By: Daniel Wolff
ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF hosts the FIU Panthers in the season’s opening action at the newly christened Spectrum Stadium on Thursday night, their first appearance since last year’s 6-7 finish under first-time Head Coach Scott Frost.
It will be an established start for the Knights, who will have the benefit of a full football season under their belts. This year, there are zero excuses or learning curves from the starting block.
“We are a bit tired of being congratulated for last year’s 6-7 record,” Frost said of the feedback he’s received. It’s important they win the games they are supposed to win. Considering UCF’s tough schedule, Thursday night is certainly one of those games.
UCF will need to adjust on the fly. FIU’s new coach Butch Davis hasn’t coached in college football since 2011 and doesn’t have much of a resume in this era for Knights’ coaches to analyze.
Although Coach Frost has ties to Coach Davis (played under Coach Davis in Cleveland), it’s unclear to Frost what FIU’s game plan will look like.
“We are taking a lot of guesses,” Frost said on Monday. “Our players will have to adjust in the middle of the game.”
UCF should be able to get after quarterback Alex McGough with authority – FIU is returning most of their offensive lineman, losing only center Michael Montero – but that might not be a good thing. The offensive line struggled last year, giving up 31 sacks in just twelve games.
The Knights’ tremendous front seven should have no problem beating up on McGough. Jamiyus Pittman said he planned on getting to the quarterback multiple times on Thursday with his move to defensive end, a product of Trysten Hill’s development at nose guard.
He and Butkus award prospect Shaquem Griffin should have a field day against the struggling offensive line of FIU. It’s critical the front seven offer stability for the defense because the secondary is unexperienced. This will be the first start for everyone in the secondary, after UCF lost their entire defensive backfield to the next level. Even as high as the praise has been this summer for the defensive backs, they still need to prove it isn’t just hype without any starts under their belt.
A growing UCF offense should be able to gain confidence this week against what was an atrocious FIU defense last year, surrendering 30.8 points per game. The Knights’ young backfield has gained an off-season under their belt, and are looking to make vast strides this year with Jawon Hamilton leading the charge and versatile weapons Adrian Killins, Otis Anderson and Cordarrian Richardson ready to go in the stable.
McKenzie Milton has been in the weight room, packing on close to ten pounds of muscle. Many recognize a drastic increase in his confidence, evident daily in practice.
“This year he gives his receivers a chance, last year he was ready to run all the time,” Sophomore Running Back Jawon Hamilton explained. In fairness, the offensive line was suspect at times last year and McKenzie played under heavy fire.
Coach Frost claims the offensive line has shown progress day in and day out. Tyler Hudanick is making significant strides coming off injury last year, and should be close to full-speed by game time according to Frost. The return would be huge for the Knights, who have yet to cement their starting rotation along the line.
The Knights should have all the advantages going into Thursday night’s game. They are more established in their system, they are bigger, they have more talent at just about every position group.
Spectrum Stadium will be a mad house, and the players seem overly excited to hit someone in a different uniform. Most betting sites have the Knights as 17-point favorites going into Thursday’s game, but as any UCF fan knows, anything can happen against FIU at home.