Since it was a long weekend thanks to UCF's Thursday night opener in Connecticut, I decided to sit down and re-watch the 56-17 drubbing that the Knights handed out. I came away with these three observations
McKenzie Milton: Pocket passer
We've heard about it all through the fall, that Milton is putting an emphasis on staying put. He has worked extensively with the coaches on staying in the pocket and not panicking at the first sign of trouble. After the game Thursday, Milton was asked by ESPN's Paul Carcaterra where does he feel like he has grown the most with Heupel's tutelage this year.
"I think I've grown the most playing within the pocket," he said.
For Game 1, we definitely saw that. On Milton's 32 attempts, there were only 4-5 times when he broke the pocket (one was kind of borderline).
Granted, it helps when your offensive line keeps all threats at a safe distance and when most of your throws are quick, first-read attempts. There will be greater challenges against better, more experienced defenses ahead. But for one game, Milton looks very comfortable working between the hash marks.
Of course, Milton was also fantastic last year when throwing outside of the pocket, so it shouldn't surprise you that two of his out-of-pocket passes included the first touchdown to Tre Nixon and a near-touchdown on an incredibly accurate throw to Gabe Davis, who couldn't quite come down with it.
That first TD in Black & Gold for @tre_nixon1 pic.twitter.com/o7mXkKORcP— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) August 30, 2018
Let's talk about tackling
UCF missed a lot of tackles Thursday. If you watched the game, that's not news to you. But after taking a second look, I don't think it was as bad as you might remember.
By my count, UCF had 38 missed tackles in this game. That count is both unofficial (obviously) and admittedly liberal. I wouldn't be surprised if the Knights' official count is lower. I included missed tackles that were negated due to a penalty because you can be sure those plays could still show up in film study.
However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
1. A large number of the missed tackles came on one drive. Per me, UCF missed 11 tackles on UConn's fourth drive of the ballgame, including five just on one play where they couldn't corral UConn quarterback David Pindell. Which leads me to my second point ....
2. Pindell made the Knights look foolish. He was the best player on the field for the Huskies by far. And his elusiveness often left UCF players diving at air. I didn't keep track of it, but I'd guess that 80 percent of those missed tackles came on plays where Pindell had the ball. There's one play in particular that you should watch.
It's first and 10 with about 3 minutes left in the third quarter. Pindell and the Huskies are on the UCF 19. He takes the snap and keeps the ball on a zone read, running around the left corner. There, senior safety Kyle Gibson has Pindell directly in his sights. But the QB does a little juke and absolutely puts a first-team All-AAC player on roller skates. It's a slightly embarrassing moment for Gibson and something that I'm sure he is seeing this week on tape. It's also a great example of just how special Pindell can be as a runner.
UCF won't see QBs with his kind of agility every week. And otherwise, really, I thought the Knights did a decent job of bringing players down upon first contact. So, to the jerk who made this tweet during the game ...
When you get dismayed from watching #UCF's defense but then realize that your team has McKenzie Milton. pic.twitter.com/n8XyaNMaOS— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) August 31, 2018
... know that the Knights didn't have a tackling problem as much as they had a David Pindell problem.
I'm sure it was no coincidence that Carcaterra referred to senior linebacker Pat Jasinski as "an absolute savage" during the broadcast. The man known as Savage Pat was absolutely that on Thursday. Ten solo tackles and he helped force the first turnover of the game, a fumble which came inside UCF territory on the opening drive. It's no wonder why Jasinski is already up for an award.
Savage Pat deserves your vote! ⚔️ https://t.co/UB6ytPLNgA— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) September 3, 2018
But for as good as Jasinski is when he's charging forward with a head full of steam, I was most impressed by one play in the third quarter when he was forced to move backward.
It's fourth and 6 for UConn with about 7 minutes left in the third quarter. Running back Zavier Scott goes out for a pass and runs what looks like either a rounded-off out route or a corner route to the near side. Pindell tries to lob the ball to him and if the pass is caught, it will put the Huskies likely inside the UCF 10. ESPN play-by-play man Clay Matvick even says as the ball is in the air, "He's wide open!"
Except Scott isn't wide open. Jasinski is there to get his right hand up while he's running toward the sideline, knock the ball away and force a turnover on downs.
Could the throw have been placed a little better? With the route that Scott ran, if the ball was further downfield, it probably would have carried him out of bounds. Pindell made what I thought was a decent attempt, but Jasinski was just everywhere Thursday. During the game, I thought Jasinski was having a good night, but I didn't think he was a standout.
Then you get the box score and look at the film again and realize that he is doing absolutely everything for this defense. He is a stud.