UCF hasn't played since their September 1st opener at South Carolina, which was a 24-15 loss. There, they gave the Gamecocks all they could handle after a shaky start. South Carolina was able to throw the ball downfield, especially early in that game. But to UCF's credit, they made some adjustments and consistently got pressure on South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell and they shut down the Gamecock run game. The defense, especially the front, played well. Quarterback Steven Moffett had a solid game, going 27-39 for 258 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Mike Walker both had over 100 receiving yards and Walker scored their lone touchdown. One thing UCF Head Coach George O'Leary will not like is their rushing performance. They only got 83 yards on 41 attempts. A bulk of the carries went to Jason Peters and Kevin Smith. Defensively, they gave up too many passing yards, 330, and most of those yards came in the first half.
The Bulls are 1-1 after a loss to Penn State and a win against Florida A&M. USF gave up too many big plays in their opener against the Nittany Lions or the outcome could have been different. Penn State returned a Courtney Denson fumble into a touchdown, they gave up an early and late big runs to the Nittany Lions. Against the Rattlers, running back Andre Hall was the star, rushing for 156 yards and three scores. Pat Julmiste has certainly played better then Denson at the quarterback position. In the two games he is 27/45 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. For the most part the defense has been very good in the first two games, led by linebacker Steven Nichols. They have only allowed 439 total yards in the two games, including only giving up 85 total yards to A&M. The secondary has shown big improvement and the defensive line is much better. The defense has six sacks, three against Penn State and three against Florida A&M.
Central Florida has lost 16 in a row, including 12 in row under Coach O'Leary. One thing is certain, this is a huge pride game for both teams, especially for UCF. They don't want the young program in South Florida to show them up. To some degree, the Bulls have already passed them because they are in the Big East compared to UCF being in Conference USA. This is the type of game where records won't really matter. It's about attitude, execution and who wants it more? In addition, this is a game similar to a FSU/Florida, Florida/Miami or Miami/FSU game because there are so many kids on both sides of the field that played together or against each other in high school.
UCF will be well rested having last weekend off. They must find balance on offense and do something to kick start their running game. Defensively, they must contain Andre Hall first and pressure Julmiste second. If Hall can run the football effectively that would really set the table for the Bulls passing game. UCF must win first down on both sides of the ball and get to the quarterback.
The Bulls will spread the field offensively and they have an edge at the wide receiver position with their athletic wide receivers. But spreading the field also creates space for their running game with Hall. He is one of the top players in the Big East and if he can rush for 120+ you have got to love South Florida's chances. Defensively, they must continue to play hard and make Moffett and the UCF passing game beat them. This means win first down and put the Knights in second and long and third and long down and distance scenarios.
Expect this game to come down to the fourth quarter and be much closer than the 9.5 spread. Don't let the previous 16 game UCF has played fool you. They are a very well coached team and had an extra week to prepare. This isn't a rivalry (yet) but the game will be played that way and anything can happen.