UCF is set to kick off the 2012 season with a matchup against Akron on the road
Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 16:08
After an eventful offseason, the football team is back to what it can control — playing football games.
The Knights are scheduled to travel to Akron, Ohio to take on the University of Akron Zips in the season opener Thursday at 7 p.m.
While the long-awaited game comes against an Akron squad that finished the 2011 season with one win, head coach George O’Leary and his team have plenty of reasons to be excited.
“Obviously, your first game, even after all the years I’ve been coaching, you’re always anticipating that first game and seeing what’s going on,” O’Leary said in a press conference. “Hopefully you’ve covered everything with your team offensively, defensively and special teams. It’s the unknown in the first game that you get concerned about. You don’t really have any film on current opponents. It’s a game of where you’re fortunate to go into a game with a team that has some experience, so you can make adjustments.”
The Knights head into Thursday’s game with something to prove. The team was winless on the road last season, a trend it will look to stop with the first two games of the season scheduled to play in Ohio.
“What happened last year on the road? We lost. That hurts,” O’Leary said. “Those games you’ve got to finish. You’ve got to win the fourth quarter and we didn’t do that. … There is a lot of reasons why we didn’t finish games, but when you take the six games, the losses there, by seven points or less, those are games you have a chance to win. You’ve got to finish the play. That’s something that’s been stressed by the players this year. Finishing, and every play is an important play.”
The Zips come into the season with different storylines. Head coach Terry Bowden leads the team in his first year on the job, a task that will prove difficult if last season’s record is any indication.
Akron won only one game a year ago and lost seven games by more than 30 points. The team ended the year in last place in the Mid-American Conference East division.
The Zips return key offensive starters in junior quarterback Clayton Moore and redshirt sophomore running back Jawon Chisholm, but will look for major improvement on both sides of the ball as the team finished ranked below 100 in passing yards, rushing yards, points for and points against.
Despite the team’s abysmal 2011 season, Bowden will look to bring a breath of fresh air to the team, and he certainly has the pedigree to do so.
Bowden, son of head-coaching legend Bobby Bowden, has spent time coaching at Salem University, Samford University, Auburn University and the University of North Alabama, accumulating a 139-63-2 record.
Given Bowden’s history, the Knights have been able to study his coaching style in a number of ways.
“We’re basing it on what we saw at Auburn and Northern Alabama as far as our defense is concerned,” O’Leary said. “Obviously, offensively, when they’re on defense, [defensive coordinator] Chuck [Amato] has been around whether he was at North Carolina State or Florida State. So it’s a mix there. It’s a lesson learned on each side, I think, as far as adjustments.”
Thursday’s game will offer the coaching staff a chance to view redshirt sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles in a new light as the Oviedo native makes his first career start.
“He’s still young. I understand that thorougly and I don’t think we can put too much on his plate,” O’Leary said. “Most of the book is in. I think we still have to watch he doesn’t become so filled with information that he can’t process it. I think that’s my concern with him.”
Bortles will not only have to win over his coaches on the field, but the senior leaders on the team.
“It seems like [Bortles] has made a big step as far as leadership is concerned,” redshirt senior fullback Billy Giovanetti said. “He is our leader and he has really shown that he knows what to do on the field.”
With high expectations for the season and unfamiliar surroundings, the team will enter the game with some jitters, something O’Leary said is expected.
“Obviously, the first game is one that I don’t care how long you’ve been coaching or playing, you always go into it with a pit in your stomach,” O’Leary said. “That’s what should happen. I get concerned about games when our players aren’t concerned about them. Our players, you always respect everybody and you fear none, but I think right now they’re treating each game as a big game and that’s the way it should be."