Scott Frost and team will have a chance to end a rebound year at Raymond James Stadium this Saturday and gain bragging rights with the War On I-4.
The Knights were picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference at media day in Rhode Island where performance expectations matched that of the 2015 season. Despite the odds, Frost built up a 6-5 record that should have been at least 9-2, as the Bulls have built.
Four out of the last five losses came when UCF was either leading or tied at the half – three of those losses where the Knights led by more that one score – but crumbled in the second half. The first loss came at the hands of No. 3 powerhouse University of Michigan.
If UCF expects to take out the number two offense in the country, key players such as senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin (11 sacks, 17.5 TFL) and Errol Clarke (6.5 sacks, 10 TFL) must close out the running lanes to Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack. The caveat to USF’s offense has shown to be the kind of passing game that, on paper, will concede to UCF’s pass defense. Even in the 2015 campaign, UCF managed to hold out the bomb passes that trailed their way downfield, and in the Bulls’ most recent game against SMU, holes in the pass efficiency made clear the way Eric Chinander could stack the defense.
The UCF offensive drives will be what to watch.
An underperforming Knights offense and Bulls defense will make those drives shaky but critical for Frost if his plans to outpace the opposing offense. UCF QB Mackenzie Milton will need to sharpen the mechanics of his passing to hit the big plays and break the dry spell of passing touchdowns that took place. That’s not to say that Milton is the only one at fault – the UCF offensive line has occasionally faltered in giving Milton those few extra seconds to find an open receiver.
Calls to put in former starting QB Justin Holman were met with a stark no from Frost in Monday morning’s press conference, who plans on sticking with Milton, barring any unusual circumstances.
If Milton can improve his explosiveness as part of the ‘UCFast’ mantra, then USF should concede touchdowns no-problem.
If UCF can restore their run game, however, then USF will have reason to be concerned.
In the wake of a chance to get their first 10-win season since 1997, the Bulls have a desire to succeed and are favored considerably but won’t see the same scoring margin as last-time-out at Bright House.
A trophy with a base and detachable key were revealed on Sunday to go to the winner of the noon game. Orlando and Tampa, UCF and USF, respectively, are lasered into one side of the interstate-roadsign shaped key hold. All previous matchups will go onto a plaque, according to the current plan.
Kickoff for the War On I-4 takes place at noon at Raymond James Stadium.