UCF looks to its defensive front to lead the way against Southern Miss
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 15:10
Speed kills. That phrase is the driving force behind the UCF defensive line’s near 180-degree turnaround this season. The Knights started the season with more of a power-based defensive line and a small rotation leading to a lack of pass rush.
“We’re rolling about seven guys now. We had to get more quickness up front,” head coach George O’Leary said. “I wish we would’ve made that change earlier in the season.”
The rise of the Knights’ pass rush has been noticeable in the past three games; the team has produced nine sacks and all 18 of its hurries. The most noticeable change was the replacement of senior defensive tackle Jose Jose with freshman Thomas Niles.
“I think pass rush is foot speed and the ability to get off blocks, and I think that’s what they’ve done,” O’Leary said.
Niles has been disruptive up front and is second on the team with three sacks and six hurries. Freshman Deion Green has also gotten playing time at defensive end and has excelled in situational use, racking up two sacks.
“Both of those guys are doing a great job and we are very pleased with what they bring to the table,” redshirt senior Cam Henderson said.
Henderson has also been one of the defensive keys with the personnel change. Henderson has one sack and three hurries this season. The rise of athleticism on the end has allowed for junior defensive tackle Victor Gray to be able to return to his natural tackle position.
“You go 10 play drives; you aren’t going to be fresh as playing two or three plays at a time,” Henderson said of the increased rotation.
On passing downs, UCF’s leading sacker, senior defensive end Troy Davis has also slid inside allowing more speed on the field. Davis has caught fire and has four sacks and four hurries.
“A lot of the guys I play with don’t have as much footspeed as us, so we can run different stunts,” Davis said.
Davis also played inside at times during his sophomore season.
The pass rush will have a chance to feast Saturday against conference opponent Southern Mississippi (0-5). The Golden Eagles have surprisingly struggled this season with turnovers, primarily due to two freshman quarterbacks.
Freshman Anthony Alford is more of a running threat for Southern Mississippi, with 54 carries and three touchdowns on the ground this season. Alford has struggled in the passing game, only completing 39 percent of his passes.
Fellow freshman quarterback Ricky Lloyd has completed 48.6 percent of his passes for one touchdown and two interceptions this season.
The Golden Eagles’ quarterbacks have been sacked 10 times all season and the team has used three quarterbacks through five games. Expect Alford to get the start, as hinted by Southern Mississippi head coach Ellis Johnson, unless someone jumps out in front in practice later this week.
A trend that stands out when merely looking at the raw statistics is that the Golden Eagles have fumbled eight times. The Knights, in turn, have forced six fumbles this season.
“We just have a good rotation right now that is working for us,” Henderson said. “So we got to keep it going.”