UCF heads into the thick of schedule with Conference USA play, starting with East Carolina Pirates
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 16:10
Despite two tough losses in the season’s first four games, the Knights’ goals are still in reach. UCF (2-2) returns to the gridiron Thursday night, faced with its first conference matchup of the season against East Carolina (3-2).
“We are treating every game from now on like the conference championship,” redshirt senior wide receiver Rob Calabrese said.
Starting 2-2, and being faced with a difficult conference schedule isn’t new to the Knights. The Knights started 2-2 in nonconference games both of the past two seasons. In 2010, UCF won Conference USA, defeating USM 17-7 in the conference title game. Last season, the Knights weren’t so lucky, finishing 5-7.
“One thing you look at when you look at the 2010 team is the group of seniors they had with Bruce Miller and those guys and the job they did leading by example,” Calabrese said. “That’s something that our 20 seniors, we need to do.”
All spring and summer head coach George O’Leary has spoken highly of his senior class and has compared it to the 2010 class. O’Leary isn’t letting the seniors off the hook for the .500 start.
“I look at the senior class on offense and they’re the ones that have to get going,” O’Leary said.
Last week, UCF took a three-point lead into the half against Missouri. In the second half, the tides changed and the Tigers dominated their way to a road victory.
“The seniors got to do a better job of stepping up in the locker room,” Calabrese said. “The coaches put us in the right position to win; the players got to do their job now.”
The Pirates sit atop the Conference USA East division with a 2-0 conference record, with wins over Southern Mississippi and UTEP. Despite a 3-2 overall record, both of their losses were in blowout fashion to South Carolina, and then North Carolina two weeks later.
The Pirates are ranked No. 61 in scoring defense, allowing an average of 24 points against.
“They have seven new starters out there; they look like they’re faster than they were a year ago,” O’Leary said.
ECU has shifted from more of a hybrid defense, to a true 3-4 alignment on defense. The Pirates have 10 sacks as a team through five games, all by 10 different players. Chip Thompson is the only Pirate with more than one interception, with two.
“They are a good-effort defense, they fly around the ball,” Calabrese said.
The Knights will likely look to attack ECU primarily on the ground, as the Pirates allow 124 yards per game rushing. The UCF backfield will be intact for the first time since opening weekend against Ohio State, as not only is redshirt senior Latavius Murray dressing, he is expected to play.
“He’s playing this week,” O’Leary said. “I made that very clear to all ears listening.”
ECU quarterback Shane Carden has struggled this season, with only three passing touchdowns and four interceptions. Carden completes 60.9 percent of his passes.
In 2011, ECU defeated UCF 38-31, in a game decided on the final possession. Murray ran for 87 yards and a touchdown in last year’s meeting.