After being victimized to the tune of more than 450 passing yards allowed against Penn State to open the season, the UCF secondary took another step forward last week against Houston.
Senior safety Clayton Geathers opened the game with a bang when he unloaded on Houston quarterback John O'Korn, and Brandon Alexander ended the game by forcing a fumble on backup quarterback Greg Ward Jr. for a touchback. In between, Jacoby Glenn deflected a fourth down pass in the end zone, Alexander and Geathers each had interceptions and the unit limited Houston to a less than 50 percent completion percentage.
Collectively, the defense is improving.
"They're showing progress," UCF head coach George O'Leary said. "I think they're pass rushing better, which helps the coverage people out. I think we're tackling better."
The consistency of the defense from 2013 to 2014 is in the numbers.
Despite giving up 511 total yards in week one, UCF has risen among the rankings to 30th nationally in total defense. The Knights also are allowing 20.8 points per game, good for 34th nationally.
As a comparison, UCF finished last season ranked 17th in scoring defense — 21.3 points per game — and was 29th last season in total defense.
A key cog to improvement has been the play of redshirt sophomore Jacoby Glenn. Through four games he has two interceptions, is tied for the team lead in pass breakups and leads the team in pass deflections.
"I think he's getting hungrier," O'Leary said. "When you're playing the field corner, people have to be concerned with throwing the ball out there, and that's what I didn't see early. I'm seeing more and more now. He's tightening up coverage and his transition is better."
Glenn, who was named a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, made an impression on teammates through his work over the summer. Glenn's range and length has allowed him to guard bigger receivers, such as teammate J.J. Worton.
"You see this 5'10, 165-pound kid, [and] you think, 'How is this kid going to cover us?' But [it's] the way he takes his body and uses it to his advantage," Worton said. "Coach [Kirk Callahan] has done a great job with him. But throughout the summer just working out there with us doing one-on-ones, him and [Jordan Ozerities] jump up multiple times instead of waiting in line for everyone to rotate through. If you're not jumping up, they're going to get your rep. I just think that he's come a long way and he's a big part of our defense."
He may get more opportunities to improve on his stats on Thursday night.
Last Thursday, BYU lost its star quarterback, Taysom Hill, to a broken leg for the rest of the season, and reserve quarterback Christian Stewart was pressed into action in a loss against Utah State. Stewart threw three interceptions in limited action, and completed just 10 of his 29 passes.
The Cougars feature a read-option attack, which was heavily predicated on Hill's running abilities. While it's unclear if BYU will tweak its schemes to favor Stewart, the Knights still must prepare for the option game.
"They do give us a lot of funky formations and motions that we have to key on," Ozerities said.
And it still will provide a challenge for UCF to break over .500.