Head coach George O'Leary, H-back Cedric Thompson and defensive lineman Lance McDowdell talk about the Knights' upcoming matchup against Stanford. Video by Jarrod Heil, Central Florida Future
A loss to FIU on Sept. 3 ended UCF’s 10-game win streak at home. But Saturday night’s road game against Stanford (0-1, 0-0 in Pac-12) will mark a new beginning as the Knights (0-1, 0-0 in AAC) travel to California for the first time in program history.
Leading up to the 10:30 p.m. matchup, the Knights are focused on fixing their mistakes and moving on from game one.
“We all know that it was a disappointment, and we didn’t play like we should’ve played,” H-back Cedric Thompson said during Monday’s press conference. “But it’s all about moving on and improving on what you didn’t do well.”
Those improvements are necessary on both sides of the ball.
“The two words that I keep coming up with when I watch the game tape was indecisiveness and tentativeness on the new players’ parts,” head coach George O’Leary said. “Missed tackles, grabbing at people, late coming off the ball [on the offensive line] — but that has to improve.”
O’Leary saw positive takeaways from Thursday’s loss, though.
“For a first game, we probably threw the ball better than we’ve thrown for any first game,” he said.
Junior quarterback Justin Holman finished with 249 yards and two touchdowns on 23-for-34 passing, but the Knights’ run game severely lacked.
Between four total rushers, UCF combined for a mere 46 yards on 30 carries — the lowest since rushing for 24 yards on 29 carries in last season’s 26-24 loss to Penn State in Ireland.
“A base rule for the run game is just you have to get movement at the point of attack, got to move the line of scrimmage, got to control the line of scrimmage,” Thompson said. “And if you can’t do that, then your run game isn’t going to be consistent.
“That’s what we want to do, and that’s what we’re going to work toward this week in practice.”
Thursday’s early-season loss has not shaken the mentality of the senior-deflated squad. Instead, it has done more to make players aware.
“[The loss] was positive, in essence, by saying that it opened our eyes,” Thompson said. “Sometimes you may get a little too confident, and the loss really let us know where we’re at and what we have to do to get better.”
Defensively, the Knights gave up 391 offensive yards while the Panthers gave up 295.
Going into Saturday’s game against Stanford, which was ranked No. 21 in the country going into its season-opening 16-6 loss at Northwestern, senior defensive tackle Lance McDowdell said it is going to be important to get a good push, stay in pass-rushing lanes and get pressure to the Cardinal quarterback.
“They got a talented O-Line … A lot of returners come back,” McDowdell said. “We just have to go out there and dominate from the first snap of the ball.”
Defensively, O’Leary said there are veteran players on this team that need to make plays.
“We need to get a rush going,” he said. “I thought we were very sluggish as far as getting off blocks and losing contain, which you can’t do; not with an experienced defensive line, you shouldn’t be doing that.”
The starting defensive line combined for only 14 of 83 total tackles. Defensive back Shaquill Griffin and linebacker Mark Rucker led the Knights with nine tackles each on Thursday.
The game will be the second time the Knights have played a Pac-12 team in program history (since 1979). They dropped the lone game to Arizona State in 2002, 46-13.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.