The Knights have a wealth of veteran returnees from 2009 who are now a year older, wiser and stronger. Overall, the Black and Gold has 17 starters returning, including eight on offense, seven on defense and both specialists.
UCF has 18 seniors on its active roster. This ties for the most at UCF under George O'Leary with the 2007 team which went on to win the Conference USA Championship. Four Knights boast at least 30-career starts in WR Kamar Aiken (33), P Blake Clingan (37), LB Derrick Hallman (33) and DE Bruce Miller (35).
One trend that UCF hopes continues in 2010 is that in 2009 UCF was third in the nation, trailing only Navy and UConn, with 4.00 penal- ties per game. UCF also ranked fifth nationally for giving its foes just 37.62 penalty yards per game, trailing just Navy, UConn, Penn State and Iowa. UCF was flagged just three times on opening night for 26 yards, including a six-yard false start that was mismarked by the officials.
STARTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
The Knights recorded 472 yards of total offense in their 38-7 win over South Dakota on opening night. It was the best that UCF has come out of the gates in 12 years, dating back to a 64-30 win at Louisiana Tech on Sept. 5, 1998, in which the Knights posted 560 yards of total offense. It is also UCF's highest scoring opening contest since that game against LTU. All eight of UCF's drives on Saturday ended in Coyote territory with six of them reaching the red zone and then producing points.
CALABRESE GOES NORTH VS. SOUTH DAKOTA
Junior Rob Calabrese had the best game of his career against South Dakota on opening night, completing 12-of-15 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown. His 200.56 efficiency rating was the best by a Knight since Kyle Israel's 210.36 against UAB on Nov. 25, 2006. The 80-percent completion percentage tied for the 10th best in school history. It was a great night for UCF passing the ball as a whole. True freshman Jeff Godfrey went 6-of-7 for 65 yards and a score in his collegiate debut, making UCF as a team 18-for-22 passing for 241 yards and a pair of scores (203.84 efficiency rating).
DAVIS MAKES MOST OF FIRST HOME START
While preseason All-Conference USA selection Brynn Harvey recovers from off-season knee surgery, Jonathan Davis quickly took advantage of his starting opportunity, rushing for a career-high 107 yards and a touchdown.
ALL WE NEED IS 20
With the strength of UCF's defense over the past few years, its offense has not needed much to win games. In fact, 20 points has been a sort of magical dividing line. Over the past 35 games, UCF is 19-2 when scoring 20 points or more and 1-14 when scoring less than 20 points. In 2009 the Knights were 8-1 when scoring at least 20 and 0-4 when held under that number with the lone exception being a 45-24 loss to Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
BACK IN BLACK
After wearing gold uniforms at home for 21-consecutive home games, the Knights have now worn their more traditional black jerseys for each of the past three home games and won all three, closing out 2009 with wins over No. 13 Houston and Tulane and opening 2010 with a victory over South Dakota.
ONE FOR THE MONEY, TWO FOR THE SHOW...
The Knights won on opening day for the 20th time in their 32 years of football and for the fifth year in a row. However, UCF has not started a season 2-0 since 1998, Daunte Culpepper's senior year, beating La. Tech and Eastern Illinois.
20 carries in the season opener against South Dakota - his second-career start. The Knights have now produced a 100-yard rusher in three of their last four season openers. UCF is now 8-0 since the start of the 2008 season when a Knight rushes for at least 100 yards in a game.
HE'S THE GUY-TON
Wide receiver A.J. Guyton caught eight passes for a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown on opening night. It was his third-career 100-yard receiving effort.
The Knights were nearly even in their offensive attack on opening night, rushing for 231 yards and passing for 241 more. It is the third- consecutive regular season game in which UCF has eclipsed the 200-yard plateau both passing and rushing.
BIG RIGHT SIDE
The Knights shuffled their offensive line around midway through preseason camp and now have an enormous right side with former left tackle Nick Pieschel standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 301 at right guard and All-Conference USA pick Jah Reid and his 6-foot-7, 324-pound frame holding down the fort at right tackle. This unit gets even more imposing when tight end Adam Nissley lines up on the right, bringing his 6-foot-6, 266-pound body into the mix. The group can also pass protect well. UCF did not allow a sack on opening night.
KNIGHTS LOOK TO STAY ON TOP
UCF returns seven starters and many other key contributors to what has been C-USA's most dominating defense of late. In addition to having C-USA's premier rushing defense at 82.77 yards per game in 2009, UCF led the league in total defense (350.54 ypg), sacks (2.92 spg) and tackles for loss (7.23 pg) while ranking second in scoring defense (21.93 ppg).
In addition to leading the league, UCF ranked fourth nationally in rushing defense behind BCS bowl participants Texas,Alabama, and TCU.UCF also led C-USA in rushing defense in 2008.
In league history, only TCU (2002-03) had previously led C-USA in rushing defense in consecutive seasons.
NEW DEFENSIVE TACKLES
UCF started a pair of locally-produced fresh- men at defensive tackle against South Dakota in E.J. Dunston and Victor Gray. The Knights had not started a freshman at defensive tackle on opening day since 1997 when Fred Harley started at Ole Miss. UCF last started two freshmen at defensive tackle for the final nine games of the injury-ravaged 2004 season in Emeka Okammor and Keith Shologan.
BRUCE IS LOOSE
The nation's active leader in both sacks (27) and tackles for loss (44), Bruce Miller is C-USA's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Miller's 27 career sacks are tied for ninth-most ever by a FBS player in the talent-heavy state of Florida.
SECONDARY DEEP AS WELL
The Knights have six different players in the two-deep who have started in the secondary during their UCF careers. High amongst them are 2009 Freshman All-American Josh Robinson at cornerback and fellow sophomore Kemal Ishmael at safety, the team's leading tackler in last year's secondary. Justin Boddie has 11 career starts at corner while Reggie Weams has made five at safety to round out UCF's starters heading into South Dakota.
The team also benefits from the return of Emery Allen, a redshirt senior who missed 2009 with an injury but has started three games previously.
On the team:
I think practice takes care of [getting better]. We still have a lot of improvement to get done from the game on Saturday night in all phases offense, defense and the kicking game. We have a lot to cover with them. You congratulate them on the win, but you also remind them that we have to improve in certain areas if we are going to beat teams throughout the season. I thought it was a good first game as far as execution was concerned. We were consistent in a lot of areas, but there are a bunch of areas we need to improve on.
On N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson:
He is obviously a great quarterback and good athlete. He is a baseball player too. He was impressive in the first game against Western Carolina. He threw for over 300 yards and has a good feel and good poise back there. He has some good pretty good receivers to throw to - a lot of deep balls and a lot of rangy receivers that are long. We will have our work cut out for us in the secondary and obviously containing him with his foot speed and the running game.
On games against automatic-qualifying BCS schools:
In Conference USA we schedule a lot. We have four non-conference games for each team that's in the conference. Conference play is extremely important because it dictates where you are going. Recognition in the country comes from your non-conference wins and I address that with our staff and our players that you got to win the non-conference wins. The way the schedule falls out this year, the month of September is all non-conference games. The schedule worked out well that way and then we tee it up with the conference games. It is extremely important. If Conference USA wants to get any recognition as a conference they got to win these games and not just schedule good opponents.
On a lot of running backs and receivers touching the ball against South Dakota:
I like to keep fresh legs on the field if we can. Obviously the score dictated a lot of that last weekend. This weekend North Carolina State looked very good against Western Carolina offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. We are going to have our work cut out for us and we are going to have to shore up some of the areas that we really need to improve on from last game.
On areas that need improvement as seen on the film of the South Dakota game:
Offense and defense and the kicking game. There are a bunch of things in those areas we need to improve on. The biggest thing was consistency as far as finishing some plays defensively. We were sticking our nose where it didn't belong instead of playing the call. We have always been a very good, accountable defense and I thought we had some situations where guys were where they shouldn't be. We corrected that at halftime. The second half we went out and sixty of the seventy-nine yards were in the last eight minutes with the two's and three's in the game. They turned it up a notch second-half and understood to play the call. They hit the play right [South Dakota] and the kid was a good bounce runner, twenty, and he was running to the end and no one was out there so we had to get that corrected.
On Josh Linam's first start last week:
There was competition during preseason and they [the linebackers] were great every day, they all are. He [Josh Linam] beat out [Chance] Henderson but they both play and it's a long season. One game is a game that you go out and see if they follow the game plan and get things done right. You are only as good as you are two-deep, I have always believed that, and we are getting better two-deep as far as depth is concerned. That's what is really important thing about a football team is a bunch of guys that we can put on the field. We are not losing a lot as far as with them [the backups] on the field. That is what the difference is this year as compared to some of the past years where we may have had seventeen or eighteen kids I felt comfortable putting on the field. Now for the most part we have enough depth to put in a replacement and get some good downs out of them.
Is confidence a big thing with Rob Calabrese?
It's a big thing with any athlete. I thought the key to Rob was that he went out and was very efficient and very consistent and that is what he needed. That's what the doctor ordered. I was happy for him. I get a little disturbed at some of our student body before the game when announcing the starting lineup we got students booing your starting quarterback. I turned around and they saw me looking and stopped. That's not how that kid should be treated. He went out and did a great job as far as getting things done and really managing the game. Every time he was out there he moved the chains and for the most part scored almost all the time he was on the field with the unit. I was happy for him. He knows he made a couple different mistakes that he would like to improve on. That's what I have been seeing in preseason.
Do you think N.C. State will come after him more with blitzes?
I would come after any quarterback. I think quarterbacks are too good and the receivers are too good to sit and let them sit back there unless you got four war daddies up front that can get to the quarterback. That is what is important. If you can do that then you can play coverage. Everybody mixes it up between the blitz and regular rush. The passing game, everybody has got so much better at it. They [North Carolina State] have a kid that has poise back there and he has some good receivers to throw to that have some range to them 6-foot-4, 6-foot-3 guys. They throw a lot of deep balls so we are going to have to get some heat on the quarterback and ideally you would like to not have to blitz to do it. Last year, we did not do as much because we had some guys that could get after the quarterback. This year, I think in certain situations you have the right combination on the field.
On Latavius Murray:
He came in because he was playing H-Back for us and really a posse tight end that can get vertical on third down. He is back at running back. He is a 6-foot-3, 224-pound guy that really I am looking to get more out of as far as getting more things done. I talked to him about that. Sometimes, as I told our team, even if you are with special teams there are 44 players in the four units say kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, and 10 of them are starters. Only 10 players that start on offense or defense are a part of the 44 man unit. I am always on that other 34, if you take the kickers out it is 32, we need to get more out of them as far as contributing.