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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Commentary

Cougars battle offensive problems, not UCF


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The Cougars made it to the red zone four times and never scored. With 12 points in field goals, there’s still work to do.  |  Caitlin Hilton/The Cougar

UCF held the safest one-point halftime lead I have ever seen.

Despite another close game, which has become routine between these two programs, it felt like the Knights were in control. It had ebbs and flows, including a late push where the Cougars nearly stole the game in the final minute, but it was apparent early that UH’s offense would struggle.

The Cougars did a lot of it to themselves.

Double digit penalties, three turnovers and an inept passing attack by UH aided UCF in a 17-12 win at TDECU Stadium on Thursday.

It was clear that the Cougars had offensive issues before the game, but the primetime showcase put their woes on a national display.

Sophomore quarterback John O’Korn, who entered the season with a lot of hype after breaking almost every UH freshman record, was benched in the second half. And it was warranted — O’Korn’s completion percentage was lower than 50 percent and he had less than 100 passing yards.

The much-maligned offensive line struggled to block UCF, often when facing only three or four defensive linemen.

The Cougars made several unforced errors. Star receiver Deontay Greenberry had several drops and wasn’t much of a factor in the game. The Cougars had 11 penalties for 99 yards and lost the turnover battle.

“We missed opportunities, a good throw and a drive or a good block and a missed run or a good run and a missed block so we have to put it together,” said junior running back Kenneth Farrow. “There were a lot of times that we did put together tonight, but we have to be more consistent with it.”

In sports, just like business and life, some problems can be corrected. Others can’t.

The Cougars have too many offensive issues for it to be a quick fix, but the team believes it can right the ship before a conference title is out of the question.

“We had a lot of downs that were more than 10-yards so. We can’t have that. We have to do better on first downs. Just being more consistent with going out and trying to execute the plays from the jump,” Farrow added.

The Cougars’ offense has regressed — the numbers and my eyes tell me that. The most high profile regression is that of O’Korn. His completion percentage barely hovers above 50 percent and through five games O’Korn almost has as many interceptions (8) as he did last season (10) in 13 games.

Is it coaching, talent or a combination of both?

The hope was that O’Korn, with his strong right arm and talented crop of receivers, would begin to etch his name among the great quarterbacks who have piloted the Air Raid.

Instead, he has been inaccurate in his sophomore campaign, and the Cougars have slipped 55 spots to No. 82 in passing offense.

However, he’s dealing with a tweaked offensive system, an offensive line struggling to block for him and receivers who haven’t done a great job catching the football.

And he’s still only a sophomore — he needs more help than his predecessors and doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Travis Bush’s offense.

The versatile Greg Ward, Jr. could provide a better option with the Cougars’ current collection of talent. He brings an element of speed and elusiveness that allow him to create plays when the pocket breaks down — a common occurrence with this collection of offensive linemen.

All eyes are on head coach Tony Levine during one of the most pivotal seasons in UH history. With a new stadium and high expectations, 5-7 isn’t good enough, and Levine understands that.

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