And welcome back to the show!
The UCF football team hasn't played a game since Aug. 31 and has spent much of the past week knocking off the rust following the long layoff caused by Hurricane Irma. It's anyone's guess as to how the Knights will look in their first game back, but one thing is certain: They will be working on fresh legs.
"The guys were running around and zipping and zapping everywhere," head coach Scott Frost said after Monday's practice.
The Knights will take those fresh legs to Maryland this Saturday to face the Terrapins out of the Big Ten. Of course the Knights want to win, but that's not all. According to senior defensive lineman Tony Guerad: "We want to go up there and shock the world."
This AAC-Big Ten clash will get underway at 3 p.m. Saturday from Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium in College Park, Md.
- Play-by-play: Eric Collins, who is also the play-by-play TV announcer for the Charlotte Hornets on FOX Sports South.
- Analysts: Danny Kanell and AJ Hawk, college stars at Florida State and Ohio State, respectively. Kanell played eight years in the NFL while Hawk spent 11 years in the league.
1-0, Maryland. We are now going to talk about that one game, and it would be completely understood if any UCF fans skipped this next part.
Last meeting, 2016: In his first career start, then-true freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton acquitted himself well, completing 21 of 36 passes for 260 yards and accounting for three total touchdowns. However, completely green players are going to make mistakes and Milton made a bevy of them, including losing three of his six (!) fumbles. When Frost was reminded Monday how many times Milton fumbled in this game, he let loose his best George Costanza impersonation: "Sweet fancy Moses."
Milton's sixth and final fumble was an absolute killer as he squandered the ball while the Knights were set up at the 3-yard line in the second overtime. Maryland recovered, and quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome's 24-yard dash to the end zone two plays later drove the stake through the Knights' heart.
"I remember the last play of that game," Guerad said. "That really hurt us."
Three Things You Should Know
Similarities abound: The Terrapins fell on hard times in 2015, finishing at the bottom of their division and experiencing a head coaching change during the season. They found their new coach in early December and he would take the program to a bowl game in his first season at the helm, thanks in large part to a run-heavy attack. Now in his second year, his offense is one of the most potent in the nation.
Sound familiar? Head coaches Scott Frost and D.J. Durkin have traveled similar paths with different programs over the past 20-plus months.
Points, points, points: Did you know that the Knights and the Terrapins rank first and second in the FBS, respectively, in scoring offense? Sure, it's a small sample size to say the least since the two teams have played a combined three games this year. But facts are facts, and Maryland's 57 points per game are topped only by UCF's 61-point average. Because 61 divided by 1 is ... well, yeah.
"When it's time for a shootout, we'll have a shootout," UCF junior wide receiver Cam Stewart said this week. "... I think our offense can outplay any offense."
A bad 10 against the Big Ten: The Knights are 1-9 against Big Ten opponents all-time with an average margin of defeat of 17 points. The most recent matchups came last season versus Maryland and Michigan. Of course, this year's group of Knights doesn't care about the past, and Frost has repeatedly said this game is no more important than any other on UCF's schedule.
Yet, Frost and his players are also very aware of Memphis' victory last week over UCLA and what it still means for an outsider such as UCF to take down a team from a Power Five conference.
"I would say that we're all itching to get out there," sophomore center Jordan Johnson said. "... Just want to go up there and show the world what we're made of."
Maryland Coming In
The Terrapins were supposed to be the welcoming mat for Texas as the Longhorns began the Tom Herman era in Austin. Instead, Maryland flipped the script, blistering the 'Horns for 51 points in a Week 1 upset. They then hanged 63 points on Towson the following week. The 2-0 Terps were on bye last weekend and currently rank as a top-30 team in many of the national polls.
When UCF Has the Ball
UCF Offense: Win in the trenches. The Knights were moving the ball up and down the field when we last saw them play. But the majority of their success came through the air, and we all know UCF doesn't want to be a pass-first team. This weekend, the Knights will need to average more than the 3.7 yards per carry they mustered against FIU, but note that the Terrapins have been extremely strong against the run in the early going. Maryland has limited its first two opponents to just 197 total yards on 68 carries (2.94 yards per carry). UCF's offensive line has its work cut out for them in a head-to-head matchup that is a must-win if the Knights want to, as Guerad said, shock the world.
Maryland Defense: Menace Milton. Maryland's defense also sports a very imposing and experienced pass rush. It has recorded nine sacks through two games, including 2.5 from the Terps' defensive leader, linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. For as good as Milton looked in Week 1, he is still a true sophomore QB who has started just 11 games in college. He must stay poised and keep his eyes downfield toward his big receiving targets. Otherwise, if he gets spooked at the first sight of an oncoming defender, the Terrapins' starting front seven, all of whom are seniors, will blow up the Knights' aerial offense.
When Maryland Has the Ball
Maryland Offense: The maturation of Kasim Hill. The Terrapins' high-scoring offense is already on its second quarterback this season. Pigrome, who played a vital role versus UCF last season and opened 2017 as the starter, suffered a torn ACL during the third quarter of the Texas game. In stepped Hill, a true freshman from the Washington D.C. All he's done in his five quarters of action is complete 16 of 19 passes for 207 yards and two scores. He has also added a pair of rushing scores and hasn't committed a turnover yet. Hill's early success hasn't surprised the locals -- or Maryland's coaches -- who watched him in high school. The Knights will need to watch him continuously this weekend or they risk getting burned by Hill's dual-threat capabilities.
UCF Defense: Stuff the run. The quarterbacks get a lot of the publicity, but as with UCF, Maryland would prefer to run through you than throw over you. The Terrapins lead the nation with 315 rushing yards per game and seven Terps have already rushed for a touchdown. This ultra-productive ground game is headed by Ty Johnson, a preseason Doak Walker Award candidate. Johnson piled up 132 yards on 12 carries versus Texas and then ran for another 125 yards on just five totes against Towson. The Knights will need to shore up their run defense after allowing 134 ground yards and 5.2 yards per rush to FIU. That will not get it done this Saturday.
Line: The Terps are favored by 3.5 points as of Wednesday night. The over-under is 59.5, which seems, um, light.
Weather: The early forecast calls for a simply beautiful Saturday afternoon in College Park, Md: Sunny skies, 84 degrees and a calm breeze coming out of the north-northwest. Just typing that feels good.
Pick: Maryland 38, UCF 27. For UCF to go on the road against an explosive Big Ten squad and win after not playing for more than three weeks is a tall order. Too tall, in my estimation.