UCF Knights Preview 2022: Offense
The offense didn’t dominate like it was supposed to, but it had its moments averaging 402 yards and 32 points per game. The ground game was great, the passing game struggled to push the ball down the field, and there were a few too many times when the attack stalled.
The Knights were able to win their share of low-scoring close games, but this is UCF, and the head coach is Gus Malzahn. The numbers should be through the roof, and they could be as long as …
The offensive backfield should be settled now. Here was the problem – star QB Dillon Gabriel got hurt early on, and pounding RB Isaiah Bowser was never quite right after ripping up Boise State in the opener.
Mikey Keene took over at quarterback and was fine, and Bowser was able to get right in time for a monster 155-yard, two-touchdown day in the bowl win over Florida.
Now Bowser should be ready to handle the work, leading rusher Johnny Richardson is back after running for 733 yards and three scores, and third leading rusher Mark-Antony Richards is also back. In a huge move, the program was able to land Demarkcus Bowman, a superstar recruit who started out at Florida and Clemson, and now should find a role in Orlando.
Gabriel is gone to Oklahoma, but Keene is back after hitting 64% of his passes for 1,730 yards and 17 scores and six picks. He’ll have to fight off John Rhys Plumlee, a dangerous all-around quarterback from Ole Miss – he saw time as a receiver to get into the Rebel offense.
The receiving corps has to go through a wee bit of an overhaul. However, the No. 1 target is back – Ryan O’Keefe caught 84 passes for 812 yards and seven scores. He was a short-range target, and deep threats Brandon Johnson and Jaylon Robinson – he’s off to Ole Miss – are done. The offense needs Florida transfer Kemore Gamble to be a factor at tight end, and Auburn’s Kobe Hudson has to be a dangerous outside option.
The offensive front needs to be stronger at keeping defenses out of the backfield, but it should be able to crank up close to 200 rushing yards per game again considering the rushing talent in the backfield.
Senior right guard Lokahi Paulole is the best of the bunch, and the left side got its new parts to take over with Tylan Grable from Jacksonville State at tackle and Ryan Swoboda from Virginia at guard.
UCF Knights Preview 2022: Defense
The defense should be dangerous. There isn’t a ton of star power, and it loses a few good players – Big Kat Bryant was a factor, and leading tackler Tatum Bethune is off up the road to Florida State – but there’s a ton of experience from a group that held up relatively well.
Nine starters should be back in the mix, and the transfer portal is bringing in a ton of options and depth, starting at …
Linebacker. The defense loses third-leading tackler Bryson Armstrong along with Bethune from an already thin corps. However, coming in is Branden Jennings – a former Kansas State Wildcat and Maryland Terrapin – and Terrence Lewis is also coming in from Maryland. Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste is a good tackler with 230-pound size in the 4-2-5.
The line also gets help from the portal with Lee Hunter in from Auburn to work at tackle and KD McDaniel an interesting end from Kentucky.
Tre’Mon Morris-Brash is the leading returning playmaker behind the line with five sacks and ten tackles for loss last year. He’ll take over Bryant’s spot, and the line gets back a good end in Josh Celiscar and solid veteran tackles in Ricky Barber and Keenan Hester.
UCF was sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense, allowing 12 touchdown passes, picking off 11 throws, and keeping teams to just 58% passing.
Just about everyone is back starting with Second Team All-AAC playmaker Quadric Bullard, who came up with 83 tackles at his safety spot. The corner combination of Davonte Brown, Corey Thornton, and Brandon Adams broke up 27 passes.