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#21 UCF 56 at UConn 17: UCF's Present and Future in Great Hands

Sunday Morning Quarterback

McKenzie Milton (Photo: Derek Warden)
McKenzie Milton (Photo: Derek Warden)

The Game

Riding a nation's best 13-game win streak, the #21/#23 ranked UCF Knights went on the road and wiped out the UConn Huskies 56-17 in a Thursday night game to open the college football season. I was almost dead on the score with my preview and the game pretty much went as expected.

New head coach Josh Heupel's offense didn't waste time putting to rest any questions on whether UCF's #1 offense from last year would take a step back under his watch. I can assure it won't, as it appears they have even taken it up a notch.

The Knights' offense was insanely efficient and consistently excellent throughout the game. They jumped out to a 21-3 lead and put up two touchdowns in every quarter to smother the Huskies. While Heupel's offense was impressive, it was kind of a mixed bag for Defensive Coordinator Randy Shannon's defense.

Sure, there was the good with the three turnovers created, and just 17 points allowed to the Huskies. But on the downside, UCF allowed 86 plays and a massive 486 yards. To make things worse, the main culprit, QB David Pindell, was well-known to the defensive staff after torching UCF for 96 yards on 22 scrambles in last year's game.

The Good

Where do I start? Offensively, this couldn't have gone better for Heupel in his head coaching debut. The UCF offense gashed UConn through the air and ground at will all day for 652 total yards. McKenzie Milton was electric, carving up the UConn defense at will like a surgeon doing simple stitches in his sleep.

Fans' beliefs that Tre Nixon would emerge as the next breakout wide receiver were well-founded. He was as good as advertised, catching five balls for 101 yards and two scores.

I knew the game was over on this play, where Milton was flushed out of the pocket and had 20 easy yards in front of him, but lofted a 45-yard beauty to Nixon down the sideline for a touchdown instead:

The only thing holding the Knights' offense back was our porous defense, and maybe a first-game conservative call by Heupel in not going for it on a 4th and 1 at midfield in the first quarter. The offense was averaging around 10 yards a play, but he shall be forgiven. A 4th down TD to Greg McCrae in the 4th certainly made amends if any were warranted.

Dredrick Snelson and Gabriel Davis also had big games with 6 catches a piece. Everyone on the roster got to contribute to the onslaught. Otis Anderson was actually underused with two TDs, one rushing and one receiving.

Darriel Mack, Jr. had a debut much like Adrian Killins, Jr. two years ago at Michigan, breaking off a 70-yard TD romp on his very first college carry in the 4th quarter. It is obviously very early, but he has definitely planted his flag as McKenzie Milton's eventual successor.

UCF fans across the country probably breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that whenever the Milton Era is done, the Knights will still be in a great pair of hands (and legs!). Look to see more of him as he gets more comfortable in the passing game.

Also, props must be given to the guys on the offensive line. They were largely responsible for the gaping holes enabling almost 300 yards of rushing, and with no sacks allowed, Milton had plenty of time to pick apart UConn's secondary. The Huskies' depleted front seven being what it is, I'm sure tougher opponents ahead will be more telling.

Credit the D-Line for shutting down the run at least. Randy Shannon's defense must also be given credit for forcing three turnovers, which is true to the philosophy he wants to instill (or continue) at UCF. No signs of a turnover chain yet, and hopefully there won't be any. We are leaders here, not followers.

Finally, only three penalties for 27 yards is definitely great omen, particularly on defense. If this discipline for not making mistakes and hurting themselves offensively and defensively has been instilled by the new coaching staff, it will be a major bonus against much more difficult teams.

The Bad

Let's just rip the band-aid, shall we? Sure they only gave up 17 points and created three turnovers, but to say the defense is suspect is being generous, to say the least. The three turnovers probably saved another 21 points, as the UCF defense showed very little resistance against the Huskies offense.

The was little or no pass rush (zero sacks), and terrible containment on a QB who ran rampant on us last year. Considering this was a major part of Shannon's defensive plan and the youth of UConn's O Line, I would consider this a fail.

It's obviously early, but the inability of the defense to get off the field should be a major concern, given the quality of UConn as an opponent. UCF only forced one three-and-out all day, and 7 of 10 Husky possessions lasted 8 plays or more, including 6 in a row.

Two out of the three that didn't, were a result of turnovers, not defensive stops. The result was a total of 87 plays that the defense was on the field. That's way too many against a team like UConn and needs to get a lot better before we play someone good.

Special teams were average, but the one punt by Mac Loudermilk only went 31 yards. I understand it is a small sample size, but he should be used to this by now. If you have one shot all game, make the most of it. Everyone on the offense seems to be able to do it.

The Ugly

Aaron Robinson getting injured on the very first play of the season is the only thing preventing the next topic from owning this section. Thankfully reports say he is going to be okay and the trip to the hospital was just precautionary after losing consciousness after taking a hit on the opening kickoff. All our prayers for a speedy recovery and return to the playing field very soon.

Sooo...about the tackling. It was actually very alarming to watch. I don't recall ever seeing so many whiffs in a game. And it wasn't just on UConn QB David Pindell, not that his elusiveness should be an excuse. He torched UCF last year for 96 yards rushing and should have been game-planned as their only serious offensive threat.

I know it was the first game of the season, and maybe coaches don't let tackling occur as much in the preseason as they used to. Whatever the issue is, it needs to be fixed by the UNC game. Letting bad teams sustain drives is survivable, against even average teams it may not be. Against good teams, it is absolutely not. Fix it, please!

Inside The Numbers

Offensively there were good numbers everywhere you looked. Milton was Heisman-like with 24/32 for 346 yards and 5 TDs through the air and 50 yards on the ground. Mack was 2/2 for 20 yards in addition to his TD romp.

While Mack and Milton led the ground game, five RBs also got touches and all were effective, adding to the total of 296 yards and a staggering 8.2 yards/rush. The offensive line deserves plenty of credit as well.

Newcomer Nixon was impressive in his Knights debut with 5 catches for 101 yards and 2 TDs receiving. Dredrick Snelson (6/90 yds) and Gabriel Davis (6/40 yds/TD) led the receivers in catches. Nine receivers total shared the wealth helping to UCF's impressive 652 yards of total offense.

PaJasinskiki led the defense will 11 tackles(10 solo) and a forced fumble, with freshman Eric Mitchell having a great game with 10 (5 solo). Trystan Hill (4 tackles/2 solo/2 TFL) and first-time starter Stephon Zayas (3 tackles/3 solo/1 TFL) did most of the heavy lifting for the D-Line.

The front seven was effective in stopping UConn's backs (24 rush/63 yards/0 TDs). They just forgot there was a QB back there too who loves to run (22 rush/157 yards/TD). This is unacceptable by anyone not named Quinton Flowers, and last time I checked he was no longer playing.

Add in Pindell's passing (27/41, 267 yards, 1 TD/1 INT), and that's two career days in a row against UCF for the former JuCo QB. The 486 yards of total offense and 220 rushing (4.8 yds/rush) won't intimidate even the most average of teams.

The secondary was led by Antawn Collier (9 tackles/6 solo/1.5 TFL/1 PBU) and Richie Grant (6 tackles/4 solo/INT/FR). Nevelle Clarke (4 tackles/3 solo/1 QB hurry) and Kyle Gibson (4 tackles/2 solo/0.5 TFL) led the DBs with two pass breakups each.

Greg McCrae was also the star of special teams, making 3 tackles (2 solo). Perhaps he should lead some defensive drills this week, showcasing his technique.

For the game, the Knights were supremely efficient on offense, scoring TDs on 8 of 9 possessions that were not cut short by the half. Each of their 8 scoring drives lasted less than 2:39, with an average of 1:52. UCF started possessions on average at their own 22.

UConn's average starting position was on their own 27. After UConn's only 3-and-out, there were able to sustain drives on their last 8 possessions of either 8 plays or 68 yards or longer.

They were also inside UCF's 30-yard line in their last seven drives, but luckily were only able to score on three of those drives. This led to the lopsided score in UCF's favor and the heavily-weighted time of possession in UConn's favor (38:08 to 21:52). Having our defense on the field that long will not bode well against more stiff competition.

UCF gave up an unacceptable 5.1 yards on 1st down plays, including 4.9 yards rushing. On 3rd down, UConn was an impressive 10/18, even though the average distance was 6.6 yds.

UCF gave up an unimpressive 6.1 yards on eight 3rd down rushes, and also allowed UConn to convert 7/10 passes on 3rd down. The Huskies were also 3/5 on 4th downs.

Final Thoughts

As far as first games go, this can be considered a resounding success. The offense is as good as last year from the first impression, with more weapons, if that's possible.

Defensively, we can't always expect to rely on turnovers, and we also must be able to just stop people. This will be a work in progress. We won't truly know where we are defensively until the UNC game at the earliest.

Special teams didn't get much of a workout, but nothing glaring to report. With the exception of the scare to Aaron Robinson on the first play, there was nothing in the way of injuries reported, so that's always a bonus.

Overall, a good conference win, with plenty to work on defensively. Maybe some change in starters in the next game or plenty of guys seeing time in the rotation.

Up Next: South Carolina State