55 [36th]___Kickoff Return Avg._ _18.50 [92nd]
23.18 [4th]____ Punt Return Avg.___ 16.00 [20th]
33.52 [103rd]__ Net Punting Avg.___ 40.08 [27th]
2.50 [T-34th]_____Sacks By_____2.00 [T-58th]
2.00 [69th]_____ Sacks Allowed_____1.33 [39th]
28:52 [86th]___ Avg. Time of Poss.___ 31:51 [30th]
30.7% [107th]___3rd Down Conv.__ 53.6% [12th]
40.0% [T-79th]___4th Down Conv._ 33.3% [T-84th]