No. 18 Knights Look to Open Eyes vs. UConn Huskies

UCF VS. UCONN PREVIEW

Nevelle-Clarke-UCF
UCF cornerback Nevelle Clarke will try to turn in another strong performance Saturday vs. UConn. (Photo: Derek Warden)

OK, everyone, let’s just put down the pitchforks and torches.

UCF Nation turned into an angry mob Tuesday night when the latest College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled. The CFP committee rewarded the Knights for their hard-fought road victory against a very good SMU team by moving them from No. 18 to … No. 18.

The stagnation was seen by many fans as a massive slight.  The company line inside the Knights’ locker room is that they don’t pay attention to rankings. Of course, that’s not totally true; some players undoubtedly want to know what the college football world thinks of them. Center Jordan Johnson said that although the team knows the committee “lowballed” UCF, he sees the ranking as a challenge “to step up and show them we’re a lot better than they think we are.”

However, no matter where UCF sits in the polls, every fan should understand that all of the team’s goals are still on the table and controlled by no one else but them.

Said running back Adrian Killins: “I just want to win games, win a lot of championships and get a lot of rings.” And the trek for the Knights to win all of their games, including a conference championship, and possibly in time take home a New Year’s Six bowl ring continues this Saturday versus the Connecticut Huskies.

Kickoff

The Knights and the Huskies will kick off at high noon Saturday inside Spectrum Stadium.

TV

  • ESPNU
  • Play-by-play: Mike Couzens, who is in his fifth year at ESPN as a play-by-play broadcaster. He calls college football, men’s college basketball, college baseball and high school basketball for the network.
  • Analyst: John Congemi, who has been calling college football games for ESPNU since 2005. Congemi lives in Florida and is also a Miami Dolphins’ analyst for the team’s official website.

Series

Tied 2-2

The last meeting, 2016: This was a memorable game for the Knights as they erased a 13-point deficit at UConn and pulled out a 24-16 triumph.

“That was a big win for us last year,” Frost said this week. “I thought the game could have gone either way.  I was worried about that one the whole time. It was cold and rainy, and in warmups it just started downpouring, and I remember thinking we couldn’t complete a pass on air in warmups. We got behind and then, miraculously, the weather cleared up, the sun came out and we threw the ball really well that day. McKenzie had a good day. … That was a good day for our program.”

Last meeting in Orlando, 2015: Since this matchup took place in 2015, you know the end result wasn’t a positive one for the Knights. The Huskies rolled, 40-13.

Three Things You Should Know

Latest (and possibly last?) Baby Frost update: Rankings are one thing, but this is the biggest current off-field story surrounding UCF Football, in my opinion. As of this writing on Wednesday night, there has been no official word regarding the birth of Scott Frost’s son, who was due Nov. 1. However, Frost was not at practice Tuesday and although he was present for Wednesday’s session, he did not speak to the media. The school stated there will be a baby update when Frost addresses the press following Thursday’s practice. He is scheduled to meet with the media at 10:45 a.m. Thursday. The suspense is thick.

Update: He’s here!

What ConFLiCT?: Oh, Civil ConFLiCT, how we hardly knew ye. The brainchild of former Huskies head coach Bob Diaco — who apparently paid for the trophy to be made — the Civil ConFLiCT was an attempt to create a rivalry between two schools separated by more than 1,000 miles that had faced each other only once before. The Huskies won the first two meetings in the ConFLiCT, but when the Knights won in 2016, they just abandoned the trophy as it sat on Connecticut’s bench. So, where is that trophy now?

“Whereabouts unknown, I would say,” Frost said. “It’s definitely not here.”

And UCF would like for it to stay missing forever.

Also, do yourself a favor and read what UConn’s legendary women’s college basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, said last week about the Civil ConFLiCT. Any Knights fan will thoroughly enjoy his take.

Recognized Knights: The CFP committee might not be giving this team its due, but a few Knights have been getting noticed for their individual contributions. Here’s a quick rundown:

QB McKenzie Milton is a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award and the Maxwell Award. The former is given to the player adjudged to be the best quarterback in the NCAA while the latter is reserved for college football’s player of the year.

LB Shaquem Griffin is a semifinalist for the inaugural Jason Witten Man of the Year Award, which recognizes the top leader in college football. Griffin is also one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award. That fan-voted honor is given to the senior FBS player who has “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.”

Offensive coordinator Troy Walters is a nominee for the Broyles Award, which is given to college football’s best assistant coach.

UConn Coming In

The Huskies ended last season on a six-game skid and then, following a coaching change, lost their first four games of 2017, punctuated by a 70-31 blowout by Memphis in Connecticut about a month ago. But since then, UConn has gone 2-2. Their most recent game was a home loss last Saturday to South Florida, 37-20.

When UCF Has the Ball

UCF Offense: Finish drives. The Knights racked up 615 yards of offense and came away with 31 points at SMU. That might sound nice, but consider that Oklahoma State also gained more than 600 yards last weekend — 661 to be exact — and the Cowboys tallied 52 points in their crazy loss to Oklahoma.

A failed fourth-down conversion on the first drive of the game and a third-quarter fumble, both of which occurred deep in Mustangs territory, contributed to that yards-points disconnect for the Knights. That flaw may not cause UCF any problems this Saturday, but to beat USF, to win a conference title game, to prevail in a big-time bowl showdown, the Knights know they can’t consistently stop short of the goal line when their offense is rolling.

“It shouldn’t have been that close,” Johnson said about the SMU game, “but we did come away with the win.”

UConn Defense: Senior Junior. One player Frost and the Knights’ offense will be tracking at all times Saturday is Huskies senior linebacker Junior Joseph. The head coach singled Joseph out when asked for a specific player he is keying on heading into this game.

“He played really well against us last year,” Frost said of Joseph. “I think looking at tape, he looks like the heart and soul of that defense.”

Although the Huskies sit near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference in total and scoring defense, you can’t blame Joseph for that. He has averaged the fourth-most tackles per game in the AAC. He’s also picked up 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and three pass breakups.

When UConn Has the Ball

UConn Offense: A new sheriff in for Shirreffs. UConn’s prospects of pulling off the upset have dimmed with the news that starting QB Bryant Shirreffs will not travel due to Orlando after suffering a concussion versus USF. Shirreffs, who has started 28 games at UConn, is in the midst of his best season in Storrs, Conn. He has completed 65.7 percent of his passes, owns a 14:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and ranks 15th in the nation in passing efficiency.

But instead of Shirreffs, the Knights will have to stop junior David Pindell, a junior college transfer who opened the season as the team’s starter and didn’t even last one game — the season opener against Holy Cross — before getting benched. Since then, Pindell has appeared in two games, including in relief of Shirreffs last week. Pindell completed three of four passes and ran for a 10-yard touchdown versus the Bulls. But the Huskies were already trailing by three scores at that point.

The Knights, however, will not be caught off guard. Frost said Monday that he was going to have his team plan for both quarterbacks. With Shirreffs’ status now certain, the game prep becomes a little easier for UCF.

UCF Defense: Shutdown corners. There are impact players at every level of this defense, but two burgeoning stars on the back end are rather unique cases. Mike Hughes wasn’t even officially a Knight until mid-August. Nevelle Clarke missed the first six games of the year as he was serving a suspension for failing an offseason drug test. Yet those two cornerbacks have made UCF’s defensive secondary whole and they shined against SMU, specifically when they teamed up to limit future NFL millionaire Courtland Sutton to just five catches for 46 scoreless yards. Frost said Clarke had an “unbelievable” game in Dallas.

Again, the value Hughes and Clarke may not be fully evident in this upcoming game, but if you want to watch a pair of talented CBs at work, check out those two.

Final Details

Line: The Knights opened as 37-point favorites and that line is now up to 38.5 as of Wednesday night. That’s the largest spread in any FBS game this week. The over-under is 64.

Weather: An extremely comfortable Saturday afternoon awaits us in Orlando. The gametime temperature should be in the mid-70s as a mix of sun and clouds sit overhead. There will be a 10-to-20 mph wind coming out of the northeast.

Pick: Which number is bigger: The final margin of victory for UCF here or the number of Knights fans who will remain in the stands for the full 60 minutes? Come on out and enjoy what should be an easy win.

UCF 48, UConn 13

About Brian Murphy 33 Articles

Brian Murphy graduated from UCF in 2009 following four years as a sports writer for the dearly departed Central Florida Future. He has been writing about sports — college, pro or fantasy — since 2001. Favorite UCF athlete to interview? Former running back Kevin Smith. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @Spokes_Murphy

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