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 third 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 Louisville Cardinals.
1) The Knights head out on the road for the first time all season long. How do you think the team will respond to playing their first true road game with a packed stadium for the first time since 2019?
Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): Road games are the true mark of how well-coached a team is. Of UCF’s six regular season losses under Josh Heupel, four were on the road. We saw how the Knights seized up late in those four road losses, which were all by a combined eight points. So now it’s Gus Malzahn’s turn to show how he approaches road games in hostile environments.
Crazy stat: While coaching Auburn, Gus was 0-11 combined at Alabama, Georgia and LSU, and 15-5 in road games everywhere else. Here’s hoping Louisville counts as everywhere else.
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): It’s an important piece of note that a lot of this team is not used to playing games in front of thousands of people booing them on, but I think this team is embracing the challenge. The team appears confident after winning its first two games and they are approaching this week with the same mentality. Practicing every week like that definitely help prepares you for the bigger moments during a season.
Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): I would not be surprised if there are some fall starts early in the game as they get used to the noise on the road. But overall players block all that out when they are on the road.
Bryson Turner (@itsBrysonTurner): This team already plays in a noisy environment in the Bounce House. I don’t think it matters if the noise comes from cheering fans or jeering opposing fans. If UCF can play in the Bounce House, they can play anywhere in the nation.
Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): There's definitely a question whether it will be a packed house or not. There was some major service issues at the stadium last week and while the school is trying to make it more enticing, there's the possibility that some people might stay home.
That being said, these fans want revenge. UCF ruined what was supposed to be an undefeated run in 2013 and a shot at a national championship. Expect it to be loud and hostile.
2) If UCF wins this game, which Knight(s) will be the reason why?
Jeff: Simple: They controlled the game up front. UCF is 2nd in the nation in rushing defense (22 yards allowed per game) and 11th in rushing offense (272.5 yards/game). Now, granted, that defensive number is thanks in large part to Bethune-Cookman not really bothering to run the ball, plus Boise State’s botched punt counted as negative rushing yards, but take that away and UCF still held the Broncos to 43 rushing yards on 26 attempts — less than two yards per carry. Everyone knows the key to winning on the road is controlling the trenches. Continue to do that well and UCF should be 3-0.
Jeremy: The defensive line. It’s possible UCF could win a shootout. They certainly have the offense capable enough to do it, but going into a road contest banking on a shootout to nab you a win is not smart. The D-Line, led by transfer Big Kat Bryant, must contain QB Malik Cunningham and prevent him from making the big plays Louisville needs him to make.
Eric: Louisville will have no answers to slow down UCF offense and Knights wear them down with a good balance of the run and passing game.
Bryson: The defensive line might be able to contain Cunningham in the pocket, but what happens when designed QB runs start coming into the picture? That’s why I think Linebackers like Tatum Bethune, Eriq Gilyard, Bryson Armstrong, and Jeremiah-Jean Baptiste will be the key to this game. Not only will they have to play a role in stopping Cunningham in the passing game by preventing the short to mid-range passes, but they can also blitz to attack Cunningham in the pocket or be the next line of defense when Cunningham starts running the ball. If they can mitigate or neutralize Cunningham on both fronts, then UCF wins this game handily.
Andrew: The offense is going to do their thing. It's going to be someone on the defense stepping up. I'm looking at Bryson Armstrong, who was a tackle machine at Kennesaw State. UCF is going to need that tackling skill against the mobile Malik Cunningham.
3) What is one of the Knights’ weaknesses that could be exposed against the Cardinals?
Jeff: A major concern I saw last week against Bethune was how effective their short passing game was. Clearly their offensive key was to get the ball out quick before the rush could get there and take advantage of the inexperienced secondary. Shannon Patrick was pretty effective at that, going 27/48 for 238 yards and two TDs, and that was with several key drops. If UCF allows Malik Cunningham to get into a rhythm, it could be trouble.
Jeremy: Tackling and slow starts. The slow starts in each of the past two weeks have been mitigated with the crowd momentum in the first two games, but if the Knights trail early, it could give Louisville the momentum they need to ride the wave to the finish line. The Knights need to start off with a bang and be the mouse rather than the cat.
Eric: UCF secondary against Louisville wide outs. Malik Cunningham is a dual threat QB and may be able to buy some time which puts pressure on the Knights secondary.
Bryson: UCF’s clear weakness on defense has been the secondary. Not only do they have the same tackling issues that plague a lot of the defense, but they left enough room for Bethune Cookman’s receivers that QB Shannon Patrick was able to connect on short passes and march down the field early in the game, and that was in the Bounce House. Now imagine a QB like Malik Cunningham doing that on his own turf.
Andrew: The secondary has been the glaring weakness so far. They have done a good job of keeping the ball in front of them, but have given up too many third down conversions from balls in front of them. They have to be able to play tighter coverage at the line of scrimmage on third down.
4) How do you stop Louisville QB Malik Cunningham?
Jeff: Set the edge. Hank Bachmeier was successful in the first half of the Boise game at moving around and finding open targets, but in the second half, UCF’s outside rushers did a fantastic job of keeping him in the pocket, and hence, the big second half. Cunningham is much more mobile than Bachmeier, so this will be a big game for Big Kat Bryant and UCF’s other outside rushers.
Jeremy: Cunningham loves to run outside, so taking away the edge from allowing him to run is crucial. That’s what Ole Miss was able to do in the first game of the season, and Louisville failed to score in the first half of that game.
Eric: You contain him by keeping him in the pocket and have containment. We should see how UCF defense under Coach Williams do against a dual threat QB in Cunningham.
Bryson: Cunningham is second in rushing yards for the Cardinals and has scored all four of Louisville’s rushing touchdowns so far this season. In 2019 and 2020, he had a completion percentage between 60-65%, which is where he finds himself now after two games this season. To stop him, the Knights will have to contain him, get to him, or both. More than likely, it’ll probably have to be both. If I’m defensive coordinator Travis Williams, I’m telling the lineman and linebackers to be on #3’s tail all game long.
Andrew: The linebackers are going to have to be on their game. Malik Cunningham likes to run and they’re the gatekeepers to chunk yardage plays. If they can keep him contained, it will make everyone’s life easier and should mitigate other defensive issues.
5) Score prediction?
Jeff: UCF 38, Louisville 26.
Jeremy: Knights 42, Cardinals 28. UCF enters the Top 25 in the AP Poll Sunday.
Eric: UCF 41, Louisville 28
Bryson: UCF 35, Louisville 27
Andrew: UCF 35, Louisville 20