By Padrick BrewerSPORTS EDITOR, UCF FUTURE
UCF heads into its game against South Florida on Saturday looking for redemption.
The Knights lost 52-38 to East Carolina last Saturday, an embarrassing affair in which they had five consecutive turnovers in the third quarter, leading to 28 ECU points. UCF was outscored 35-10 in the second half.
That game was indicative of how the Knights have played through five games. They jump out to leads in the first half, but start making mistakes and get dominated in the second half.
It happened in the season-opener at N.C. State, when the Knights gave up 20 points in the second half to the Wolfpack and were barely able to hang on for a
Blowout wins over Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette were tempered with UCF
turnovers and miscues in the second half.
And in the home opener against then-No. 6 Texas, UCF lost a chance at an upset by giving away 14 points off turnovers in the second half and failing to execute offensively.
UCF head coach George O’Leary has said several times this year that the Knights need to fix their play late in games, but as the loss to ECU proves, they haven’t been able to do that yet.
It speaks back to Sept. 16, 2006, when the Knights took a 10-7 lead into halftime but lost to the Bulls in their 17-point-scoring second half.
UCF will face a much tougher Bulls squad than the one that came into the Citrus Bowl last year. USF is ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll and has won seven straight games dating back to last year.
Smith a difference maker
But the Knights will have one thing going for them this year that they didn’t in 2006: Kevin Smith.
Smith has proven through five games that he is one of the best running backs in the nation. He leads the country in rushing yards per game, tied for the lead with 11 rushing touchdowns and tied for second in the country in scoring.
But USF is allowing just more than 115 yards per game on the ground, and has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.
Smith has rushed for more than 100 yards in every game so far, and his worst game came when he was held to 124 yards and three touchdowns against Memphis.
He is the catalyst for the UCF offense, and any hope for a UCF win rests on his shoulders.
The weak spot for UCF is the quarterback position. Much like last year, when Steven Moffett had the starting job and eventually lost it to Kyle Israel, Israel has experienced almost the same thing this year.
Israel had the job to start the year, but his hold has been slipping, and sophomore Michael Greco has seen increasingly more playing time.
Greco gives the Knights a running threat under center, but both he and Israel need to make smarter decisions against USF than they have been making if UCF has any hopes of escaping Tampa with a win.
Unlike last year, when Mike Walker grabbed 12 catches for 133 yards, the Knights will be relying on a couple of true freshmen to stretch the field and take pressure off Smith.
Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton have all of the touchdown catches for UCF this year, and have provided a dynamic duo capable of going over the middle or hauling in the deep ball.
Regardless of the weapons on offense, this game will come down to defense and which team forces the most mistakes.
USF has one of the best defenses in the country, and UCF’s is filled with young athletes who can make plays, like Lawrence Young.
The Knights can win Saturday, but they will need to play error-free all over the field for 60 minutes.