The Knights have suffered through a brutal beginning of the season and are 0-2 following a catastrophic (though narrow) loss to FIU and a drubbing by Stanford that felt like a slow and complete suffocation. The game against Furman is the only ‘gimme' game left on the schedule and the Knights need to take advantage. Since moving up to Division I in 1996, UCF is a perfect 20-0 against Division II/FCS schools (outscoring opponents 792-231 in those games).
Dropping a game to a 0-2 Furman squad on Saturday would be a really bad way to mess up that perfect 20-0.
Start time: 6 PM EST
Location: Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, FL
Radio: WYGM 740-AM (Orlando), Sirius 119, XM 205
The Series: 1-0, Furman! Which seems shocking, but makes more sense when you consider these teams last met in 1984 when UCF was a Div II school. Back in '84, Furman jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and buried UCF 42-6. The Knights doomed themselves in large part, throwing five interceptions.
But that won't happen his time.
The Opponent: Furman is also winless this year, but has played some decent competition. The Paladins lost by three against FCS No. 5 Coastal Carolina. And last week, they played Virginia Tech - the Hokies started a bit slow, but ultimately cruised to a 42-3 win over Furman.
Furman's offense has a pulse, as demonstrated by its average of 389.5 yards per game. Freshman RB Tristan Luke is averaging 7.2 yards per run (although on a small sample size of 14 rushes) and FB Ernie Cain averages 5.9 yards per carry and has three rushing touchdowns. But the Furman offense is not taking care of the care of the football and is minus 5 in turnover margin (the Paladins have yet to take force a turnover).
The Paladins are also giving up a lot of yards - 535.5 per game.
UCF Outlook: Depleted as the Knights are, this ought to be a win. And the game comes at a great time. The Knights are wracked with injuries, playing true freshman at key positions, and need an opportunity to gel before the matchup against South Carolina and the beginning of the conference slate.
Junior QB Justin Holman, the key player on this team, injured his throwing hand on the first drive of the game against Stanford and will be out two to four weeks. He was replaced by true Freshman Bo Schneider (who looked bad and threw an ugly pick). Schneider in turn was replaced by redshirt Freshman Tyler Harris late in the game. Harris was responsible for the Knights only touchdown of the day on a hook-up with redshirt Freshman WR Tre'Quan Smith. Nonetheless, O'Leary has tabbed Schneider as the starter against Furman.
Yes, you can begin to worry whether Schneider-Harris is the new DiNovo-Holman.
Meanwhile, freshman Taj McGowan will again start at running back in place of Dontravious Wilson who has been injured. Will Stanback will likely remain lower on the depth chart following his drive-ruining fumble last week and anemic running thus far.
The offensive line, which many thought would be a strength this season, continues to be in disarray. And sadly, injuries have ended the football career of senior (and starting) center Joey Grant.
Things have looked less dire for the Knights on defense. They held tight for much of the game against Stanford before giving up some huge plays to Stanford last week.
The young pieces of this UCF team need this opportunity to get back on the right track. It's not just about getting a much-needed win here, but eliminating mistakes and ensuring that this is a "learning" season and not a "lost" season.