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Houston Cougars vs. UCF Knights Game Preview

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Get ready for a bunch of points.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Houston at UCF Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DATE: Saturday, October 31st
TIME: 1:00pm CT
TV: ESPN+
LINE: UCF -2.5
LOCATION: TDECU Stadium (Houston, TX)


Houston Players to Watch

QB Clayton Tune: Hosuton’s quarterback has made a number of big plays with his arm, but hasn’t tried to be a hero. He’s completing 66.3% of his passes which have resulted in 945 yards and seven touchdowns. If the Coogs need him to run, he’s proven that he can pick up yards with his legs too.

Navy v Houston
Stevenson bounced back last week, and could have another big game.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

WR Marquez Stevenson: After a tough game against a good BYU defense, Stevenson bounced back against Navy. He has the speed to beat any defensive back deep, something the Cougars might need this weekend.

OT Patrick Paul: Blocking Randy Charlton has been a difficult task for everyone he’s faced, and Paul gets the honor (if you want to call it that) this weekend. Paul’s shown that he can play at a dominant level, but needs to keep his cool against one of the best pass rushers in the conference.

DE Payton Turner: The Cougars star defensive end is having a career year (team high 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks) so far, and he’ll face an offensive line that will test him, but also isn’t the toughest one he’s faced.

CB Damarion Williams: It’s not the toughest test he’ll face (that honor goes to former Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb), but it’s pretty close. Not many receivers are playing better than UCF’s Marlon Williams, former Sooner Jaylon Robinson is a burner, as is Ryan O’Keefe. Those three have combined for 1,614 yards and 11 touchdowns so far this season.

UCF Players to Watch

Tulane v Central Florida
Gabriel leads all quarterbacks in yards and touchdowns this year.
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

QB Dillon Gabriel: Lost in the Knights recent struggles is the absolute dominance of Gabriel. In just five games, he’s thrown for 2,178 yards and 19 touchdowns, both first in the country.

WR Marlon Williams: Like I said, there aren’t many receivers playing better than Williams, who’s produced 365 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games alone. A physical receiver, tackling him isn’t the most enviable task, and it helps him get more yards after the catch (or contact too).

C Matt Lee: Maybe Lee’s figured things out, but he’ll face his toughest test to date with Chidozie Nwankwo and Olivier Charles-Pierre lined up right in front of him. Snaps have been an issue in the past, and both Cougars tackles can revive those issues in a hurry.

DE Randy Charlton: If Charlton could find a way to be more consistent against the run, he’d see the field more. Then again, there’s a ton of talent on the Knights roster, but none have the pass rushing ability he possesses. Houston’s offense might struggle if they can’t keep him in check.

DB Aaron Robinson: Covering the slot isn’t an easy task, and Robinson has to face a Cougars offense with great speed on the inside. Whether that’s Marquez Stevenson or Nathaniel Dell, anyone he covers will test him. He’s the most qualified to handle that test, though, and should be a battle.

Houston Keys to the Game

Bottle up Knights air attack: This one’s a stretch, because no one’s been able to slow down the UCF passing attack. Gabriel’s averaging over 400 yards and nearly four touchdowns per game, so Houston’s secondary could be in for a long day if they can’t do anything to slow him down.

Keep it clean: Penalties have been the biggest issue for Houston this season, and avoiding those gives them a chance to keep up with the UCF air attack. Tune and the offense have proven they can move the ball down the field, but mental mistakes will put them behind quicker than they can recover. This is a game that they can’t afford many, if any, of those mistakes.

Bring the energy: One thing that’s been great about this team is the energy level on the field and the sideline. Players get excited when their teammates makes a big play, and this is a game that they’ll need that, especially when UCF has success (which they will). Keeping that energy throughout the entire game will help the guys on the field whether things are going right or wrong.

UCF Keys to the Game

Win up front: Houston’s defensive line has been playing better than it has in years, and keeping them at bay will go a long way in determining the outcome. Gabriel’s been running more than usual lately, and Houston’s front might be the best the Knights have seen this year.

Don’t get beat deep: Like the Knights, Houston wants to move the ball through the air, and doesn’t mind if it takes one play to reach the endzone. With guys like Marquez Stevenson, UCF has plenty to worry about when defending the Cougars offense. While the Knights themselves can score in a hurry, the defense must prove it can make stops.

Avoid penalties: UCF’s been doing a great job of this in the last couple games, but that doesn’t mean they’ve cured their penalty woes. Houston can stay competitive if UCF’s struggles return, which would stall the offense. The only thing stopping the Knights offense is penalties, so avoiding them keeps the train running.

Prediction

If you told me the line was going to be 2.5 before the season began, I probably would have laughed. Both teams are headed in different directions, but still solid teams. UCF’s offense is still tough to stop and operating at a high level, but their defense continues to struggle. I’m hoping for a shootout, and I think Houston’s capable of pulling off the upset. HOUSTON 49 UCF 45