Game 9 Preview: Central Florida
By: Ryan Roberts
Six weeks ago, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Cincinnati football program. The Bearcats had just went on the road to Pittsburgh and physically dominated a Pitt team that was known for their toughness. Cincinnati lost to Miami (OH) the following week and now come in to Saturday's match up against UCF on a six game losing skid, still searching for their first Big 12 victory.
The Central Florida Knights are on a similar trajectory. They won their first three games but haven't won a game since defeating Villanova on September 16th. Gus Malzahn's squad enters Nippert Stadium Saturday with a five game losing streak.
What you need to know:
- Despite their records, both teams come in with impressive offensive stats. UCF ranks no. 1 in the Big 12 and 4th nationally in rushing yards per game (227) while Cincinnati ranks no. 3 in the Big 12 and 6th nationally in rushing yards per game (223).
- The series record is currently tied 4-4 with UC winning three of the previous 4 match ups. UCF won last year in Orlando, 25-21.
- Malik Vann is currently the Big 12's highest rated edge with an 81.1 PFF grade.
- The Knights are sixth in the country and lead the Big 12 Conference in total offense, averaging 495.0 yards per game. UCF has surpassed 400 yards in six of their eight games this season.
- UCF leads the Big 12 and ranks 12th nationally in passing yards per completion with 14.49 and the Knights’ defense paces the conference and ranks 26th in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed per game at 194.6.
- On third downs this year, UCF has converted 49.5% percent of their attempts, which is 11th in the country and second in the Big 12.
- UC is 3-1 in Cincinnati against UCF in the 8 meetings between the two.
- Darin Hinshaw is the offensive coordinator for UCF. He was UC's passing game coordinator from 2013-2015. Kenny Ingram is also on the UCF staff. He coached UC's defensive linemen in 2015 and 2016.
Inside the Numbers:
Players to Watch:
- The UCF offense starts with quarterback John Rhys-Plumlee. He comes in to Saturday's match up needing just 13 rushing yards to become the all time leader in career rushing yards by a UCF quarterback. Plumlee has 1,066 during his UCF career and 2.255 career rushing yards if you include his time at Ole Miss. Keeping him in the pocket will be crucial for the UC front 7.
- Wide Receivers Javon Baker and Kobe Hudson have formed one of the best wide receiver duos in the nation, as the Knights are one of just seven teams nationally and the only one from the Big 12 Conference with two players that have recorded at least 550 receiving yards this season.
Both players rank among the top 10 in the Big 12 in receiving yards, as UCF is the only team in the league with two among the top 10. Baker has caught 29 passes for 585 yards with five touchdowns and Hudson has 26 catches for 562 yards and four TDs. Both are averaging over 20 yards per catch so this will be another game where UC is tested in the back half of the secondary.
- Redshirt senior running back RJ Harvey is among the top 10 in the Big 12 in every rushing category. He’s tied for second in rushing TDs (6), sixth in rushing attempts (126), seventh in rushing yards (712) and rushing yards per game (89.00) and seventh in yards per rush (5.65).
Harvey and fellow running back Johnny Richardson have formed one of the Big 12’s best running back tandems, as UCF is the only team with two running backs that have rushed for 100 yards or more in two games this season. Harvey has recorded three consecutive 100- yard rushing performances with 100 yards on 14 carries versus West Virginia, 133 yards at Kansas and 101 yards on a season-high 23 carries at Oklahoma. He became the first Knights running back with at least three consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Latavius Murray in 2012 did it in four straight games. Richardson tallied 100 yards on 12 carries in the season opener against Kent State and 105 yards on six carries versus Baylor.
- The UCF offensive line is one of 23 listed on the 2023 midseason honor roll for the Joe Moore Award for the most outstanding offensive line unit in college football. According to PFF Stats, the Knights’ offensive line has graded out at 85.5 in pass blocking, which is fourth best in the country. UCF’s run-blocking grade of 66.7 also ranks among the nation’s top 35. The offensive line unit is led by captain and fifth-year guard Lokahi Pauole, who was a first team All-American Athletic Conference selection last season.
- Defensively, UCF is led by fifth year defensive end Tre’mon Morris-Brash.
Morris-Brash is tied for fourth nationally in tackles for loss with 14.0 and has tallied three tackles for loss in three of UCF’s eight games this season and has had at least 1.5 in three of the other five games. He’s averaging 1.8 TFLs per game. His 52 career tackles for loss are also the most by any active FBS player and the fourth most in UCF program history. In addition to his TFLs, Morris-Brash has six sacks to tie for the Big 12 lead.
- UCF fifth year linebacker Jason Johnson currently has 433 career tackles. He currently leads the team with 72 tackles, which is good for 3rd in the Big 12.
Military Appreciation Day:
In recognition of Military Appreciation Day, Cincinnati football will don special helmet decals featuring the crest of the USS Cincinnati LCS 20, a U.S. Navy ship whose namesake is Cincinnati. The USS Cincinnati's homeport is in San Diego, Calif. It was commissioned in 2019 and is the fifth naval ship named after the city.
Final Thoughts and Outlook:
UCF wants to throw the ball down the field. They currently lead the Big 12 in passing yards per completion (14.49) and own both the longest passing and rushing plays in the Big 12 this year. Containing the big play ability of this offense is going to be the primary point of emphasis for defensive coordinator Bryan Brown.
Defensively, UCF currently owns the 5th most sacks in the Big 12, with 18. Being able to run the ball effectively will go a long way in opening up the passing game. Converting in the red zone with touchdowns instead of field goals has to happen for UC to win this week. UCF ranks 6th in the league in red zone offense with a conversion rate of 81%. Cincinnati is dead last in the league at 71%.
The biggest question mark for me is: How does UC handle the team speed of UCF at the skill positions on offense? In the past, UC has had success against UCF when they've found ways to negate that speed.
At the end of the day, both teams are in desperate need of a win. This is another game that will come down to who simply wants it more.
How to Watch:
Adam Alexander (PxP), Devin Gardner (Analyst)
Radio: 700 WLW