The #11 UCF Knights will take on the #24 Cincinnati Bearcats this Saturday on primetime television: 8 P.M. on ABC, hours removed from ESPN’s College GameDay going live from Memory Mall. An AAC rivalry matchup on national TV and providing UCF with the most national attention they’ve ever received in one sitting.
The Knights aren’t going to be handed a 23rd straight win against this Bearcats team, though. Cincinnati owns a fierce running game led by sophomore RB Michael Warren II, who has 1,082 yards and 17 TDs in 10 games, and a dominant defensive front that has combined for 67 tackles for loss and 25 sacks.
The Bearcats’ rushing attack could be an issue for the Knights, who allow a whopping 208.9 rushing yards per game (ranking 105th in the nation), but considering UCF’s recent ability to win despite defense struggles, what truly may hurt UCF is their ability to out-maneuver a fierce run defense and pass rush from Cincy.
Senior defenders Cortez Broughton (defensive tackle) and Bryan Wright (LB/EDGE) caught my eye on tape and the stat sheet, combining for 24.5 TFLs and 10 sacks by themselves. On film, Wright and Broughton have legitimate chemistry as rushing partners, seamlessly stunting their way into backfield disruptions and creating pressure.
Let’s take a look at their film vs. Navy, Temple, and UCLA to get an understanding of what they bring to the table, and how UCF’s high-octane offense can counteract their ability.
How Cincinnati’s front attacks upfield
This first clip from Cincinnati’s season open against UCLA displays Broughton and Wright’s ability to stunt in unison. Broughton (#96) lines up in a 4i-technique on the inside shoulder of the left tackle, and Wright at a 7-tech outside. Broughton attacks the LT through his chest and opens the inside for Wright to stunt after the left guard pops Broughton’s shoulder. The guard gets off and takes on Wright but by this time the QB is forced to move their way from pressure on the opposite side. Broughton and Wright get off of their blocks and seal the rushing lane, creating a split-sack.
Broughton has been one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the country during his senior season, despite not being overly physically intimidating at a stout 6-2, 290 lbs. However, his 17.5 tackles for loss are 11th best in the FBS, ahead of projected 2019 NFL first round picks in Alabama DL Quinnen Wilson (14), Boston College DE Zach Allen (13.5), FSU DE Brian Burns (13.5), and Clemson DL Clelin Ferrell (13). If you were wondering, Titus Davis comes in just behind these guys at 11.5, the most of any UCF defender and 33rd-best in the nation.
Above, Broughton takes on a left tackle/left guard double team in a short yardage situation before the tackle moves on a combo block to the second level. Broughton makes the northward movement easy for the LT by beating him while still taking on the guard, and eventually making his way to the RB and creating a massive traffic jam with the rest of the Bearcat front for no gain.
Broughton can beat double teams with raw power and gap integrity, sticking to his responsibility despite linemen crossing into a zone. He takes on the center and left guard with lower pad level and stuffing this run play option play by himself for a two yard loss.
I guess you can call this play a “Wright angle.” I’ll be here all night, folks.
Wright plays both off-ball LB and the EDGE defensive end position, but has a knack for making plays in the backfield from both positions. Here, Wright takes a 45-degree angle down outside of the tackle where the line is directing the run play and finds a small gap to plant and throw his shoulder into, resulting in a two yard loss. His angling and mental processing going into the backfield are a big part of how he’s recorded 7 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, despite splitting his snaps on and off of the line of scrimmage.
Coming off of the EDGE, Wright sniffs out a delayed screen from the backside RB after what was supposed to be another stunt with Broughton. The right side of the offensive line moves vertically to block upfield on the screen and Wright processes that before the QB even turns to look the RBs way, and navigates himself through traffic to make a huge third down stop behind the line of scrimmage.
How UCF can beat Cincinnati’s defensive front
The Knights must utilize the quick game in order to beat this nasty Cincinnati defensive front, getting passes out quickly and trusting QB McKenzie Milton’s ability to use his feet and throw outside of the pocket. Milton has only been sacked six times in eight games this year, about on pace with his 10 sacks in 12 last year and drastically better than his 21 in nine games two years ago. Stout blocking up front will certainly help, but there will be some responsibility to make plays on his own from Milton on Saturday night.
As far as the run game is concerned, don’t expect big numbers from the inside this week. Taj McGowan is the Knights’ best interior runner, but unless UCF is in goal-line situations, his play style may not work too well vs. the Bearcats. Utilizing runs to the outside in space with speed from guys like Adrian Killins Jr. and Otis Anderson will ultimately lead to the most run game success for UCF, but the run game as a whole will have to complement a quick passing game in order for UCF to wear down Cincinnati’s defensive front.