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Knights at the Roundtable: Beating the Broncos

Can the Knights start the season off right?

Gus Malzahn Terry Mohajir Marc Daniels UCF Press Conference Image Courtesy: UCF Athletics

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 first roundtable of the football season, Jeff Sharon, Jeremy Brener, Eric Lopez, Bryson Turner and Andrew Gluchov take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about the UCF Knights and their matchup with the Boise State Broncos.


1) It’s the first game in the Gus Malzahn era for UCF and it comes primetime against a competitive Boise State opponent. What touches from the Malzahn staff will be apparent in Thursday’s game?

Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): Waiting for it. This is a much more diverse offense than the Air Raid. No more four-verts-and-hope. It might take a few possessions for Gus to set up what he wants to do, so we as fans have to be patient. But it will work.

Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): Attention to details!!! I’m so excited for this and it’s a big reason why I’m such a huge fan of the Malzahn hire. Josh Heupel’s staff was notorious for going through the motions and simply letting things happen. Most, if not all, of UCF’s losses during Heupel’s tenure as head coach were traced back to the team’s lack of discipline and details. Malzahn is nearly a 180-degree turn from that. The team as a whole is going to look more crisp. Tackling is a priority for the defense, being sharp is a priority for the offense, and if the talent can hold up, this team has a chance to be extremely good.

Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): I agree with Jeremy on attention to detail and I would expect the defense to be put in better position to make plays which is something players have event mention during spring and fall practice.

Bryson Turner (@itsBrysonTurner): I think Jeff nailed it right on the head about it being a more diverse offense from the Air Raid. We’ll probably see more running plays on average than we saw during the Heupel era. I also think we’re going to see more slowed down offense as well. Hurry-Up will still get featured, but it won’t be as near-constant as it was under Heupel.

Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): Like Jeff said, the offense is going to look a lot different from the Air Raid. You’re going to see more utilization of the short and middle thirds of the field. While it won’t be as boom or bust as the previous offense, I think it will work out better. They can still go from play to play very quickly, keeping Boise State’s defense on the field and wearing down while the Knights defense gets much needed rest.

2) If UCF wins this game, which Knight(s) will be the reason why?

Jeff: It all comes down to QB play. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Dillon Gabriel vs. Hank Bachmeier since this game was announced in 2019. Whichever QB takes care of the ball and facilitates his team’s game plan the best will come out on top.

Jeremy: The team lives and dies by its quarterback, Dillon Gabriel. DG is fighting to be considered as one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft, so I’m expecting him to put it all on the line every game this season, because he currently isn’t seen as one and he has a lot of noise to make. I believe DG is one of the best QB’s in the country, but he’s looking to remind UCF and show that to the rest of the nation.

Eric: Humidity. It should be hot in Orlando and Knights could wear down Boise State team that not used to playing in Florida weather in early September.

Bryson: Everyone is mentioning Dillon Gabriel, and he’s definitely important, but I’m going to take a moment to spotlight the offensive line. It’s crucial that there are so many of them coming back since they have to create opportunities for a new group of featured backs. It’s these running backs: Isaiah Bowser, Johnny Richardson, and Mark-Antony Richards, that I think Malzahn will feature in some significant way, and if this team is straying away from the Air Raid like we think it is, then the Offensive Line will be key in their success, and thus, the team’s.

Andrew: Execution on the defense. The offense is loaded with returning talent and experience on the offensive line and with Dillon Gabriel at the helm, the offense should keep moving. The defense is going to have to make some stops to allow the Knights to stay at least one step ahead of the Broncos.

3) What is one of the Knights’ weaknesses that could be exposed against the Broncos?

Jeff: Inexperience. When you throw a lot of new faces into new roles, as UCF has to do on both sides of the ball, mistakes are bound to happen. My hope is that the more experienced guys up front on both offense and defense make life easier for all of the new faces to adjust quickly.

Jeremy: The secondary is extremely fresh with both Richie Grant and Aaron Robinson playing on Sundays this season. There is a green tone to this secondary and Boise State is an offense to be reckoned with. The Broncos have potential to put plenty of points on the board. Luckily UCF does too, but preventing points, even if it’s a stop or two, could be the difference in this one.

Eric: Youth. Many young players will be on the field on both sides of the ball that you do not know will handle live action in a primetime game.

Bryson: Getting used to a new system. Thursday is the first time Gus Malzahn’s systems will be seen in a game setting, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw a couple of growing pains.

Andrew: The team is adjusting to a new scheme on both offense and defense. Getting all the players on the same page, especially on the defense, could get a little bumpy in the first game. Unfortunately for Boise State, they also have a new head coach, which makes for a great equalizer.

4) Name one Boise State player UCF needs to keep an eye on.

Jeff: LT John Ojukwu. He’s the Broncos’ 6-6, 310-pound redshirt senior human wall on Bachmeier’s blind side. Fellow fifth-year senior Big Kat Bryant will be making his debut in black and gold against this mountain of a man. It will be a trench battle the likes of which NFL Draft highlight tapes are made.

Jeremy: Defensive end Shane Irwin is a beast. He recorded a team-high six sacks for the Broncos last season and is expected to be its leading pass rusher again in 2021. The offensive line has been strong throughout camp and has its sights on protecting Gabriel from Irwin. It should be a fun matchup.

Eric: Wide out Khalil Shakir, who is coming off a 52-catch, six-touchdown season that earned him First Team Mountain West honors for the Broncos, will be someone UCF’s secondary will have to watch. He’s back along with super-senior CT Thomas, who is a big play threat, ranking second on the team with 20 catches ad averaging over 17 yards a catch. Leading tight end Riley Smith also returns, which could pose to be a problem for UCF.

Bryson: Jeff brought up one offensive lineman from the Mountain West Preseason All-Conference team, so I’ll bring up the other: Sixth-year Jake Stetz. This 6-2, 311-pound Guard made the All-Mountain West Second Team last season. So, if Big Kat Bryant is having his hands full with with Ojukwu, then the next man up on the defensive line is going to have their hands full containing Stetz.

Andrew: Defensive back Kekaula Kaniho is going to have his work cut out trying to stop Dillon Gabriel’s passing attack. Kaniho is a preseason All-Mountain West player utilizing his extra year of eligibility and is deserving of our attention. In 2019, he had three sacks and ten tackles for loss from the safety position.

5) Score prediction?

Jeff:

Jeremy: Knights 41, Broncos 27. Malzahn gets his first win in a packed Bounce House.

Eric: UCF 31, Boise State 24

Bryson: UCF 41, Boise State 31

Andrew: UCF will benefit from a loud Bounce House. UCF 31, Boise State 17.