Each week during the football season, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming game ahead. 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.
In our second roundtable of the football season, Jeff Sharon, Jeremy Brener, Eric Lopez, Andrew Gluchov, and Brian Murphy take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about today’s matchup against ECU.
1) What are you most looking forward to from UCF as they face ECU?
Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): I want to see what the defense does against an experienced quarterback. Jeff SIms had his moments against UCF last week but was woefully inaccurate. Holton Ahlers is beginning his junior year at ECU and has been as advertised since his first start on this same field two years ago against UCF.
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): I’m excited to see what Dillon Gabriel has up his sleeve for Round 2. He was so electric against Georgia Tech last week. That was just Week 1. Imagine what will happen as he progresses through the season and as he faces weaker defenses. We could see another 400 yard game this week from DG.
Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): I am looking forward to seeing Jaylon Robinson with Tre Nixon absence on how he will be used in the offense and if he can duplicate the great first half performance he had at Georgia Tech.
Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): I want to see the progression from game one to game two. UCF on both sides of the ball had some rust to shake off. The defense gave up a lot of yards last week, but was able to keep points off the board with a bend but not break mentality. Let’s see how they do against a more experienced quarterback in Holton Ahlers.
Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy): It’s something I mentioned last week, but I’m still interested in UCF’s freshmen cornerbacks — Corey Thornton, Davonte Brown, Justin Hodges. I thought they would be tested more by the Yellow Jackets, but quarterback Jeff Sims just isn’t very confident, willing and/or accurate throwing outside the numbers yet. That’s not the case with Ahlers. He is much more of a gunslinger, sometimes to his detriment as he chucks up medicine balls while under pressure. But he is going to go deep, and I want to see what those young guys do.
2) With Tre Nixon out, which player needs to step up in his absence?
Jeff: I’m going to zag while you guys zig here and say Jacob Harris. He’s a big target at 6-5, and even though he doesn’t have Tre’s speed, Putting him on the other side of Marlon Williams should provide some interesting mismatches.
Jeremy: I’m going to go with the newbie Jaylon Robinson. He had an excellent first half last week with over 100 yards against Georgia Tech, but he failed to add to the box score in the second half after Nixon left the game. He’s going to have a larger role this week in the offense and I am expecting big things from him.
Eric: Jaylon Robinson needs to make sure he shows he can be the number 2 wide out behind Marlon Williams.
Andrew: Jaylon Robinson is the easy answer, but we already saw hime step up last week. I’m going with wide receiver Jacob Harris. The redshirt senior only had two catches for 28 yards against Georgia Tech. He’s going to need to be more involved with Tre out.
Brian: Hello, Ryan O’Keefe. Here’s what Dillon Gabriel had to say about him this week: “Ryan is a speedster. He’s the fastest guy on our team, and he can just roll.”
The emphasis is mine because considering the team that Gabriel is on, that’s a noteworthy superlative. O’Keefe is one of the players I will be keeping a very close eye on whenever UCF lines up with four wideouts.
3) Which player needs to stand out on defense?
Jeff: This game feels like a Richie Grant game. Ahlers will keep the linebackers occupied with the threat of the run, so Richie will have to keep the secondary on point while also helping out in run situations. We may very well hear his name called a lot.
Jeremy: The Knights failed to sack Jeff Sims last week, so if there’s any weakness to the defense so far, it’s the pass rush. Randy Charlton did a good job applying pressure to Sims, but failed to bring him down. Here’s to hoping he’ll get to the QB this week.
Eric: Corey Thornton who has stepped into important role in secondary with Tay Gowan opting out before the season and Divaad Wilson eligibility still up in the air. I would not be surprised to see East Carolina challenge him on Saturday.
Andrew: Eriq Gilyard quietly led the team in tackling with 10 total tackles against Georgia Tech, including two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. That’s a really good day despite not hearing his name called all that many times. His counterpart, Eric Mitchell, didn’t fare quite as well, getting six total tackles. Mitchell needs to position himself better instead of having Richie Grant coming up to make plays. Unlike Jeff Sims, Holton Ahlers is going to use his feel to try and pull Grant out of coverage and then make him pay. If Mitchell can improve his spying ability, it will allow Grant to stay in coverage and disrupt the passing game.
Brian: Josh Celiscar. No, by definition, he doesn’t need to stand out; he rose above everyone against Georgia Tech. I would just like nothing more than to see him do it again. I want to see a true freshman continue to be a total game-changer. Who needs to stand out? Ehh, Eriq Gilyard and Eric Mitchell and Dyllan Lester all made errors in pass coverage last week, so there’s that. But I want Celiscar to stand out for my personal satisfaction. Be emphatic that the future is now.
4) Which ECU player do the Knights need to keep an eye on?
Jeff: I’m going to go with Holton Ahlers here. He turned it on in the second half of last season, starting with the game here at the Bounce House:
- First 6 games: 98/185 (52.9%), 1,142 yards, 6 TD/5 INT
- Last 6 games: 166/257 (64.6%), 2,245 yards, 15 TD/5 INT
Starting with the UCF game, he went on a rampage. Against Cincinnati (no slouch on defense), he threw for 535 yards and 4 TDs, and the next week against SMU he ripped off another 498 and 6 TDs (on 32/42)! I don’t know what happened but maybe we pulled a Joe Burrow on this guy. If he continues that in ECU’s first game of the year, that hefty over/under of 77 might be in jeopardy.
Jeremy: Holton Ahlers is a veteran QB that has experience playing UCF. In his two starts against the Knights, he has 719 passing yards and 116 rushing yards. He’s a dual threat QB that could give the defense some trouble.
Eric: Sophomore C.J. Johnson who led the Pirates in 2019 with 908 yards receiving on 54 receptions averaging 16.4 yards per catch. Johnson formed good chemistry with Holton Ahlers in 2019 and figures to lead Pirates once again in 2020 .
Andrew: Don’t let the Brandon Wimbush like stats fool you. Holton Ahlers is a scrappy quarterback who is better than his numbers make him out to be. Ahlers has played on some bad East Carolina teams and he made a large leap in improvement from his freshman year in 2018 to his sophomore year in 2019. While Ahlers had a lower completion percentage, he has been able to keep his turnovers unusually low. He can also run and score with his feet, scoring 12 touchdowns rushing over the last two years.
Brian: I appreciate Eric choosing a non-Ahlers player. Obviously, he’s the straw that stirs the drink, but someone has to catch those passes for him to post those crazy numbers that Jeff presented above. Eric mentioned Johnson, but I’ll go into the slot and choose Tyler Snead, a 5-foot-7 sophomore receiver who caught 35 passes over a two-game stretch late last season. He can also make a difference as the Pirates’ punt returner and kick returner.
5) Score prediction.
Jeff: UCF 51, ECU 31
Jeremy: UCF 42, ECU 24
Eric: UCF 52, ECU 28
Andrew: UCF 45, ECU 20
Brian: On our podcast this week, I said this game would not reach the projected total of 77. However, on another SB Nation web site, I hedged my bet and wrote that it would go over 77 (Go find that site where I flip-flopped. Think of it like a treasure hunt).
Sigh. I don’t know. That’s such a sky-high number. I’d probably feel more comfortable betting UCF, -27.5, especially with how the coaches are going to stress playing strong for a full 60 minutes after the Knights went to sleep in the second half against the Pirates last season.
UCF 55, ECU 24. -shrug-