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Five Questions: UCF Knights

A former colleague gives us a UCF perspective

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

UCF’s win streak has affected many in the last two years, and that includes SB Nation. Underdog Dynasty used to cover the Knights, but their success allowed for their own blog to be started. Back and Gold Banneret has joined the SB Nation team, and one of our former writers joined them. Chas Short joined us to give Memphis fans some helpful information about the Tigers opponent Saturday.

Underdog Dynasty: Let’s get this out of the way right now. How much does McKenzie Milton’s injury hurt the Knights? Can Darriel Mack keep the explosive offense running efficiently?

NCAA Football: Central Florida at South Florida
Darriel Mack must fill big shoes Saturday.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chas Short: It hurts in a serious way. There will be undeniable drop off from Milton, who just became the first repeat AAC Offensive Player of the Year, to Mack, a redshirt freshman who has started one game previously. To pick one point of comparison, Mack’s QBR (82.8) is close to half of Milton (161). Or compare their completion percentage 48.8% (Mack) versus 59.2% (Milton).

That doesn’t make me think pessimistically about the Knights’ chances on Saturday. The offense can still move the ball with Mack at QB, but it may look a bit different. Head Coach Josh Heupel has historically adapted well to the personnel he has available. I think you’ll see a UCF offense that seems more like the Scott Frost days – for example, more short passes at our behind the line of scrimmage. You’ll continue to see the deep ball. Mack’s got a good deep ball and, while he doesn’t always connect, he’s good about putting the ball in a safe place and not underthrowing. Armwise, he’ll remind people of former Knights QB Justin Holman – great arm strength, but needs to work on accuracy and throwing the intermediate ball with touch,

Finally, Mack is a tremendous – and physical – runner. He’s currently averaging 7 yards per carry, and that number would still impress even if you take out his long run against UConn. This will be a huge asset in the red zone.

UDD: It seemed like Memphis lost the game more than UCF won it earlier this year, how do UCF fans view that game?

CS: I think a significant amount of UCF fans would agree, or more likely agree with the notion that ‘we got lucky’ (frankly, that’s the same thing).

Personally, I don’t buy it. I think that perspective is colored too much by the mind-boggling Memphis pass in bounds to end the game, which allowed the clock to run to zero. In my view, the takeaway from that game was that UCF played a mind-bogglingly bad half – the worst half of the year and it’s not close – and still managed to pull together and win in the second. Everything was wrong in the first – uninspired playcalling, bad penalties, horrible porous defense and missed tackles, you name it.

UDD: Who will have the biggest impact on both sides of the ball for UCF to win the game?

CS: On offense, it’s clearly Mack. Especially because the offense with Mack has done better when Mack is allowed to do more. It’s the real answer, but a boring one. So let me give you a second offensive player as well and say Greg McCrae. In the second half of the season, McCrae established himself as the best running back on the roster. He’s averaging 9 yards a carry. He had 181 yards and three touchdowns against UCF. His instincts are tremendous. He can be huge.

On defense, I believe that UCF needs to load the box given that they’re about to be facing Darrell Henderson, Patrick Taylor Jr., and Tony Pollard. EVERYONE NEEDS TO HAVE A GREAT GAME AGAINST THAT GROUP. And if you think that’s a cop-out, well, I gave you an extra impact player on offense.

UDD: The 24 game win streak has been phenomenal, but has the stress of keeping the streak up getting to this team?

CS: No. I don’t see any evidence suggesting that.

In fact, UCF’s last two wins – a 38-13 drubbing of #24 Cincinnati with College GameDay in town and a 38-10 win over rival USF despite lacking Milton for most of the game – are evidence of the opposite. That’s a lot of attention and adversity to overcome, and the defense stepped up in both games (this was not true earlier in the season).

UDD: UCF wins the game because:

CS: Heupel will adapt the playcalling to Mack’s strengths and the recent improved play by the defense is the new norm, not an outlier.