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Five Questions about UCF vs. Cincinnati with Down the Drive

Bearcats expert Phil Neuffer helps us preview Saturday’s game between the Knights and the Bearcats.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The UCF Knights look to earn their first win over a divisional opponent on Saturday.

In advance of the game against UC, we talked with Phil Neuffer from Bearcats blog Down the Drive in order to learn more about what the Knights can expect from this week. You can follow Phil on Twitter @PhilNeuffer and Down The Drive @DownTheDrive.

1. Obviously, last week was a tough loss for the Bearcats. But more generally, how are you grading the Luke Fickell era so far?

While a 2-3 record isn’t making me super pumped, it needs to be remembered that Fickell is inheriting the roster of a team that won only four games last season and a program that was slowly deteriorating under Tommy Tuberville. Fickell has done a great job in saying the right things, so he’s winning the PR battle. That may not seem all that important, but Tuberville soured the fanbase so much by just seeming less invested than was ideal.

On top of that, Fickell has already made such a huge impact in recruiting. Tuberville wasn’t recruiting Ohio well and wasn’t bringing in big-time guys. Fickell has reignited interest from recruits, especially in the southern Ohio area, and that leads me to believe that he’s building something rather than just coasting along like Tuberville.

2. What UC players should UCF fans be focused on - Offense? Defense?

The offense hasn’t been great, so the most productive guys are on defense. Perry Young and Jaylyin Minor are both tackling monsters on defense, with Minor leading the AAC in stops and Young tied for fifth. In addition, Marquise Copeland and Kevin Mouhon should not be treated lightly on the defensive line.

When the offense is clicking, wide receivers Devin Gray and Kahlil Lewis are both tough to stop. Gray had 58 receptions for 860 yards with uneven quarterback play last year, but he’s been less productive this season. Lewis has been the No. 1 receiver. Then there’s Mike Boone, who has a ton of explosive skill at running back, but weak offensive line play and an injury have slowed him down.

3. What's been the best surprise of the season for the Bearcats?

I’m going to cheat here a little bit and give two answers. On the field itself, Young and Minor’s development in the middle of the defense has been great. The Bearcats lost Eric Wilson, a leader both statistically and emotionally, so I was worried that a thin linebacking group would be a major weakness. Luckily, Minor and Perry have stepped up to make that group the best on the defense.

On the recruiting side, the Bearcats just got a commitment from running back Ryan Montgomery, which was a big get since he’s a top 50 recruit in Ohio, giving UC yet another strong player for the future, which is clearly where this team is and should be looking.

4. What do you view as the key position match-up on Saturday night?

When UC played UCF last year, pass protection was a huge problem. I imagine that will be an area of focus once again since Shaquem Griffin is still around to wreck fools. UC’s offensive line play has been spotty despite some returning veterans, so I think the matchup between the front seven and Griffin or whoever else rushes the passer will be critical. Hayden Moore has not been consistent at quarterback and if he’s under pressure constantly, it’s going to be another rough one.

5. The advanced stats predict a 70% chance of a UCF win. Fair or unfair estimate?

Exceptionally fair. I’d even say it is leaning too far in UC’s favor. So far, this team has not really played one cohesively strong game, even in two wins. It’s tough to imagine that’s going to happen against UCF.