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Sunday, September 24, 2023


The Opposition: UCF’s ball-protecting QB will challenge UH

UH defeated USF 35-23 Thursday at Reliant Stadium. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

UH’s defense will experience a different challenge against UCF. A week after facing a USF team led by a freshman quarterback, the Cougars encounter a junior signal-caller known to spread the ball around his receivers. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

The Cougars are gearing up for their first game against a ranked opponent this season. Past the national recognition it could gain by defeating No. 19 UCF, UH could put itself in the driver seat of the American Athletic Conference.

Winning this road contest is a formidable task given UCF’s track record this season. The Knights have already defeated Louisville and Penn State on the road. UCF beat writer Ryan Gillespie for the Central Florida Future gives insight into the Knights’ strong offense and injuries on defense.

The Daily Cougar: Quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson were major factors in UCF’s comeback victory against Louisville. How will each challenge the UH defense on Saturday?

Ryan Gillespie: Blake Bortles is a guy that came into his own late last season and has carried that momentum into the start of this season. Bortles is very patient with the ball and makes good decisions. The thing that most impresses me about Bortles is his ability to hang in the pocket, sort of like Ben Roethlisberger, to find receivers deep down the field. The junior spreads the ball out to five receivers plus Storm Johnson as well. Expect either Rannell Hall and J.J. Worton to have big games in the receiving game.

Johnson was a question mark coming into the season. His talent was never a question, it was just his ability to take his production from the practice field to the game. Thus far in 2013 he has been one of, if not the best back in the American Athletic Conference. Johnson is a rare mix of speed and power, and he has devastating moves in the open field. Head coach George O’Leary stresses for Johnson to stay north-and-south, but instinctively, Johnson is a home run hitter. The key to stopping Johnson is to get to him early and to keep him contained between the tackles.

TDC: In the last three weeks, UH freshman quarterback John O’Korn has taken a step forward. He has been spreading the ball around to several different receivers. Does UCF have a pass rush good enough to rattle the young quarterback?

RG: The UCF pass rush is essentially in shambles. In the last month, UCF has lost two of its top three defensive ends. True freshman Blake Keller, who was the team’s leader in sacks, quit the team. Two weeks ago, it was reported that Deion Green, a starter and pass rushing specialist, also would miss the season with a knee injury.

True freshman Seyvon Lowry was elevated to the defensive line rotation and has provided a spark along with redshirt freshman Deondre Barnett. UCF will need consistency from those two. The last few games UCF has relied more on the blitz than in the past, with mixed results. I would guess Saturday we will see more of the same.

TDC: UH’s inside receivers, Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer, have been factors in the passing offense. Does UCF have the secondary depth to cover UH’s receivers?

RG: Two months ago I would never have guessed that UCF’s strength defensively would be the secondary. The secondary has grown leaps in bounds since August.

I think Houston’s receivers will be able to get open, but UCF schematically will be able to limit them. UCF’s two starting safeties, both juniors, have played a lot of football and excel at limiting big plays. The Knights play a very fundamental defense which takes away the big play from opponents. Nickel back Sean Maag has had a nose for the ball this season, and has made a few game changing plays thus far.

TDC: UH’s defense prides itself on creating turnovers. How good is UCF at protecting the ball?

RG:  Houston’s turnover margin is just ridiculous. The team that wins the turnover margin will win the game.The place Houston could succeed is if it tries to strip the ball from Storm Johnson. Last season, Johnson lost carries for part of the season due to a fumbling problem. This season he hasn’t had as much of a problem, but it is entirely possible he has a relapse of sorts. Bortles on the other hand, just doesn’t throw interceptions. Bortles has only thrown four this season, and earlier this season snapped an eight-game streak without any interceptions.

TDC: Prediction?

RG: Houston is a tough team to get a read on to this point. A 7-1 record is nice, but to this point it hasn’t seen a team of UCF’s caliber. I think UCF will pull this one out, partially due to home field advantage, 34-21.

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