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Knights Roundtable: Can UCF Tame the Mustangs?

Jeff, Drew, and Kyle talk UCF vs. SMU

Photo: Derek Warden

In this edition of the Roundtable, Jeff Sharon, Andrew Gluchov, Bryson Turner and Kyle Nash preview the UCF Knights’ matchup with the SMU Mustangs on Saturday. The game is set for noon.

1. SMU is a 7-point favorite, but the line has moved down because a lot of the early money was on UCF. What’s up with that?

Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): VEGAS KNOWS SOMETHING! Seriously, I think the shine is off SMU after the last two losses, and that combined with UCF’s defense stepping it up this month is making people think twice about this. It was 7.5 and people were al over UCF, but then they knocked it down to 7 and things evened out. So, yeah.

Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): It looks like bettors are losing faith in SMU considering they lost the last two weeks outright and have been 4-5 against the spread this year. They seem to have fallen apart at key times over the last couple of weeks in situations they should not have. What’s odd is that UCF is 3-6 OTS, but 2-1 over the last three games vs SMU’s 1-3 over the last four.

Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG): The wise guys make calculated decisions that fans don’t. At some point, they see bets made with the fans and take the opportunity to make money as the line then corrects itself. A two-game SMU skid has little impact when hosting a game at home to a team without their top quarterback, running back, and defensive player in the lineup.

2. Knight Nation is split between this game and the War on I-4 being the bigger game for UCF this year. Which do you think is bigger?

Jeff: #BeatUSF. I’d like to win 10 games this season and winning out would accomplish that. As a fan, I want us to finally get over the hump and take the lead in the all-time series against South Florida before we march out the door to the Big 12. That said, this game would be a HUGE confidence builder for the team, especially with regard to the coaching staff. If we can figure out a way to steal this one, wow.

Andrew: The easy answer is to say that every game is big at this point since winning out, coupled with a bowl win, would give UCF ten wins on the season. That’s a cheap answer though and that’s not why you’re here. UCF has struggled on the road this year. Outside of the game at Temple, who I voted as the worst team in the conference in this week’s Fear the Wave AAC poll, UCF is winless on the road. This is a chance to get a meaningful road victory, which could help the team when they play in a bowl game. The South Florida game might be bigger from a rivalry standpoint, but the SMU game is bigger from a team developing one.

Kyle: For me, SMU is a “lottery ticket” game for UCF’s season. A win would be amazing, yet unlikely. If they win, they still need help to be mathematically in the AAC Championship hunt and it leaves the possibility of a 10-win season (which requires a bowl victory) on the table. The Black Friday game is already assumed a victory for the Knights in most circles including bowl predictions. Should UCF its the regular season finally, that could not only impact their bowl destination but leave a bitter taste in the fans’ mouths of Malzahn being 0-1 against the Bulls as head coach.

3. How about the Dillon Gabriel post this week? Any fire to that smoke?

Jeff: I want this to happen so bad. There’s no indication he has practiced with the team, so I’m not optimistic about it happening this week. Although wouldn’t that be a fairy tale story for him to come in and lead UCF to a resounding victory? I think he’s prepping for a comeback in the next couple of weeks.

Andrew: Until he’s lining up to take that first snap, I’m not buying the hype. On more than one occasion, the team has had players coming off of injuries that were healthy enough to go through the motions but were held out to give them some extra time.

Kyle: IT’S A TRAP!! You all do remember him hyping McKenzie Milton playing in a farewell capacity before his transfer to FSU, right?

4. SMU QB Tanner Mordecai is maybe the best QB UCF has faced this year. How can the Knights slow down the Mustangs’ offense enough to win?

Jeff: Mordecai is excellent and he has a chance to be the best QB in The American heading into next year. He’s played well in the two losses, but the real issue for the Mustangs has been the run. They averaged 178 rushing yards per game and during their 7-0 start, and in six of those seven, they ran for at least 160. But in their last two losses, they’re down to just 55 rushing yards per game. So we have to stop the run, which will allow Big Kat Bryant, Tre’mon Morris-Brash and company to tee off on Mordecai.

Andrew: It’s all about the defensive front causing disruptions in rhythm and forcing Mordecai to not be able to settle down. If he gets a chance to settle and set before his throws, he’s good enough and the Mustangs have enough receiving firepower that it’s going to be difficult to contain. The UCF secondary has been able to contain quarterbacks that can rack up the yards and big plays like Holton Ahlers and Desmond Ridder. They have the talent to do the same here, but they’re going to need some help.

Kyle: Any good coach is going to focus upfront to protect Mordecai from Ricky Barber and BigKat Bryant. I believe if UCF is to succeed, Josh Celiscar and Tatum Bethune need to take the opportunity that brings them to make plays and intimidate SMU’s backfield.

5. UCF’s offense really struggled last week, but SMU’s defense has struggled too — they’re 90th in the nation in total defense. What opportunities are there for UCF to attack them?

Jeff: SMU is 34th in the nation against the run — pretty good — but 104th in pass efficiency defense (this is why I wanted DG to come back!). So while the run is indeed a critical part of the game plan, I think it’s tie for Gus to get creative with Mike Keene and put him in position to really lead the offense I’m not saying we need to go all Air Raid on them, but Gus knows how to put his players into position to win. Time to take the wraps off the kid.

Andrew: The offensive line is going to have to work extra hard to open up run lanes. You cannot expect Mikey Keene to win this game on his own, so the offense is going to need a working running game, or at least enough of one the SMU defense respects it. We’ve seen defenses sell out against the run and the Knights take advantage of it. UCF needs to continue to grow the utilization of Alec Holler as a big safety outlet. He has a knack for knowing where the sticks are and converting.

Kyle: Coach Malzahn sounded the most optimistic he has in weeks that Jaylon Robinson will play. If he and Ryan O’Keefe can keep the defense guessing in the air with Brandon Johnson hauling in more touchdowns to add to his season total, that will set up the run game to succeed with or without Isaiah Bowser.

6. Score predictions!

Jeff: I think it’s going to be close. You know what? GIMME THE UPSET! Mikey Keene breaks out and UCF hangs on, 31-26.

Andrew: SMU is going into this game angry after losing the last two games. Those two games were on the road, so they’re now back in Dallas and looking to rebound ahead of their big matchup with Cincinnati. I don’t expect the Mustangs to be looking ahead, but UCF’s offense just hasn’t been very good on a consistent basis. SMU will pull ahead just enough, but UCF will keep the game close. SMU 28-24.

Kyle: Matching a Texas cowboy movie cliche, I expect a shootout. And while I appreciate what Mikey Keene has done as a starter thus far, even coach Malzahn agreed in the Monday presser that this could be his biggest challenge of the year. He can still rise to said challenge and lose on the road, 42-24. I expect SMU capitalizing on turnovers makes the difference.