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UCF's Defense is Aware of its Skeptics

In the post-Shaquem Griffin era, some Knights say their 2018 defense is being underrated

Senior linebacker Pat Jasinski said if people are underrating UCF's defense this season, "that's going to hurt them, essentially." (Photo: Derek Warden)
Senior linebacker Pat Jasinski said if people are underrating UCF's defense this season, "that's going to hurt them, essentially." (Photo: Derek Warden)

Player turnover is a fact of life in college football (and college athletics in general) every year.

But it's not every year that a defense loses a first-round cornerback as well as one of the greatest players in program history. However, UCF's defense is having to replace more than Mike Hughes and Shaquem Griffin. Their front line has received a makeover following the graduations of Jamiyus Pittman, Tony Guerad and Seyvon Lowry. One of the men next to Griffin at linebacker, Chequan Burkett, is also gone. Then safety Tre Neal transferred this summer.

In total, the Knights are replacing six full-time defensive starters and more than 50 percent of their sacks, interceptions and tackles for loss from 2017.

Not to mention those late-season showdowns between South Florida and Memphis when all eyes were on UCF, and those eyes were witness to the defense allowing almost 100 total points.

So, Black and Gold Banneret asked this question to many of the Knights' defensive leaders:

"Are people underrating this year's defense?"

Here are the responses:

Senior safety Kyle Gibson

"I think they are, like, big time. There were a lot of games where we stepped up. People look at Memphis and USF scoring points, those were two good offense. I think we could have done a better job of holding them, but a lot of those guys who were on the team last year are still here this year. ... "I read a lot of stuff. We don't really talk about it too much, but it is motivation."

When asked what he has read about the defense, Gibson said, "I couldn't tell you that too much, but it's stuff out there that I see."

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Senior linebacker Pat Jasinski

"Maybe. But that's fine. I think having an underrated defense or a defense that people may not think is powerful, that's going to hurt them, essentially. We all trust [defensive coordinator Randy] Shannon a lot because, obviously, he's had crazy experience. I think he's a really smart coordinator, so he's going to put us in position to be the best we can be. If we're all consistent and execute, I think we're going to have a really strong defense again."

Senior defensive lineman Titus Davis

"With this being an offensive game, everybody loves offense. ... I feel like we're going to look good this year, regardless of anything that anybody else says. It's up to me and Pat to hold the standard and just keep going. We can't really dwell on the past as much as we want. Just look toward the future and make plays."

We heard this sentiment about people thinking fondly of the offense at expense of the defense more than once.

Junior defensive lineman Trysten Hill

"I don't feel like we're underrated; I feel like we're not as talked about as the offense. I feel like we're still the solid defense that we were, that's been in this building for so long."

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Senior defensive lineman Joey Connors

"I think so, a little. Obviously, with the offense we have with McKenzie and all the threats we have over there, obviously they're going to get a lot of attention. But the athletes we have over on defense with Pat, [Eric Mitchell], Titus, Brendon Hayes off the edge and then obviously you have all of the secondary. You have KG [Kyle Gibson] coming back who has been here five years with me. We have a lot of experience coming back on defense just like the offense. Everybody's really excited on the defensive side."

Junior linebacker Shawn Burgess-Becker

"People might because we lost a lot of key players last year, but from my perspective and me being in practice with them, I feel like the defense is really good. I feel like we're faster too, and I feel like everybody knows their assignments. We're going to be alright. I really feel like we're going to do really good this year."

Sophomore linebacker Eric Mitchell

"To be honest, I feel like they are because we have a lot of great guys and we're going to show it when it's time."

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