On Saturday (11:00 A.M., SECN), the #20 Missouri Tigers (2-0) play host to the Central Florida Knights (0-1).
UCF Head Coach George O’Leary pointed out earlier this week that he always tries to schedule teams from the power five conferences. The defending Fiesta Bowl Champs are 4-2 in their last 6 games against power five opponents.
“I've always tried to schedule a great nonconference schedule if we can,” said Coach O’Leary. “I've always thought you get better as a football team because of that. We're always going to try and do that and play up if we can.”
Two years ago, Missouri managed to grind out a 21-16 win at Central Florida in the two schools only other meeting.
“Central Florida is a very, very good football team,” said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, speaking earlier this week. “They’re a very talented team. As you know, they played a very, very close game against Penn State. They know how to win. Coach O’Leary has done a great job with that program. You know, he deserves a lot of credit.”
UCF has real good size all over the field. And, they’re the fastest and most-athletic team that Missouri has faced thus far this season.
“(UCF) is a very, very well-coached football team,” continued Coach Pinkel. “They’re a very, very good football team. Coach O’Leary’s really done a great job of building that program at a high, high level.”
Coming off of a bye week, the Knights are back at full strength, after playing the season opener without 2 of their starters on offense, including RB Will Stanback and WR Rannell Hall.
“Everyone’s healthy,” Coach O’Leary said earlier this week.
On offense, UCF is multiple, with spread elements, as well as pro sets included.
In their season opener, Coach O’Leary had to make a QB change in the 2nd half, as his red-shirt freshman starter, Pete DiNovo, had struggled. In the 2nd half against Penn State, sophomore Justin Holman went 9-14-0 (64%) for 204 yards and 1 TD. So, earlier this week, Coach O’Leary named him the starter at Missouri.
“The game lights go on and everybody reacts differently,” said Coach O’Leary. “But Holman will get the nod. We'll see if he can continue doing what he did.”
The 14 passes Holman attempted in the 2nd half against Penn State equaled the number of passes he threw a year ago as the back-up to eventual first-round NFL selection Blake Bortles. Holman was expected to be the starter this year, and he appears to me to be the more talented of the UCF QBs. He’s an athletic dual-threat, with good mobility and a big arm. Coach Pinkel admitted that at one time in the recruiting process, Missouri had offered Holman. But, he’ll be making his first career start at Missouri.
“(Holman) is very, very impressive,” said Coach Pinkel. “You turn on the film, and he looks like a seasoned veteran. And, he’s a good athlete. He’s tall. You know, we looked at him in recruiting, and we were very aware of him.”
He does have weapons, including the 6’1” 225-pound Stanback and the 5’10” 212-pound Dontavious Wilson to alternate for the Knights in their single-back sets.
“(UCF) is very talented on the perimeter,” said Coach Pinkel. “They’ve got playmakers.”
On the perimeter, the Knights have big, talented, experienced receivers to rotate, including 6’3” 214-pound junior Breshad Perriman, 6’2” 212-pound senior J.J. Whorton, 6’1” 200-pound senior Rannell Hall, and 6’0” 200-pound senior Josh Reese. The Knights have a freshman receiver, in 6’3” 237-pound Jordan Akins, who returned kicks in the opener, although he may give way to Hall in that capacity, if the senior is sufficiently recovered. Akins signed with UCF in 2010, but he spent the past 4 years playing minor league baseball in the Texas Rangers’ organization.
The Knights like to utilize their backs in the passing game, as well as their talented corps of veteran receivers. Holman is adept at hitting his big backs out of the backfield on swing passes, as well as on screens.
The one position group where UCF is not as big as they are everywhere else is along the offensive line, where the Knights average just under 6’4” and 297 pounds. They’re experienced and well-regarded at center and left tackle, and less experienced at the other spots.
Defensively, UCF has very good size, particularly on the back end, and they’re experienced, and very powerful. They operate out of a 4-3 base, and utilize a 4-2-5, or nickel package, on passing downs. Again, this is the fastest, most-athletic team that Missouri will have played this season.
“(UCF) is real stout on defense,” explained Coach Pinkel. “I mean, you know, they’ve got eight starters back, and they were real good on defense a year ago. With Coach O’Leary there, you know, that’s what he does. They play great defense.”
The real strength of their defense is their secondary, which includes 4 of their top 5 tacklers in the season opener. They are led by 6’2” 208-pound 5th-year senior safety Clayton Geathers. He’s very active and very physical. He’s started 40 straight games, and he’ll be around the football. He’s joined by 6’2” 195-pound senior safety Brandon Alexander, 6’0” 186-pound sophomore corner Jacoby Glenn, and 5’10” 186-pound 5th-year senior corner Jordan Ozorities. Geathers and Glenn are on the Jim Thorpe Watch List.
If the Knights’ best defensive player is not in their secondary, then it’s 6’1” 236-pound senior MLB Terrance Plummer. He’s been named to several pre-season Watch Lists, including Butkus, Bednarik, and Walter Camp. He’s very physical, and a big part of the reason it’s not easy to run between the tackles against UCF.
The Knights are big up front, and against Penn State, they were able to get a good push and put some pressure on the Nittany Lions QB. Penn State had success throwing the football, racking up 454 passing yards in the process. But the Nittany Lions never did get their running game going, as UCF held Penn State to just 57 yards rushing on 28 carries (2.0 yards/carry).
“Coach O’Leary is really good!” said Coach Pinkel. “And, he’ll have them ready to play. They always play well. It’ll be a real competitive game.”