Coming into the season, UCF fans were worried that UCF did not have a successor to Blake Bortles. After three games, it is clear that Justin Holman is the answer to that question. And with all talented skill position players on the team around Holman, the UCF offense should be explosive, right? It's not, and that's a major problem for UCF going forward.
The UCF offense ranks No. 91 nationally in offensive FEI and No. 123 in drive efficiency. Let me say that again: 123 in drive efficiency. The offense also ranks No. 75 in football outsiders S&P. That is embarrassing.
The question becomes what happened to an offense that was so efficient and productive last year? Some can point to Bortles leaving, but it is more than that.
The best reason for the offensive doldrums that the UCF fanbase can come up with is the loss of three senior offensive linemen. Clearly this was a concern going into the season, but no one expected the line to be this bad. Through three games in the season the line has allowed seven sacks. Yes, losing the McCrae brothers was a huge blow, but Joey Grant and Torrian Wilson are still there. Contrary to Shannon Owens' latest article, the offensive line has not clicked at all. So what has happened to the offensive line?
Wasn't Brent Key supposed to be an offensive line guru? The line has looked ill prepared and terribly coached this year. Here's the myth that surrounds Key: everyone assumes that he is one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. Well let's take a look at his best year, 2013. The year in which Penn State and Baylor registered 0 sacks on Bortles. According to sack rate and adjusted sack rate, which measures an offensive line, UCF's was ranked 58 and 61. According to standard down, UCF's line ranked No. 105. Oh and stuffed rate the line ranked 110. Sure the line didn't give up sacks to Penn State and Baylor, but USF, Memphis, and SMU were able to get to the quarterback. In 2014, the line is expected to finish in the last tier in all major offensive line metrics. If this does not improve, expect Brent Key to be on the hot seat.
There is a bigger problem than Key and the offensive line, though: the conservative nature of the play calling that has burdened the Knights. Want the most damning statistic as to why UCF has struggled so much? Here it is: in 2013 the offense ranked ninth in explosive plays, this year they rank 91st. Did Storm and Bortles really make the offense that much more explosive? Don't blame Justin Holman for the lack of explosiveness or efficiency. We have all seen he can make huge plays with his arm and feet. Blame the coaching staff.
How many times have UCF fans been angered by UCF's conservative play calling? Blame that on George O'Leary and Charlie Taaffe. Both men seem to not trust a young quarterback. Their gameplan is to go ultra conservative and handcuff the young player. The perfect example came against Missouri and the UCF coaching staff not opting to take advantage of a young and inexperienced Tigers secondary. Everyone knew that to win UCF would have to throw the ball and trust Holman. Instead the offense ran reverses and options, rarely trusting the quarterback, despite him making third down conversions.
Yet the offensive staff did not trust the young quarterback to throw the ball and when they did it was too late. With the likes of Rannell Hall, Breshad Perriman, Josh Reese, and JJ Worton, UCF should be running an up-tempo spread offense. Instead, the staff remains determined to run the ball with an offensive line that can not open holes. This is why I am in favor in bringing in Jake Spavital or Mike Norvell to replace O'Leary when he retires. Their offenses are conducive to what has made UCF so successful.
It is a problem that needs to be resolved this week going into the game with Houston. If the coaching staff does not trust Holman's long ball accuracy, then run the screens that were so successful last year. Open the offense up and let Holman show you what he can do. It was what was so successful for UCF last year and yet the coaching staff has gotten away from it. The offense needs to open back up. If the coaching staff continues to handcuffJustin Holman and the offense, it will be a long year. A season that had so much promise will end in heartbreak and obscurity.