Preview 2017: UCF Knights
Previewing and looking ahead at the UCF Knights season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The UCF Offense
The offense was just effective enough against the bad teams to get by, but it wasn’t able to hang around and explode against the better ones.
The attack is about tempo, trying to mix things up and find the right mismatches. Yeah, right, all offenses look to do that, but UCF is trying – at least a little bit – to be a bit Oregon-like and dictate things more than most. The players might finally have the experience to do it.
The stars are in the receiving corps with Tre’Quan Smith one of the better targets in the conference, but not he needs more work his way. The tight end combination of Jordan Akins and Jordan Franks should give defenses fits – they’re versatile to do a little of everything right – and there’s enough young talent to make the passing game better.
Can McKenzie Milton be the quarterback who makes it all go? He stepped in as a freshman and was just fine, throwing for close to 2,000 yards with ten touchdowns and seven picks, and he can run a little, too. But he has to now be the conductor of a sped up O.
The biggest plus appears to be the improvement of the line, that’s getting the timing of the offense down a little better and should be in for a stronger season. But …
Biggest Key To The UCF Offense
The line really does need to be better. There’s not much in the way to depth – any key injuries would be disastrous – and a few parts need to come back healthy after getting knocked out during the season, but it should be a better group.
It’s not a huge line, either, but it’s athletic and it’s built for this attack. Now it has to be stronger in pass protection after allowing 36 sacks, and it has to pave the way for more than 3.5 yards per carry.
What You Need To Know About The UCF Defense
It loses a whole lot of talent and producers, but it should be okay with a little bit of time. It wasn’t a rock last season, but it allowed just 370 yards per game and was excellent against the decent passing teams.
The secondary is very young, very green, and in need of some playmakers after losing six good seniors in the rotation. But there’s talent ready to rise up, starting with Nevelle Clark at one corner spot and with a promising group of safeties that’ll be thrown to the wolves.
The defensive backfield might be an issue, but the front seven will make up for it. Pass rushing terror Shaquem Griffin is back at one outside linebacker spot, while Titus Davis is a good one on the other side.
With Trysten Hill a giant 300-pounder working at tackle, and Jamiyus Pittman one of the league’s better all-around linemen, the front three is set. If they can all get to the quarterback like they did last season, the secondary will be fine.
Biggest Key To The UCF Defense
The defensive front seven has to do a better job of holding up against the big boys. It was shockingly strong against Michigan, and it was okay throughout the year, but it got steamrolled late, giving up 348 yards and three scores to Tulsa, and 351 yards and five touchdowns against USF – both losses.
The pass rush and plays behind the line helped make up for a slew of other mistakes, but the Knights can’t let offenses take control. As is, they’re going to have a hard time keeping the time of possession from getting out of hand.
UCF Will Be Far Better If …
The offense has GOT to connect on third down chances. For this whole thing to work, the tempo and the offense has to be able to keep things moving. That’s easier said than done when the O can’t seem to move the chains.
Three years ago, UCF converted 41.5% of the time on third downs, and nailed 49% of their chances during the magical 2013 season. When things fell off the map in 2015, the O converted at a 29% clip. Last year? 29.7%, having a nightmare of a time against Arkansas State in the ugly bowl loss, converting just 3-of-18 chances.
Best UCF Offensive Player
WR Tre’Quan Smith, Jr. – By far the team’s best receiver last season, the 6-1, 200-pounder sucked in everything that came near him, showing off good hands and decent consistency considering the mediocre quarterback play.
He hit Houston for 137 yards on 13 catches, and ripped up USF for 183 yards and two scores on seven catches, but he’s got the ability to do far more. Really fast and with the size to battle for the ball, he’s a true No. 1 target.
2. TE Jordan Akins, Jr.
3. QB McKenzie Milton, Soph.
4. RB Jawon Hamilton, Soph.
5. TE Jordan Franks, Jr.
Best UCF Defensive Player
LB Shaquem Griffin, Sr. – Despite playing with just one hand – losing his left hand as a child – he was the best defensive player in the American Athletic Conference last season. He did it all with 92 tackles with 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and seven broken up passes with a pick.
The 6-1, 213-pounder isn’t all that big on the outside, but he can fly, has an uncanny knack for destroying backfields, and can make things happen in the open field, highlighted by 12 solo stops in the loss to Houston.
2. DE Jamiyus Pittman, Sr.
3. DE Tony Guerad, Sr.
4. DT Trysten Hill, Soph.
5. LB Titus Davis, Soph.
Key Player To A Successful Season
RB Jawon Hamilton, Soph. – The running game couldn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t necessarily the fault of the running backs – the line didn’t do its part – but it would be nice if one of the runners could take off and be special.
The 5-9, 190-pound Hamilton got plenty of work, but he couldn’t bust out, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry with a team-leading 495 yards and four scores. Expect him to break out this year.
The UCF Season Will Be A Success If …
The Knights go bowling again. There are way too many personnel losses to push for the conference title – at least without a little bit of luck – but going to a bowl game for a second year in a row, and for a fifth time in six seasons, would show the staying power as a winner under Frost.
Whether or not he stays is another story, but it’s a schedule with a guaranteed four wins to start – getting another two can’t be an issue.
Key Game To The UCF Season
Nov. 24 vs. South Florida – More than just a rivalry game against the school down the road, if UCF is going to rise up and have the season it’s hoping for, it has to win the regular season finale at home.
Or, at the very least, it has to ruin its American Athletic East rival’s fun. A bowl game should be secured by this point, and if it’s not, it’ll be a problem and, obviously, a true must win.
2016 UCF Fun Stats
– Red Zone Scores: UCF 32-of-35 (91%) – Opponents 41-of-58 (71%)
– Time of Possession: Opponents 32:33 – UCF 27:27
– Field Goals: UCF 17-of-22 – Opponents 14-of-23