Knights change gears to C-USA schedule after two tough losses
Published: Sunday, October 2, 2011
Updated: Sunday, October 2, 2011 16:10
For the UCF Knights (2-2), the bye week could not have come at a better time.
The extra week of preparation time will give the Knights some valuable time to correct mistakes and make adjustments as they move forward after out-of-conference play and try to regain form as league play begins.
Head coach George O'Leary has been vocal about his team's focusing inward this past week following the loss to BYU, trying to correct what UCF has been doing wrong and adjust wherever possible before looking ahead to its next opponent, the Marshall Thundering Herd (2-3).
The attention to adjustments and areas for improvement leading up to that contest could very well make all the difference as to whether UCF rebounds.
It almost goes without saying, but the Knights have got to cut down on the turnovers and mental mistakes. In each of its past two games, UCF has had miscues lead directly to scores by the opposition to the tune of 14 points pretty much given away in each contest. Keep in mind that the Knights lost each of those games by seven points, and the reason for frustration is clear.
"When we beat ourselves like [we have been], it's just hard to overcome," running back Latavius Murray said.
Plays like the botched punt return by J.J. Worton against BYU are clearly mental mistakes. In those instances, it is wrong to even try and field the ball, aside from not being sure to have possession before taking off and running.
On offense, the Knights have got to get their running game back on track. In the first two games, UCF rushed 48 times for a total of 316 yards against Charleston Southern for an average of 6.6 yards per carry, and 45 times for a total of 235 yards against Boston College for an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
In the Knights' two losses, however, the numbers are quite different. Against FIU, they ran the ball 40 times but got only 119 yards. Then, against BYU, it got even worse.
UCF ran the ball only 34 times for a total of 81 yards against the Cougars.
If the Knights want to take pressure off sophomore quarterback Jeff Godfrey and open up the field for some big plays, they have got to return to running the ball efficiently. When they do, opposing defenses have trouble handling the variety of ways UCF can move the ball down the field. When they don't, however, teams are able to bring pressure to Godfrey, which is bad news for the Knights to this point.
"Coach says all the time, and I believe it, too, that you have to establish a run game," Murray said. "As long as we get that established I think it will open up a lot more for the offense."
Defensively, the adjustments aren't as glaring, and in most cases the Knights' defensive unit needs to "stay the course" and keep playing as is.
Still, despite playing very well overall this season and posting some impressive stats, like being fifth in the nation in the points allowed category at 11 per game, there are two areas where the Knights can make some adjustments and improve.
First, following the BYU game, UCF is going to need to buckle down on the run. The Knights let a Cougar rushing attack that had yielded only 11 yards the week before go for 127 against UCF. The Knights did hold a usually potent BYU passing attack in check, but the ability of the Cougars to run the ball effectively and control the tempo proved to be very valuable by night's end.
Second, the Knights are going to need to find more ways to get into the opposing team's backfield and create some more pressure. In their two losses, the Knights have had 10 sacks go against them while having only two to their credit.
If the Knights can create some more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it could lead to more turnovers and tougher third-down situations for opponents. Anything that can get the defense off the field and build momentum is a good thing following the past few weeks.
Still, that same sacks statistic highlights an issue the Knights have been having with protection, Godfrey's finding open receivers and receiver's abilities to get open, all leading to headaches for the coaching staff.
"I thought the line was soft at times," O'Leary said of the problem following the FIU game. "I think Jeff [also] held the ball a little too long at times."
The Knights have been paying close attention to special teams and correcting mistakes since the loss to BYU and will likely start turning their focus to Marshall as practice goes on this week. The Herd are coming off a big win over Louisville of the Big East, 17-13.
UCF finds itself 2-2 after four games, the same record it had last year at this point. That team went on to win nine of its next 10 games and have the most successful season in the program's history. Whether this team has similar success down the stretch or struggles will largely depend on adjustments made.