Despite a season marred with a passive, ineffective run game, last week’s loss against Cincinnati showed that the Knights may have found their footing in their rushing attack.
UCF rushed for 212 yards last weekend. In the eight previous games combined, the Knights rushed for 58.25 yards per game. The Knights are ranked No. 127 in the FBS in rushing offense with 75.3 yards per game through nine games. UCF’s season low was in a 45-31 loss to Tulane, where it rushed for -35 yards.
“We were going back to stuff that we ran a while ago that we didn’t even really practice this week,” redshirt senior H-back Joseph Puopolo said. “We just went back to the basics of what … we’ve been running since I’ve been here five years ago. This is what we learned how to run, so I feel like that’s why we ran it really well because that’s what we started off learning.”
Redshirt freshman C.J. Jones led the way with 123 yards and a touchdown. His longest run was a 51-yard rush. Jones currently leads UCF with 274 rushing yards and one touchdown through nine games. Last season, former UCF running back William Stanback led the team with 697 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games played.
The last time a freshman led the Knights in rushing yards was in 2008 with Brynn Harvey. Jones’ performance was also the 28th time a UCF freshman rushed for at least 100 yards in a game.
“The physicality factor was different,” redshirt senior H-back Cedric Thompson said. “We got movement at the point of attack from an offensive-line standpoint, and that definitely helped us move the ball, and allowed us to continue to thrive with our offense.”
The Knights’ 212 yards against the Bearcats was no small feat either. Cincinnati is ranked No. 76 in rushing defense, allowing only 172.8 yards per game through eight games. When UCF faces Tulsa this weekend, it may try to utilize its rushing attack more against the No. 117-ranked rushing defense.
“We still plan on running the ball effectively,” Thompson said. “But we definitely want to build on some of the success we had last week in order to keep improving as this offense continues on throughout the season.”
Like all rushing attacks, a lot depends on a team’s offensive line. The Knights have seen significant fluctuation throughout the season with upperclassmen and underclassmen alike sharing time.
Of the three freshmen that have seen starting playing time, redshirt freshman right tackle Wyatt Miller earned the praise of both Puopolo and Thompson.
“[Miller] has a mean streak about him,” Puopolo said. “I love that. He goes out to practice every day and he just wants to knock somebody’s head off, and he practices every day like he wants to win a game.”
Said Thompson: “He makes some mistakes, but he’s very physical. As an offensive lineman, you need that physicality factor.”
The Knights will play their last road game of the season against Tulsa Saturday at noon.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @_victorT24.