Head coach and interim A/D George O'Leary, offensive lineman Joey Grant and defensive lineman Thomas Niles talk about UCF's upcoming season opener against FIU. Video by Jarrod Heil, Central Florida Future
After graduating five receivers who combined for 2,666 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns last season, including current NFL players Breshad Perriman, Rannell Hall and Josh Reese, the Knights are searching this year’s squad for new playmakers.
Quarterback-turned-wide-receiver redshirt junior Nick Patti, sophomore Jordan Akins, redshirt freshman Tre’Quan Smith and four-star recruit, true freshman Tristan Payton may be the guys who step into that role.
“I’m 10 times better than I was last year,” Akins said after practice on Aug. 28. “I know a lot more, I learned from some of the best last year, and I know how to play the UCF way.”
Thursday night’s home opener against FIU will give the less-experienced receiving core a chance to prove themselves on center stage.
“FIU is a very good team,” offensive lineman Joey Grant said in a press conference Monday. “They’re very fast and they’re a very physical team. They’re a hard-nose football team and they’re going to get after you in the run game and in the pass game.”
Head coach George O’Leary stated that the team has a 60 percent run and 40 percent pass offense, so the Knights’ receiving core may not be the most important aspect on the field.
A key factor in last year’s four losses was the team’s tendency to turn the ball over. UCF had a combined minus-four turnover margin in those four games.
“One thing we talk about is how to carry the ball,” O’Leary said. “It’s just not me, it’s everyone on the field that’s taken ownership of that, including the players. It’s a teaching thing you’ve got to do, especially with these young kids coming from high school.
“[I’m] constantly harping on it, talking about it.”
As for the defense, the Knights look to defensive end Thomas Niles and sophomore defensive tackle Jamiyus Pittman.
FIU’s two players to watch are tight end Jonnu Smith and cornerback Richard Leonard.
Smith recorded 710 yards and eight touchdowns on 61 receptions — 38 more receptions than the Panthers’ second-leading receiver Glenn Coleman. Leonard tallied five interceptions and four total defensive touchdowns last season. The Conference USA team ranked 36th in the nation in total defense a season ago.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams, and the Knights hold a 2-1 advantage over the Panthers.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for Central Florida Future.