The UCF Knights face Navy early Saturday. It’s Senior Day, and with a victory, UCF would be one win in Tampa away from hosting the American Championship Game on December 3rd.
The pressure’s on. How much pressure? We unpack that in this week’s Roundtable.
Scale of 1 (none) to 10 (nuclear fusion-level), how much pressure is on UCF right now?
Kyle: 7 — Obviously, UCF has to win out the next two games to assure they host the American Conference Championship and they will certainly be knocked out of the CFP Top 25 should they lose in the next couple of weeks. That being said, the bowl game they play in will have miles more pressure due to the size of the potential stage and the taste they leave in the mouths of recruits heading into the Big 12.
Andrew: 8.5. At the top of the conference, all eyes are on UCF. Can they hang on? Can they win the conference? Will they make it to the Cotton Bowl? Expectations are high in that UCF is expected to win the next two games, win the conference championship at home, and then travel to Arlington. Adding on to that this is UCF’s swan song in the American. Remember in 2012 when UCF got oh so close to winning the Conference USA championship on their way out? It’s like that, except UCF is in a position to be able to play the game in Orlando.
Jeff: 9. If UCF loses one of these two remaining games, they will be likely in a three-way tie for second with Houston and the loser of Tulane/Cincinnati, and behind the winner of Tulane/Cincinnati. Hosting goes out the window, and then you’re at the mercy of the CFP Committee because the tiebreaker goes to whoever is ranked the highest. Being just one spot ahead of Tulane and four ahead of Cincinnati means it’s going to be a Naruto Run to the finish.
What should frighten us the most about Navy?
Kyle: Cut blocking — Navy loves to do it and through no malice, it is a physical challenge for any football player on the defensive line or at linebacker. Do some of the rule changes make it less of a threat than before? Yes — but all it takes is one play or one miss-timed effort. The Knights have already been forced to play big games missing Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, Tre’Mon Morris-Brash, and others. Losing more depth in the defensive front (i.e. defensive tackle Ricky Barber) would have a huge impact if any guys miss extended time after Saturday — most specifically in the American Conference Championship.
Andrew: Overselling against the run. Navy loves to run the ball, but their offense has had to evolve some due to rule changes. As a result, they are more ready and willing to throw the ball. Navy has nearly doubled their passing numbers from 2021 to 2022, averaging 100 yards in the air per game. The Knights have been hurt in the air against Navy before. In 2017, Navy had 171 yards of passing on five receptions, including passes of 75, 40, and 30 yards with the 75-yarder resulting in a touchdown. The Knights are going to have to show a little respect for the pass.
Jeff: Overpursuit. Defending the Triple Option is hard because defenders have to go against every instinct in their brains and stay home to let the play come to them, rather than go get the ball carrier. All that smoke and mirrors is exactly what Navy wants because then they hit you for 7 yards a pop before you know what happened. You have to stay at home, keep your eyes where they need to be (as Urban Meyer shows below), and be patient.
What will JRP and the offense have to do to ensure victory?
Kyle: Be patient. The irony with facing Navy is that while the time it takes to play the game is less due to the way their offense chews up the clock if UCF’s offense starts out slow it’s possible they only have 14 or fewer points heading into the half. Not getting anxious to make mistakes by trying to force plays that become turnovers is essential.
Andrew: Get ahead early. Navy is designed to beat you down in the fourth quarter as defenses tire out. They did it to UCF last year and they did it to Notre Dame last week. UCF needs to build a two to three-score lead and hold on. We’ve seen leads evaporate before.
Jeff: Strike early and often. Navy is not built to come back from deficits. They are more used to playing within one score or from ahead. They have a strong run defense, so we may have to see JRP open it up through the air.
What do you think will happen to UCF’s social following with what’s happening to Twitter right now?
Kyle: Like Dr. Ian Malcolm says about life in Jurassic Park, the UCF Twitter Mafia will “find a way”. It also doesn’t hurt that UCF has one of the best media teams in the nation.
Andrew: UCF has a decent Facebook presence. If something happens to Twitter, they’ll move elsewhere and some will reconnect either in the One Heartbeat group or create a new one based on the UCF Twitter Mafia.
Jeff: I’M TRAPPED IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION.
No really, going back to 2017, you could make the case that Twitter was at least partially responsible for helping UCF’s brand become what it is now. Remember, Danny White said “National Champs!” in a video that was embedded in a tweet:
.@UCFDannyWhite didn’t stutter...#ChargeOn pic.twitter.com/ozdNaz4MCW— UCF Knights (@UCFKnights) January 1, 2018
Yeah, things evolve. We’ll migrate somewhere else. But it won’t be the same, and that makes me sad. But it will also make my wife happy because I won’t be on my phone so daggum much, so maybe it’s a wash.
Really I’m just sad because it’s going to make it harder for me to interact with the great UCF fans I’ve met there, whom I would not have met otherwise.
Predictions (for the game)!
Kyle: I expect kicker Colton Boomer and UCF’s red zone defense to get some play here. Knights win, 25-17.
Andrew: UCF will do what they need to and get a first-half jump despite Navy having a really good rushing defense. Navy will do what they do and make it interesting late, but UCF holds on 31-21.
Jeff: UCF 38, Navy 21