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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Football

UH remains confident for UCF matchup


Junior receiver Deontay Greenberry was unable to haul in the game-winning 7-yard touchdown pass in last season’s thrilling game at UCF, but he and the offense, after a bye, should be ready for the rematch Thursday night on ESPN at TDECU Stadium for conference play.  |  Caitlin Hilton/The Cougar

Tony Levine chuckled at the thought of overlooking his team’s next opponent.

Though Central Florida (1-2) is under .500, UH’s head coach said the Knights’ talent and coaching exceed their losing record. And after last season when UH (2-2) came seven yards shy of defeating conference champion UCF, Levine’s squad has a lot to prove.

“Their record doesn’t indicate what kind of team they are and certainly what kind of program Coach (George) O’Leary has there,” Levine said. “All you have to do is put on the video to see what kind of a team they have this season.”

A confident UH squad will face UCF on Thursday at TDECU Stadium. In fact, junior receiver Deontay Greenberry expects the Cougars to win big.

“We don’t really expect this game to be close, to be honest with you,” Greenberry said. “We want to really get after these guys from the jump and hit them in the mouth.”

Greenberry added, “In my opinion, they weren’t that good. They happened to overcome to come up with the W. So the only thing that sticks up in my head is that last play.”

Bulletin board material aside, the game has conference implications for two teams that had high expectations entering the season.

Both have also underachieved.

UCF dropped its first two games — a nail biter against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland, and a 38-10 loss to then-No. 20 Missouri on the road — before rebounding with a resounding 41-7 win against Bethune-Cookman, while UH has alternated wins and losses during its first four games.

To earn their first American Athletic Conference victory of the season, the Cougars will need to improve their inconsistent offense. The No. 65 ranked scoring offense in the country has struggled to score consistently when it can’t run the football.

In a 27-7 season-opening loss to UTSA, UH rushed for only 10 yards. Against BYU, UH didn’t attempt a single rush with its running backs in the second half. But in wins against UNLV and Grambling State, UH rushed for 674 yards and seven touchdowns.

However, balance may not be the solution against the Knights.

Though UCF ranks No. 24 in rushing defense, allowing only 102 yards per game, it struggles against the pass. The Knights defense is No. 69 against the pass, allowing 233 yards per game.
An even split is not what the Cougars strive for, Levine said.

“Depending on our opponent or depending on what we have to do to win a game when we get into it, in our minds, balance could be 60/40 or 65/35 one way or the other,” Levine said. “It could be pass to run or run to pass.”

With a stout run defense and a more manageable pass defense, the game could end up in the hands of sophomore quarterback John O’Korn and the Cougars’ ball-hawking Third Ward Defense — a thought that Levine said he’s comfortable with if the matchups present themselves.

Sharpening up the offensive tools

A heavy dose of the passing game hasn’t led to wins since O’Korn took the reins of the Air Raid offense. The Cougars are 1-5 when O’Korn has more than 40 attempts, but are 7-2 when he has fewer than 40 attempts.

Senior receiver Daniel Spencer, who leads the team with three total touchdowns, said he feels good about the progress on offense, but the Cougars are still working to smooth out the edges.

“We look at the film every day, and we see that we have spots that we can do better on – run routes a little bit better, throw in some better spots. It just takes time, practice and patience,” Spencer said.

With the bright lights of a primetime matchup on ESPN, UH will have an opportunity to prove if Greenberry’s confidence was merited.

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