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Monday, September 25, 2023


Cougars prepare to face C-USA’s top team

Leading the Conference USA West Division, the Cougars will square off against Central Florida at 7 p.m. Friday at Robertson Stadium in what could be the deciding factor in determining home field advantage for the

The UH defense will have plenty on its plate when it tries to contain UCF running back Ronnie Weaver and the rest of the Knights’ offensive unit Friday at Robertson Stadium. | Pauline Alderete/The Daily Cougar

conference championship game.

The Cougars (5-3, 4-1 C-USA) grabbed the top spot in the division after defeating Memphis last week.

As the team heads into Friday’s televised game, it is averaging 468.6 yards offensively.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin said that both the team members and coaching staff are keeping the focus on executing their part, rather than worrying about their opponent.

“Our guys are getting better every week,” Sumlin said. “This week is good. We have been on the road for a while, and it’s good to be back home.”

Sumlin said that UCF brings a different style of play, coming out of the East Division.

“UCF is highly disciplined,” Sumlin said. “They know what they want to accomplish and they are going to play defense because that’s who they are — that’s their identity.”

UCF (6-2, 4-0 C-USA) leads the league in time of possession.

The Knights pose a threat on both sides of the ball. The defense is currently seventh best in the nation, while the offense has scored 35 points in each of its last four games.

Though the two programs are from different divisions, they are similar in that they both rely on the performances of their true freshman quarterbacks.

UCF freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey has the highest passer efficiency rating in the nation for true freshman quarterbacks.

“He has been very effective,” Sumlin said. “He has done a great job of managing the game, controlling the football and not turning it over.”

In just four starts, UH quarterback David Piland has taken the starting role well — completing 92 of 157 attempts with 11 touchdown passes. Wide receiver Tyron Carrier said that the offense was eager to play the team again after being defeated by the Knights last year 37-32.

“We are looking forward to the matchup this week,” Carrier said. “You always want to play the best, and I feel like they are one of the best in college football. When you have the opportunity to play the best, you just want to rise to the occasion.

“They are a tough defense,” Carrier said. “They are really aggressive, too. They don’t sit back and let something happen.

“I think it will be won in the trenches. Who can block the best or who can make the other team make the most mistakes. Usually, when you play a defense like that, that’s what it comes down to.”

Senior linebacker Matt Nicholson is aware of the challenge that the team faces Friday.

Nicholson is second on the team in tackling with 51 solo and assisted tackles so far this season.

“I think we are ready for the challenge,” Nicholson said. “Obviously, they are going to run the ball at us. We know we got to stop the run and we got to get takeaways. Those are the two things that we are most focused on.”

The offense has played to a level that was prevalent during Case Keenum’s tenure as quarterback. Running backs Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes have carried the team to its last couple of victories. Hayes rushed for 125 yards on 23 carries in the win over Memphis.

Beall was injured at the beginning of Saturday’s game against Memphis. Hayes said that the performance of his freshman quarterback has a lot to do with the success over the last few weeks.

“Through it all, David Piland has been great,” Hayes said. “I am really happy about that, and how Bryce and I are starting to click as far as when we come in and how much we can help our team out.”

The one-two punch that Hayes and Bryce bring to the Cougar offense creates problems for opposing defenses. Hayes said that sharing the backfield with Beall has made him better.

“We have a great understanding with each other and a great relationship,” Hayes said. “We both have to be there for each other, so we take it upon ourselves to do what the coaches tell us to do. I feel comfortable with all the backs we have.”

Hayes was featured in ESPN’s top plays of the weekend after he was captured flipping into the end zone at the end of the Memphis game. He said that UCF has a great front four after watching tape during the week.

“We have to come out and execute the things that we practice,” Hayes said. “They are a great defense. All of them have a motor, and we are just ready to go out there and play like we did last week.”

Returning to practice this week after suffering an injury against Mississippi State, senior nose tackle Matangi Tonga could start on Friday, but Sumlin said that he will make no guarantees.

The matchup will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

After playing the Knights on Friday, the Cougars will prepare for the Nov. 12 homecoming game against Tulsa. This will be their last home game of the regular-season.

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