Safeties Kemal Ishmael and Clayton Geathers provide the backbone of the Knights’ defense
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 16:10
It’s hard to miss senior safety Kemal Ishmael when watching the UCF Knights.
Ishmael leads the Knights (5-2) in total tackles with 59, has recovered three fumbles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two, including a game-winning interception in overtime to beat Southern Miss (0-7).
“Kemal is playing as well as anybody in the conference right now, as well as run, pass and special teams,” head coach George O’Leary said. “He’s a complete football player.”
Ishmael is filling up the highlight reel so much that he is overshadowing his fellow starting safety, redshirt sophomore Clayton Geathers.
Geathers is coming off of his best performance of the season, in which he led the UCF defense in tackles with 13 and forced a crucial fumble that was recovered by senior cornerback A.J. Bouye.
“Clayton is a guy who has shown up a lot more than people think as far as getting his hands on some of the balls and some of the tackling that’s going on,” O’Leary said.
Safety is one of the more difficult positions to judge, because, for the most part, safeties spend a lot of time away from the line of scrimmage and don’t usually make a lot of tackles.
For better or for worse, the Knights duo are first and third, respectively, on the team in total tackles.
“Well what concerns me right now is that the two leading tacklers were the safeties,” O’Leary said. “That’s not good when your looking at it as a head coach.”
Geathers is one of the least talked about players on the defense, and as a safety, that isn’t a bad thing. Safeties only are highlighted when they make a big play or they allow a big play.
Geathers simply has not allowed playmakers to get behind him, and his ability to limit big plays will be crucial against the quick tempo of Marshall (3-4).
Sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato has the Thundering Herd’s passing game clicking, averaging 390 yards per game.
“Especially in our defense, the safeties are the quarterbacks of the defense, so communication is very important,” redshirt senior cornerback Lyle Dankenbring said. “As long as I have been here, this year has been the best year in terms of Kemal [Ishmael] and Clayton [Geathers] and the guys that are in there communicating with each other making sure the defense is on the same page.”
Geathers and Ishmael are two consistent keys to the Knights being ranked tied for No. 29 in passing defense, nationally.
Cato uses sophomore receiver Tommy Shuler and senior receiver Aaron Dobson the most, with the duo accounting for more than 46 percent of Cato’s completions.
Last season, the Knights beat Marshall 16-6 in a game remembered for its torrential downpour, rather than for its on-field performance.
Saturday’s game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. kickoff, and will involve a rowdy Marshall crowd hoping to send UCF off with a loss.
For the Knights to continue on their quest to reach the Conference USA title game, they will need to continue to get superb play out of their secondary, especially their safety duo.