Scouting the Opposition: UCF a team in transition
After defeating one down-and-out team last week, the Cougars (6-0, 3-0) are set to face another when they travel to Orlando to take on the winless University of Central Florida Knights at Bright House Networks Stadium.
Since coming to the American Athletic conference in 2013, UCF has been one of the best teams in the conference, finishing at the top of the league with a 12-1 record and upsetting the Baylor Bears in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, followed by a tie for first place and a 9-4 record last year.
The 12th year under head coach George O’Leary however has seen the team fall from the ranks of the up-and-coming teams in the NCAA to among the ranks of the worst.
Currently riding a seven-game losing streak, the Knights are staring down the real possibility of going winless on the season and ending with the worst record since O’Leary’s first season in Orlando when the team finished 0-11.
O’Leary already resigned his positon as interim athletic director earlier this month to focus on coaching, but he may not be the coach much longer if the losing continues.
UCF’s offense is ranked dead last in the NCAA and has been a major part of the Knights’ losses, with an average of 254.4 total yards and 15.7 points per game.
Their woeful rushing attack is last in the AAC with an average of two yards per carry and 53.4 yards per game, while finding the end zone only twice on the year, making the offense largely one-dimensional.
The passing attack for the Knights has been more effective than the rush this season, but has struggled in its own right.
Led by junior quarterback and returning starter Justin Holman, who missed three games with a fractured index finger on his throwing hand, UCF has averaged a paltry 201 yards per game while tossing nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Part of the struggles can be attributed to the youth and inexperience across the board. Sixteen different Knights have earned their first collegiate starts on offense this season, including redshirt freshman Tre’Quan Smith, who leads the team with 22 catches for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
The Knights’ defense has also be the victim of inexperience, with 16 players making their first career starts this year and a total of 21 different players having started overall.
Of those, the secondary has employed eight different starters in 2015 and that has led to them giving up an average of 255 yards per game and 10 touchdowns while only coming away with one interception.
The rush defense, led by senior linebacker Domenic Spencer — who has 46 tackles and six tackles for loss on the year, has been the strength of the UCF team after holding opponents to 3.95 yards per carry.
Despite Houston being the clear favorite heading into this game, a 21.5-point favorite according to Vegas Insiders, the history between these two teams suggests this will be no easy win for the Cougars.
Since the series began in 2005, five of the six contests have been decided by seven points or less and have often gone down to the wire, including last year’s last-second forced fumble by the UCF defense to prevent a game-winning touchdown run from Greg Ward Jr.
The Cougars have yet win in Orlando and have to be wary of falling into a “trap game” against a team that has talent and will get it together sooner or later.