UCF looks to turn things around during homecoming
Published: Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 16:10
It's a literal and figurative homecoming this week for the Knights (3-4, 1-2).
Literally, UCF is returning home following a two-game road swing, which included an unexpected loss to a struggling UAB program following a loss in Dallas to SMU.
It's also the Knights' actual Homecoming, a week of festivities and events that will culminate on Saturday with a slew of alumni and families returning to campus to root on a team that, despite some setbacks, isn't eliminated from much as far as Conference USA is concerned.
Memphis (2-6, 1-3) will visit Bright House Networks Stadium, the first game of what Knights' coach George O'Leary is referring to as a five-game slate that will determine the season for UCF.
"That's what I've addressed with the kids as far as, ‘Hey, move on, you've got a five-game slate which settles all your problems,'" O'Leary said. "That's what they have to buy into … The next five games will dictate exactly what happens to us."
Memphis: Last time out
Larry Porter's bunch picked up their second win of the season and their first win in conference last week down in New Orleans when the Tigers beat Tulane, 33-17.
The Tigers led 14-10 at the half, but Tulane struck quickly in the third quarter. That's when Memphis' defense, a retooled unit under a new coordinator combination, came up big. Cornerback Bobby McCain took an interception back 79 yards to put the Tigers up for good.
It was the first time Memphis had won in over a month, and the Tigers had their defense to thank. Including McCain's pick-six, Memphis tallied two interceptions and recovered a fumble to overcome a lack of production on offense.
Tulane outgained the Tigers offensively, 459 yards to 289, and had 11 more first downs.
UCF: Last time out
Normally, scoring two touchdowns in the first 10 offensive plays is a great sign.
The Knights' defense was not its normal self in Birmingham, and the offense did not carry that momentum forward as UCF dropped a head-scratcher to UAB, 26-24.
Once again, the Knights' offense moved the ball, but had trouble turning drives into touchdowns. Quarterback Jeff Godfrey struggled and threw an interception, and back-up Blake Bortles entered the game late and had some success but also threw an interception.
The real story was UAB's offense, which totaled a staggering 501 yards. UCF's defense struggled to stop the Blazers, allowing them to convert nine of 15 third downs.
Still, the Knights had an opportunity to drive down the field and answer UAB's late field goal that put them ahead, but a dropped pass prevented UCF from getting within field-goal range, and a Hail Mary heave was unsuccessful.
When Memphis has the ball
The big thing for the Tigers is not making mistakes.
For a team only averaging 16.4 points per game and a lukewarm 89 rushing yards per game, controlling the ball and building time of possession are going to be huge. If the Tigers are going to beat the Knights, they're going to have to avoid adding to their 14 turnovers this season and grind it out.
That's not to say the Tigers don't have any big play potential, with wideout Tannar Rehrer and his three touchdowns this season coming to mind.
"I think they have a lot of playmakers out there, a lot of athletes that if you give them space they can make plays," linebacker Josh Linam said.
Meanwhile, UCF's defense is hungry to correct its deficiencies from the past two weeks, specifically improving its pass rush.
"I've always said this, pass rush and coverage go hand-in-hand," O'Leary said. "If you don't have a [pass] rush, I don't care who you've got covering back there; eventually they're going to run free."
When UCF has the ball
Some shakeups at the Tigers' defensive coordinator position have led to a new look for the team's defensive attack, a look the Knights have taken note of.
"They definitely have a revamped defense that's taken a different approach," running back Ronnie Weaver said. "They're playing better with each game … We're taking points [from the film] and making sure that we can have our best matchups."
To date, Memphis' defense has forced 19 turnovers, most notably the three last week that led to a big conference win.
As for the Knights, the team continues to struggle when it comes to turning drives into points.
"They're doing a lot of really good things but the name of the game is to put the ball in the end zone," O'Leary said. "We're sort of shooting ourselves in the foot, like just in the last game there were five opportunities to get points, in my opinion, and we don't make a play."
Then there's the whole quarterback situation.
Godfrey is still the team's starter, and O'Leary still says this is "Jeff's team." However, as Bortles continues to respond when he is called upon, the Knights are continually looking to the redshirt freshman more and more, and there's nothing to say he can't compete for the job outright.
"I don't think I have no problem putting [Bortles] in the game at any time if I don't see us getting things done correctly," O'Leary said. "I knew the production rate was a lot higher when [Bortles] was in there, but again, it's Jeff's team, and I don't think you turn around and you anoint somebody on seven possessions."
The Knights could also use a resurgence in their rushing attack which, much like the team's plays as a whole, has been markedly better at home.
For the second week in a row, the Knights find themselves staring down a contest with a program they are favored to easily beat. However, last week UCF showed that there are no givens.