For the past couple of weeks, UCF head coach George O’Leary has been stressing the importance of big plays from the offense, and the impact of converting them when the opportunities are there.
O’Leary believes that is the main difference between this year’s team and last year’s Conference-USA championship team.
“The key right now to us as compared to last year was that when we had an opportunity to make big plays, we made them,” O’Leary said Tuesday. “This year that’s been a non-factor, and I think that’s one of the problems offensively.”
UCF’s longest play from scrimmage last game against UAB came late in the fourth quarter when running back Latavius Murray caught a screen pass from Blake Bortles and then ran for a 53-yard gain. That play led to a field goal, which gave the Knights a 24-23 lead.
Senior tight end Adam Nissley, who has 16 receptions for 212 yards to date, is seeing more passes come his way this year. Nissley’s 16 receptions in seven games this year is already twice as many receptions as he had all of last season.
He also agreed with O’Leary, and added that big plays can provide a big momentum swing in a game.
“Big plays are huge in a ball game,” Nissley said. “To be able to have a deep pass and a score. As an offense, we really feed off that, and it gives us confidence to know that we have a threat to score at any time and that we’ll be able to pull it off.”
He went on to add:
“Same thing on special teams too. Any time special teams can break off a chunk play and give us good field position- that’s a very important factor in our offense.”
It will also be important for the Knights to convert inside the red zone, whether it is by a touchdown or field goal. Last Thursday against UAB, there was three times that the Knights had the ball inside the opponent’s 30-yard line, and came away with nothing to show for it. There was a turnover on downs, an interception and a missed field goal.
Sophomore Jeff Godfrey, who is expected remain at starting quarterback against Memphis, and the rest of the offense will be looking to capitalize on every opportunity they have in the opponent’s territory.
“Trying to improve on scoring inside the red zone,” Godfrey said when asked about what the offense is working on in practice. “That’s something we want to do on the offensive side of the ball and put up more points. That’s something that I am focusing on, and the offense is focusing on.”
Godfrey was replaced by redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Bortles at the start of the fourth quarter against UAB. Godfrey was critical of himself after the game and also during practice this week.
“We just weren’t focusing enough as a whole unit,” Godfrey said after he was asked about the difficulties of finishing drives. “Some bad decisions by me of course. That is something that I have to work on, and we’ll do a good job at it as an offensive unit.”
Godfrey will look to duplicate his performance of last year’s game against Memphis, where he threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
Even though many projected that the Knights (3-4, 1-2 C-USA) wouldn’t lose four games all year, O’Leary still remains optimistic about the rest of the season.
“I’m very positive when I look at the season,” O’Leary said. “I told the players you got five games left and when you look at the schedule and who we have to play. If we do what we are supposed to do, we’ve reached our goal and that’s what I look at. That’s how you have to treat it.”
“You can’t keep harping back on what-if type things. You gotta look ahead and here is what we need to do now. That’s what I’ve addressed with the players and coaches.”
The Knights will look to bounce back against Memphis in their homecoming game on Saturday afternoon at Brighthouse Networks Stadium. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.