ORLANDO, Fla. – Nevelle Clarke’s much-anticipated return to the Knights’ defensive backfield came against the unheralded Austin Peay Governors, a perfect time to reset from a half-season of Saturdays off.
Not to say that the stakes weren’t low, but UCF scored a program-record 73 points against the Governors. Clarke transitioned from scout-team to game speed with relative ease, setting the stage for a showdown in Dallas against an SMU duo that boasted NFL talent on either side.
“Nevelle had an unbelievable game,” said Coach Frost on Monday. “That was a big test for our defensive backs with the quality of wide receivers that they had.
“Those guys had a huge challenge and I thought they were up to the task. Nevelle, being only his second game back, I thought he played at a really high level on Saturday.”
It should be reinforced that Courtland Sutton is a first-round talent averaging 15.7 yards per catch, and Trey Quinn leads the NCAA in receptions.
“I was proud of him, stepping in there,” assured Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander. “It’s not like he was out there playing against me at receiver, he was out there playing some real legitimate NFL guys.”
Mike Hughes has been a pleasant surprise as the Knights’ most outstanding defender, but Nevelle was slotted to be UCF’s lockdown corner since his emergence last season. He has returned to full form, which would assume a ton of playing time in the season’s back end.
That doesn’t mean that Brandon Moore has lost his seat the table yet. Chinander said this week that they will do their best to get all three guys on the field at the same time and that all three are taking reps with the starters right now.
“Right now, we’re rotating Bam, him and Mike all in there at the ones and we’re trying to get all three of them on the field in a lot of situations,” explained Chinander. “I think you’re going to see a good rotation.”
“Mike and Bam have just had so many reps throughout the year that it’s going to be good to go Mike and Bam – have those two take a couple of series – then go Nevelle and Mike, Nevelle and Bam; I think it’s going to be really good for us as a team to get those guys some rest.”
Brandon Moore has been heavily targeted as the No. 2 corner and as a redshirt freshman just getting established. With Hughes shining so brightly on the opposite side, it has been heavy fire for Moore as the logical weak link.
His standout game against Navy yielded a forced fumble, fumble recovery, tackle for a loss and interception – making it tough to remove his name from the conversation.
Moore’s continued development does excellent things for the Knights’ number one unit, giving them flexibility with both coverage packages and in rotating fresh legs to the scene. He will continue to take significant reps and will still be in the mix, but expect UCF to go to Nevelle when the situation calls for just their best two corners on the field.