UCF-ECU Preview: Knights Look To Stay In Bowl Hunt, End Road Woes Vs. PiratesFootball, Sports — By Allen Levin on November 18, 2011 at 3:58 pm Tweet
The UCF football team’s season has come down to two games. It’s simple- win their final two games and reach bowl eligibility. Lose just one game, and the Knights can kiss their bowl dreams goodbye.
UCF’s (4-6, 2-4 C-USA) chances to still play in a bowl game this season start with a matchup against conference rival ECU (4-6, 3-3 C-USA) in Greenville, N.C. Saturday night.
There is no margin of error for the Knights, as they will have to find a way to put an end to their road woes and pull out a win if they want to play postseason football.
“We know that we have to win. It is kind of like a win or go home if we want to make it into the postseason,” senior tight end Adam Nissley said Wednesday in a press conference. “It’s almost like we are in the playoffs right now. We have to keep winning in order to make it to the postseason, so we realize that our backs are against the wall. We also know that ECU has the same thing going for them, so it’s gonna be a shootout.”
It’s the last opportunity for seniors like Nissley to finish their careers at UCF on a good note.
“They (the seniors) want to go out on a high note just as I do. I wanna go out making it to a bowl game and having a memorable senior season,” Nissley said. “Our seniors- that is our goal and our mission and the team is backing us. They wanna see us go out on a good note just as much as we do, and we respect that. I think it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
If the Knights want to secure bowl egilibility, they will need to limit a high-powered Pirates offense, and more importantly, make plays on both sides of the ball.
The Knights are still winless on the road, which is something they will have to change Saturday in front of a rowdy and packed ECU fan base.
“I think the atmosphere from last week kind of got us used to that atmosphere,” Nissley said. “Like the away games before that, there haven’t been too many people there, and it’s been kind of quiet, but Southern Miss had a crowd there, and we learned to adapt to it and play through it. That is something that will carry over and help us out because they (ECU) have a good crowd there too.”
“They get loud, and the stadium gets rocking. It’s gonna be loud, and the fans will be into it. We know that we have to come out and be able to play through it and fight through the noise and get a victory.”
Scouting Report: ECU
East Carolina is coming off a close loss to UTEP last weekend, fueled by a Miners fourth quarter comeback.
The Pirates held a 17-16 lead going into the final quarter, but a 78-yard touchdown run by Joe Banyard gave the Miners what proved to be the winning score.
The ECU defense gave up 429 total yards in the game, including 241 yards on the ground. Banyard lead UTEP with 140 yards and a touchdown.
The Pirates offense was limited to just 254 yards in the game, led by dual-threat QB Dominique Davis. Davis threw for 133 yards and a touchdown, while running for 25 yards, however, the senior also threw two costly interceptions.
ECU has lost two straight games after winning three straight to fall out of the C-USA East Division race.
The Pirates offense is built on a strong passing game. They are second in Conference-USA in passing yards at 294.5 yards per game. They complete 68.3 percent of their passes, which is third best in the league.
ECU relies heavily on their passing games as the Pirates ground attack is very meager, only producing 99.1 yards per game, which is second-worst in the conference.
The Knights will have to focus most of their attention on Davis, who has thrown for 2,737 yards and 18 TD’s this season. However, Davis also leads C-USA in interceptions, throwing 15 picks this year.
That could bode well for the Knights secondary, who leads C-USA in pass defense, only allowing 188.2 yards per game. Additionally, the UCF secondary has allowed only seven touchdowns in their end zone this year, which is good enough for fourth in the nation.
On the flip side, East Carolina also boast a strong secondary, limiting opponents to 188.7 yards per game in the air, which is second in the conference right behind the Knights.
Freshman linebacker Jeremy Grove will look to continue his standout rookie season against UCF. He enters the week seventh in the country with an average of 11.33 tackles per game.
Injuries to Reggie Bullock and Michael Dobson and the suspension of Alex Owah leaves the possibility for a big game from runningback Torrance Hunt. If the Knights can shut down the ECU running game, it will force Dominique Davis to throw the ball, where the Knights can force pressure and capitalize on mistakes.
Scouting Report: UCF
The Knights are coming off a heartbreaking loss to No. 22 Southern Miss last week.
UCF posted 20 fourth-quarter points against the Golden Eagles and held a 23-22 lead with nine minutes remaining in the game, however an Austin Davis touchdown pass and successful two-point conversion gave Southern Miss a 30-23 lead.
Despite squandering the lead, freshman QB Blake Bortles guided a glamorous two-minute drill that ended with a 25-yard touchdown heave to JJ Worton as time expired that put the score at 30-29.
Instead of going for the tie, Coach George O’Leary opted to go for the win on a two-point conversion, but Bortles wasn’t able to complete a pass to Josh Reese for the win, ultimately handing the Knights their second straight defeat.
“That was tough. We were right there, and we had the play worked out and everything. We just couldn’t quite get it done,” Nissley said. “You know it’s just one of those plays that I’ll look back at for years to come and kind of cringe because we were so close, but there is nothing we can do about it now. The only thing we can do is come out and work hard this week to make up for last week.”
Despite the tough loss, the Knights feel that the experience strengthened them as a team as they prepare for the Pirates on Saturday.
“I think it has been a real positive atmosphere out there. Everyone has had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We’ve been trying to work really hard and get this win, so that we have a chance to go to a bowl game,” senior Josh Linam said.
Bortles did an admirable job in the loss, going 24-of-34 for 248 yards and two TD’s. However, the Knights offense struggled at times, and only produced 48 yards on the ground.
Despite the close score, the UCF defense gave up an uncharacteristic 519 yards against the Golden Eagles, including 392 yards in the air. Davis threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns to lead Southern Miss.
To beat ECU, the Knights will need to get back to their stingy defense that has been so effective all-year long. If UCF can slow down Davis and the secondary can limit the receiving corps, the heart of the Pirates offensive game will be taken out.
The Knights have an interesting situation on offense as Bortles has made the once certain quarterback position not so certain anymore. While Coach O’Leary has said that Jeff Godfrey will remain the starter under center, he also said that Bortles will receive his fair share of playing time.
Against Southern Miss, Godfrey started the game and played several series, but Bortles got most of the playing time. Godfrey played well, going seven-for-10 with 68 yards, but it will be hard not to play Bortles as he continues to impress the coaching staff.
The Knights will also need their rushing attack to return to relevance after a poor performance last week.
The ECU rush defense isn’t spectacular, so the Knights can utilize the three-head rushing game of Ronnie Weaver, Brynn Harvey and Latavius Murray. If they can have a solid game and open up the field, it will give Bortles or Godfrey a good opportunity to make plays in the air.
The Knights will have a good shot at winning this game if they can prevent it from being a shootout and control the pace.
What To Look Out For
- Jeff Godfrey vs. Blake Bortles- The two young quarterbacks will be splitting time against ECU, so whoever takes the reins early will likely dictate who receives the majority of time under center.
- The play of freshman receiver JJ Worton- Worton was spectacular against Southern Miss, catching 11 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. Worton needs five more catches to become the all-time leading freshman receiver in UCF history. Expect him to make his presence felt against ECU.
- The kickoff return game has dramatically improved since freshman Rannell Hall has taken over the returning duties. Hall currently is averaging 30 yards per kickoff return, and UCF has went from 100th in the FBS in kickoff returns to No. 4 in the country since he took over in the UAB game.
- The UCF secondary: Look for the secondary to have a good game. DT Victor Gray broke up four passes against Southern Miss, becoming the first defensive lineman or linebacker in school history to disrupt four throws in a single game. He will need to do more of the same against Dominique Davis.
- ECU leads the all-time series 8-2. UCF won last season’s meeting 49-35.
- Win the turnover battle. At least four combined turnovers have been committed in five of the six meetings between these two teams since UCF joined Conference USA. If the Knights can limit their turnovers, they will likely win the game.
- Rush, rush, rush. If Harvey, as well as Murray and Weaver, can return to form against ECU, the Knights will put themselves in position to score a lot of touchdowns.
- Pressure Dominique Davis as much as possible, which will likely lead to mistakes and benefit UCF.
Prediction: I think the Knights finally end their road losing streak and come out on top 38-21 to remain in the bowl hunt.