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UCF Knights 2017 Spring Game Impressions

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Hey, we look good!

NCAA Football: Florida International at Central Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

UCF’s spring game bodes well for the fall. The best surprise was the play of the second team offense and second team defense which were mostly better than expected. The Knights also looked fairly sharp for a spring game. Heartening, because when we last saw these Knights (practices have been closed), the Knights played ridiculously sloppy in a gross loss to Arkansas State in the Cure Bowl.

The format pitted team “UCFast” (first-string offense and first-string defense) against team “UCFierce” (the second-string offense and second string defense). Quarterbacks wore red no contact jerseys in the first half. The second half saw the red jerseys come off and the addition of a running clock. And no, starting quarterback McKenzie Milton did not play in the second half. He looked good in the first though, really making just a single bad throw.

The players Knights fans loved gave us some great highlights. Shaquem Griffin, the Knights’ most productive player on defense last year and the AAC’s defensive POTY, snatched an interception made all the more impressive because yes – that is the dude with just one hand.

Tre’Quan Smith demonstrated – once again – that if only EA Sport’s NCAA video game franchise still existed, he’d have a spectacular catch rating of 99:

And tight end Jordan Akins had a great touchdown catch to put the first points of the evening on the board.

An uptick in the number of two TE formations was noticeable tonight. Redshirt Senior TE Michael Colubiale has never recorded a stat for the Knights, but his spring practice performance was much talked about and he looked promising on the field tonight.

For UCFierce, Redshirt Senior QB Pete DiNovo had some other good moments. With about 6:40 left in the second half, he faked a handoff and under substantial pressure (and with his arm hit) still managed to toss a touchdown pass to TE Anthony Roberson. A little earlier, he had put this one on the money for Junior WR Tristan Payton:

Not that it matters in a spring scrimmage, but DiNovo’s UCFierce won by an official but inaccurate score of 35-28. Why inaccurate? Because with time winding down with the fourth quarter’s running clock, and down by seven, UCFast burned their timeouts to ensure a single desperation heave to the end zone. Nevelle Clarke picked it off and returned it the length of the field for a touchdown. The score was never adjusted accordingly. Yes, the clock hit zero and in a real game he would have fallen down (I hope) to seal the win. And yes, it seemed clear that some players stopped playing during the return, but hey – I say give Clarke the pick six and give UCFierce 41!

Lest you think the score means the twos are really that impressive, a note of caution. The result is seriously affected by the how poorly the UCFast offense played once the second half started and a combination of redshirt Junior Sean Pratt and freshman Hayden Kingston were playing in his stead. UCFast turned the ball over twice in the third quarter. First, Pratt telegraphed a throw which was picked off and returned to the 1. Then a botched snap was recovered by UCFierce. Early in the fourth quarter, UCFast lost another fumble, with Nevelle Clarke falling on that one. Minutes later, another UCFast snap was botched. It rolled past Kingston who tried – and failed – to kick it out through the back of the end zone. It looked like this:

The only seriously disappointing note of the evening was the attendance, an announced 9,792. Eyeballing the stadium on the streaming feed, that number looked generous in the extreme. It was a far cry from last year’s showing which, even coming off a winless 2015, was the highest of any G5 school with 23,147.

That aside, Knights fans should be happy with what the spring game showed us. It’s a mistake to try to read too much into what is essentially a glorified scrimmage,[1] but what we saw today were mostly good signs.

[1] A reason why I’ve spared you a more linear and chronological recap in favor of these observations. But if you’re into that too, UCF has a nice one.