UCF tried to shake things up defensively against Temple last Saturday by making some lineup changes and the results were promising.
Red-shirt sophomore Shaquill Griffin, who played two games at the free-safety position, moved back to cornerback and returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown towards the end of the second quarter. This was the fourth longest interception return in UCF history, the first UCF defensive touchdown since 2012, and the first interception for the Knights this season.
“It shows that we can make plays,” said red-shirt senior DE, Thomas Niles at Monday afternoon’s press conference. “It gave us more confidence, I’m sure it gave Shaquill a lot of confidence.”
“I thought defensively for three and a half quarters played better than they have played,” said Head Coach George O’Leary. “They tackled well, gave up a couple big plays in that first series, but other than that, then they held pretty much Temple in check.”
It has been a revolving door at the middle linebacker and strong safety position for the Knights this season. Three different players have started at the middle linebacker position and three different players have started at the strong safety position.
Red-shirt junior Maurice Russel got the start at middle linebacker last Saturday and he recorded nine tackles, one for loss. Red-shirt Senior Dominic Spencer also played and recorded four tackles, 1.5 for loss; Spencer has started the most games at middle linebacker with four starts.
“Maurice Russell started because I wanted some guy with a little more thud ability up front,” said O’Leary. “Dominic is running second team and Dominic played a bunch on Saturday, but both are good.”
T.J Mutcherson, an Iowa State transfer and junior graduate student got his first career start for Knights at strong safety. Mutcherson recorded seven tackles, one for a loss, one force fumble, and two fumble recoveries and a pass break-up. The two force fumble recoveries were one shy of tying a single game-record for the Knights.
“I thought he went out and played very well,” said O’Leary. “Played well on special teams first and did some good things on defense. Obliviously saw some mistakes his gonna work on, but I was pleased with the way he played.”
Mutcherson can help solidify UCF’s secondary going forward; the Knights have allowed an average of 236.9 yards in pass defense this season, but last Saturday they only allowed 149 net yards passing.
The Knights’ defense has another opportunity to improve this week as they face number No. 21 in the BCS college football rankings, Houston (6-0, 3-0 The American) this Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium.