Head coach George O'Leary, linebacker Luke Adams and wide receiver Nick Patti talk about UCF's loss to Furman and its upcoming game against South Carolina. Video by Jarrod Heil, Central Florida Future
The Knights’ football team is in a bind unlike any they’ve seen in more than a decade — 11 years to be exact.
UCF has begun winless through three games for the first time since 2004, when the team went 0-11 in George O’Leary’s first year as head coach.
“You’ve got to feel bad about what’s taking place, but you’ve got to move on,” O’Leary said. “That’s the first thing that the kids look at is the coaches.”
On Saturday at noon, the Knights (0-3, 0-0 in AAC) will take on South Carolina (1-2, 0-2 in SEC), marking the 19th contest against a Southeastern Conference team in program history. UCF has posted a 2-16 record against the Power 5 member conference. The Alabama Crimson Tide (2000) and Georgia Bulldogs (2010) are the Knights’ only victories.
The good news for the Knights is that the Gamecocks are coming off back-to-back losses and will be without their starting quarterback due to a hip injury.
“Every Monday, we go over the personnel: who they’ve got starting and who we know is going to be playing for sure,” defensive lineman Luke Adams said. “They’re big, they’ve got good athletes, but they’re very beatable … The only thing is, we’ve got to come ready to play.”
The Knights are 0-4 all-time against the Gamecocks. Their most recent meeting was a 28-25 loss at Bright House Networks Stadium in 2013.
“We have to treat it just like any other week … If we go off our routine or play up to that at all, we’re not doing it justice for ourselves,” wide receiver Nick Patti said. “We have confidence in our team, we have confidence moving forward, we just have to prepare like it’s anybody else.”
The Knights, who have been downed by injuries to prominent players this season, will be without leading receiver, punt and kick returner Jordan Akins for the remainder of the season. He suffered an ACL tear during the opening kickoff against Furman.
Without Akins, quarterback Justin Holman and running backs Dontravious Wilson and William Stanback, UCF will look for offensive production from younger guys who have limited collegiate experience. During UCF’s last test, up to six freshmen were on the field on offense at the same time.
Holman was in full pads during Tuesday’s practice, but O’Leary said it is doubtful he will return by Saturday, leaving the ball in true freshman Bo Schneider’s hands.
“[Having one quarterback] is my mindset,” O’Leary said. “Unless there’s something going on up there that I think just needs to be replaced, it’s [Bo’s] job, and he’ll be the quarterback out there.”
Schneider and redshirt freshman Tyler Harris had previously split time the last two games, combining for 240 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions and 28-for-62 passing.
The worst-ranked offense in the FBS belongs to UCF, which has mustered 248.3 yards per game – just four out of 127 teams have not eclipsed the 300-yards-per-game mark. Utah State’s offense is the closest to UCF’s with 292.3 per game.
The Knights may continue to utilize quarterback-turned-receiver Nick Patti in the wild Knight formation to give their offense the spark they’ve been seeking. He took 16 snaps in the formation against Furman, rushing for 58 yards on 14 carries and scored UCF’s only touchdown.
“Anytime my number’s called, I have to produce … However I can help us do that, whether it’s in the Knight package or at receiver,” Patti said. “Our plan isn’t 100 percent set yet, but whatever works for us, I’m sure we’ll do.”
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.