When the UCF Knights 2022 Spring Football got underway, fans’ excitement to see the latest that second-year head coach Gus Malzahn has built was beyond measure. But the fans in question must be reminded that the Allen Iverson axiom applies here. . . We are talking about practice. That being said, let the “knee-jerk reactions” begin.
Cutting Edge NIL and Branding
Before the first snap was taken, UCF flexed its embracing of personal branding just like it did last year. Instead of the players’ Twitter handles replacing their nameplates, each athlete's number was replaced by a QR code. While fans in the lower bowl obviously wouldn’t be able to scan it during play, it’s possible they could get them while they are on the bench.
Coach Malzahn weighed in on what he called “the things you scan on the menu at the restaurant”. “We’re a school that’s going to embrace the NIL — and that’s just one more thing. Just trying to stay on the cutting edge. A lot of schools have different philosophies on there, but we’re going to promote our players”.
UCF Looks Like a Run-First Offense.
The hype for the running backs held more true than anything else leading into this event. Even without Isaiah Bowser or RJ Harvey seeing any action, every RB that got touches made some sort of a play. Johnny Richardson (nine carries, 108 yards) reminded us all that he is still plenty electric as last year’s leader in ground yardage with numerous runs of 10 yards or more. Marc Antony Richards (four carries, 33 yards), Jordan McDonald (four carries, 108 yards), and Anthony Williams (seven carries, 32 yards) each were able to have at least one such run on the afternoon.
Among the receiving corps, it seems that the “J-Flash is back” rumors are already set to begin. While some of his big numbers were a result of broken coverages in the secondary, it is clear that Jaylon Robinson (three catches 126 yards, two touchdowns) is running at 2020 form and has good chemistry with both quarterbacks Mikey Keene and John Rhys Plumlee.
Newly-arrived transfer Kobe Hudson (five catches, 112 yards, two touchdowns), and veteran Amari Johnson (four catches, 66 yards, two touchdowns) were also performances of note.
As for the battle under center, there is a clear #1 and #2. While Thomas Castellanos is a good athlete with plenty of potential, it is clear that his comfort level isn’t quite to the same bar as Keene nor Plumlee.
Keene (21/28, 282 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) came out hotter to start the contest and probably had a slight advantage as the incumbent who led the Knights to a Gasparilla Bowl win over the Florida Gators, However, Plumlee (11/15, 189 yards, four touchdowns) not only extended more plays with his feet than Keene, he had a solid passing day including a 33-yard dime to Jaylon Griffin that was the best throw on the between the two. Keene also didn’t do himself any favors by throwing an interception in the end zone that was nearly taken all the way back to the house by defensive back Jaiden Francois.
To his credit, however, Keene was under a lot more pressure and the interior of the offensive line seemed to have a rough day letting in at least four sacks through the middle.
Defensive Highs and Lows
Malzahn stated after the game that there was a focus on rushing the passer for his defense in the spring, and seeing 12 sacks from both the “Black” and “Gold” teams certainly has to be something that marks a high point statistically — especially with Tre’mon Morris-Brash not seeing action.
Defensive end Landon Woodson was the top man in sacks racking up three on the day, but defense tackle Keenan Hester also turned in 1.5 of his own. The only turnover on the day was Francois's interception.
While there were a number of blown coverages that were turned into huge touchdowns, the good news for UCF fans is that there is still summer to work all those kinks out before they snap the ball on September 1st to face South Carolina State.