ORLANDO, Fla. – Just a few days after ascending to the main stage of college football with a No. 25 ranking, Head Coach Scott Frost isn’t letting his players buy into the hype. He has continuing to beat the same drum, impressing on his players that three wins over three games haven’t earned anything permanent.
“We’re not going to talk about any of that stuff. In fact, I asked the players what their record was this morning and they knew the answer. It’s zero-zero. I asked them where we were ranked and they said we’re not,” said Coach Frost.
The old company line may sound cliché or hollow, but it might be the only course of action to keep his players rolling without letting off the gas.
“It sounds corny, but they’re buying into that, and that’s what our mindset needs to be. Three wins doesn’t get you anywhere, its what we do from here, so we’re going to hit the reset button.”
You see, last year Scott Frost’s Knights were still learning how to win ballgames. They still hadn’t quite mastered the mathematical function that pushed teams into the land-of-no-return, losing four second-half battles – often in heartbreaking fashion.
A closer look:
30-24 L Maryland: UCF went wire-to-wire with the Terps in McKenzie Milton’s first career start, staying in the game with impact defense to overcome a freshman quarterback who struggled mightily with protecting the football. Milton’s late-game fumble in overtime sealed the deal for Maryland.
26-25 L Temple: Coach Frost came into the post-game press conference absolutely heartbroken after Temple handed UCF a last-second win on their home turf. The Knights had the game in hand, leading 21-3 at halftime.
31-24 L Houston: Greg Ward Jr. and soon-to-be-former-head-coach Tom Herman had Houston football positioned as the American Athletic Conference’s superteam when UCF came into town, but the Knights would prove to be first-half kryptonite – running up a 21-3 lead before surrendering four touchdowns in the second half.
35-20 L Tulsa: Tulsa did not incite the same emotional meltdown that other late-game collapses did, but the Knights did hold the game even at halftime at fourteen apiece. UCF’s offense sputtered out in the third and fourth quarter, only managing to score six points in the game’s final frame.
Things are different in year two of the Frost Era. UCF is smashing opponents in the second half, letting just three touchdowns slip by them after the intermission; they have outscored those three foes 62-20 as time wound down.
“I think our play in the second half is due to confidence,” said Frost. “It’s due to our depth, we have better depth this year and I think we’re playing deeper into games. I also think it has to do with our focus. Last year we’d lose our focus, we’d get up on people and we didn’t play the same in the second half. Whether it’s depth, confidence or just commitment to what we’re doing, I’ve been really impressed with the third quarters we have put together.”
UCF opponents are 9-0 in every other game they have played in 2017, and that includes wins over Texas and a shootout with Josh Rosen and the then-ranked No. 25 UCLA Bruins. Maryland looked every part of a power five program immediately after their shellacking at home, and Memphis was considered to be an American Athletic Conference favorite until their demise at the hands of Adrian Killins and company.
These are not pushover wins that UCF has accrued. As much as Frost may emphasize that the team isn’t getting too large of an ego boost from the early success, Orlando’s Hometown Team is expecting to win every time they take the field.
“Everyone is hungry, so every practice is full of energy,” said running back Adrian Killins. “Guys are competing at every position so I feel sorry for the next opponent, because this team is out for revenge.”
Small improvements in the details have led to significant big picture growth. Simple things – a second year in the same system, a full off-season of strength training under visionary coach Zach Duval, a quarterback who has learned how to compete amongst the titans of the NCAA – have all paid enormous dividends.
“To be honest with you, I think last year on defense – I don’t know about the offense so much – but on defense, we had the system in and it was the base system,” broke down UCF Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander. “We were out there calling calls that we thought would put them in the best position. Now we can install some systems within the system, so that the kids can get themselves in the best call. The second year in the system, with second-year linebackers and safeties that really understand, [the system] they can roll the coverage, they can adjust the front to the best situation in that certain formation or that certain play.”
“That’s the biggest buy-in right there, just letting the system work for the kids, and they understand now that if we let the system work for us, we’re going to know how to play certain plays and certain formations, so I think that’s helped them a ton.”
McKenzie Milton was tossed into the fires before he was even close to prepared. He took a beating that can be attributed to both his heart-stopping, athletic brand of football and an offensive line that was, at times, suspect at best.
His 1:1 touchdown-to-turnover ratio as a freshman struck a deep, dark chord of worry for many fans watching his development seemingly stall midseason. Milton notched ten passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, threw seven interceptions and lost six fumbles.
Nothing makes a young quarterback look like a golden god more than a chest-thumping, cleat-clearing bunch of big men along the offensive line that can erect a wall that the Knights’ Watch (see what I did there?) would be proud to stand behind.
UCF’s line hasn’t allowed a single sack through three games. One more time: UCF has not allowed their scrambling, pants-on-fire, improvisational jazz artist of a quarterback to eat dirt in 2017. Not even once.
“Some of the things that I think were weaknesses on this team last year are turning into strengths and they’re turning into strengths pretty fast. I’m really proud of that O-Line for how far they’ve come,” said Frost about the unit.
Black magic has taken the question marks of summer and fortified them into staunch pillars of strength for the undefeated Knights. The offensive line is hanging numbers that rival any in collegiate football.
The defense, heavy with inexperience brought on by seven new starters, ranks as a top ten unit and has forced the nation’s highest turnover margin.
UCF’s secondary lost every single starter and has recorded a touchdown, notched five interceptions from three of their new starters alone, and is locking down the opposition to 225.7 yards per game with a total of three touchdowns across the season. Three.
It is not only that UCF has blown their opponents out of the water by scores of 61-17, 38-10 and 40-13. It isn’t just the +2.33 turnover margin, a hot streak from the offense, a show put on by the defense or extenuating circumstances brought on to their opponents via injury. There isn’t one clear element that anyone can point to that explains the rise of UCFast Football.
The single, undeniable fact about football in Orlando this season? You can bet with confidence on the UCF Knights.