Ask anyone who’s played offensive line and they’ll tell you that they more often than not prefer to not be known all that much. When you don’t hear from them, that means they’re doing their jobs.
But after a promising start, the offensive line for UCF had a rough year in 2017. Consider the Knights were:
- 9th in The American in rushing
- Tied for third in most sacks given up
- Third from last in average yards per rush
Granted, not all of the blame should fall on the guys up front, but they do share in it. Why the Knights struggled in both the run game and protecting the passer can be attributed to the fact that this was a unit that struggled mightily with graduations in 2014, injuries in 2015, and a completely different offensive philosophy in 2016.
You wouldn’t have known it from the first half of the year:
But then things slowed down in the second half of the year, and by the bowl game, quarterback McKenzie Milton was running for his life on almost every down, and the offense was sputtering.
Head coach Scott Frost pinpointed the reason for that second-half slowdown at Media Day.
“At the end of games last year, some of those offensive linemen had played every snap, and rather than being at our best in the fourth quarter, I felt like we backed up a bit in the fourth quarter and weren’t at our best,” Frost said. “Hopefully, a little more depth across the board will make us a stronger team in the second half.”
As of this writing, the starting lineup on the depth chart looks like this:
|LT||Aaron Evans||Sr.||6′ 5″||319 lbs|
|LG||Tyler Hudanich||Jr.||6′ 5″||304 lbs.|
|C||Jordan Johnson||So.||6′ 2″||309 lbs|
|RG||Chavis Dickey||Sr.||6′ 4″||340 lbs|
|RT||Wyatt Miller||Jr.||6′ 4″||298 lbs|
Looking at this lineup, that’s 44 combined starts coming back this year, but 37 of them were split between center Jordan Johnson and tackles Aaron Evans and Wyatt Miller.
The problem coming into camp was at guard.
“We’re still kinda waiting on guards to emerge,” Frost said at Media Day. “I’m really looking forward to guys stepping up and taking a hold of those spots and making it theirs.”
Hudanich is back at left guard, and his injury last year was a major factor in the Knights’ second-half decline. He would have started the whole season were it not for that injury (he only played six games).
The only other player on the starting chart who didn’t start at least 12 games was Dickey, who started only once in the opener but saw action in all 13 games.
While depth is one thing the Knights have had to work on from last year, the biggest difference heading into this year, according to starting right tackle Wyatt Miller, is cohesiveness.
“I feel like, as far as a unit, we’ve grown closer,” Miller said at Media Day. “I know what Jordan’s going to do, I know what Aaron’s going to do…we know each other better than when we came in last year.”
Johnson, who starts at center, started the last 12 games at guard. And both tackles, Evans and Miller, return after starting essentially the entire season at their positions.
“Last year we were sort of fragmented, so this year you see more of a connection among the guys,” added left tackle Aaron Evans. “We definitely have a better relationship across the board.”
Aside from that, getting the offense into the right tempo will be a huge factor in the Knights’ offensive success this year. And a large part of that falls squarely on the offensive line.
“We have a big role in keeping the tempo of the offense. If we don’t get down and get set, we can’t have a fast offense,” Evans said. “It’s important for us to be in shape, and we have to know our assignments faster. So the pressure is on us to make sure the offense is running smoothly.”
Johnson, who replaces Jason Rae at center, knows his chief responsibility.”I instill confidence in the rest of the offensive line,” he said. “I have to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and when you know what you’re doing, that’s when you play as fast as you can.”
“I instill confidence in the rest of the offensive line,” he said. “I have to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and when you know what you’re doing, that’s when you play as fast as you can.”
Playing as fast as you can is the name of the game in Frost’s offense. There were fits and starts last year, but UCF failed to wear down their opponents in the final six games of the year in the way that Oregon usually did to their opponents when Frost was there.
But cohesion, depth, and tempo on the offensive line can go a long way toward making the Knights’ offense live up to its #UCFast moniker.
Check out our previous questions in this UCF Football Preview series:
Question No. 1: Is McKenzie Milton Still the Man at QB?
Question No. 2: What Will Shaquem Griffin Do for an Encore?