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Knights’ Roundtable: Primetime Pressure

Jeff Sharon, Derek Warden, Jeremy Brener and Brian Murphy answer questions regarding this weekend’s game against Cincy.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming events in UCF Knights sports. It’s a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.

This week, Jeff Sharon, Derek Warden, Jeremy Brener, and Brian Murphy take their seats at the roundtable to answer this week’s questions about tonight’s game against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

1. What is the big key to success that will lead UCF to a win?

Jeff Sharon: Jumping all over Cincy early and just keeping them at bay. This is going to be a night of big emotions, not just because of College GameDay but also because it’s Senior Knight, which somehow flew under the radar. So it’s all about how the players channel their adrenaline. They can either come out tight because of the big stage or come out with their hair on fire. If they do the latter and jump up 14-0 or 21-3, then you have to be careful of once that adrenaline wears off. So it’s all about how the Knights use the tremendous energy that they will come out with Saturday night.

Derek Warden: UCF’s Running Backs, especially Greg McCrae vs Cincy’s D-Line: If our backs can find the holes when they are there, and limit the number of TFLs when they aren’t, we’ll be fine. However, even if they stop our rushing attack, we have the horses (sorry Knugget) to win by passing.

Jeremy Brener: McKenzie needs to get back into his rhythm. Last week, Navy’s unique offensive looks forced UCF to play their offense slightly different. Albeit, the team still scored 35 points, but the maximum explosion level was not met. It’s time for KZ to prove why he is one of the best QB’s in the nation and there isn’t a better stage to do that than primetime.

Brian Murphy: Quick-strike big plays. Cincinnati’s corners are young, and I think UCF will want to challenge them deep right away in an effort to build up momentum immediately. Plus, we have seen McKenzie Milton be just a little bit off on those deep balls over the past few weeks. If he can connect with Tre Nixon, Dredrick Snelson and Gabe Davis on some 20-plus-yarders early, it should be a good day for UCF.

2. Is this the biggest stage UCF has been on with College GameDay here?

Jeff Sharon: Yes.

Derek Warden: It is the biggest stage, but not the biggest game. More eyes will most likely be on us this weekend than any other game in our history. But, this is not the most important game in our history; the Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl, and 2017 USF game are more important.

Jeremy Brener: It might not be the biggest stage in history, but this is the game where UCF has the most to lose. The Fiesta Bowl was icing on the cake, the Peach Bowl was an exclamation point, but UCF losing on this stage will lose a lot of the team’s credibility for the fair-weather college football fan. This is time for UCF to prove that they are one of the best teams in the country. A loss will mean that the fair-weather college football enthusiast won’t take the program as seriously as it should be.

Brian Murphy: It’s UCF’s biggest regular-season stage, no doubt. But let’s not get carried away with the hyperbole. It’s not as big as the Peach Bowl or one of those other major bowl games, which will probably deliver twice as many viewers as this game and GameDay will, combined.

3. If UCF loses, what is the reason?

Jeff Sharon: Going back to question #1, they let their emotions get the best of them. This is a losable game if they are not careful, because Cincinnati is very well-coached and ready for a test like this. UCF is clearly the more talented team, so again, beating themselves by letting the emotion of the day overwhelm them, and then getting tight late if it’s close, could be their undoing.

Derek Warden: We lose because Cincy completely shuts down our offense and our defense allows their R-Fr QB to look like an All-Conference player.

Jeremy Brener: A lot of hype surrounds UCF in this game. If the team lets it get to their head, it might show. Cincy does not have a lot to lose in this game. It certainly has far less to lose than what UCF does, so if Cincy plays a sound, worry-free game and takes advantage of UCF while it is distracted, it could spell disaster for the home team.

Brian Murphy: They beat themselves with turnovers. Really, with the way that Cincinnati plays offense, UCF can lose this game only if the Knights give the Bearcats extra possessions and allow them to control the game on the ground with their run-heavy attack.

4. Who is the one player from Cincinnati that the Knights need to look out for?

Jeff Sharon: Michael Warren II. He’s over 1,000 yards on the year already and has eclipsed 100 in six games this year, including last time out against South Florida, when he had his best game of the year yet (151 yards on 28 carries and 3 TDs, plus a receiving TD). And he’s just a sophomore. Credit to the Bearcats’ offensive line, too, who have done a fantastic job after last year’s disastrous performance.

Derek Warden: Cortez Broughton. Now that UCF is more of a between-the-tackles running team, it will be imperative for our O-Line to keep him from making big plays in the backfield.

Jeremy Brener: This is the biggest stage of freshman quarterback Desmond Ritter’s young career. If he’s able to knock out the noise and continue what he’s been doing this season, it could put UCF under a lot of pressure.

Brian Murphy: I’m sure someone will mention Cincinnati running back Michael Warren, so I will go to the other side of the ball and say defensive tackle Cortez Broughton. Broughton knows how to bring it (sorry) with 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss this season. He has also deflected a handful of passes and forced two fumbles. He is someone who can wreck UCF’s pass game.

5. What is your score prediction and GameDay attendance prediction?.

Jeff Sharon: UCF 34, Cincinnati 21. GameDay: 22,500.

Derek Warden: 38-27 UCF. Attendance: Sell-out (call it a hunch).

Jeremy Brener: It’s a shootout. 45-35, UCF. As for GameDay, a school with 66,000 students means we’re in for a treat. I think they get about 20K, which would be a record.

Brian Murphy: Score: 41-21, UCF. GameDay attendance: About 12,000. Well short of the record, which is about 18,000, but still a healthy showing.