With the UCF Knights in a much-needed bye week at 3-3 and still looking for its first Big 12 victory, it’s time to give our mid-season grades in a combination of the weekly Roundtable and Knight Class.
Let’s get started:
The running backs are the best position group and I don’t believe it’s close despite the fumbling issues. And they’ve done it behind an offensive line that is getting way more flack than they deserve as they are a factor in the numbers put up in the ground game.
While the offensive line might be the third-best position group on the entire Knights’ roster, the receivers (tight ends included) have dramatically underperformed. Have they made awesome plays? Yes — and they also have a disappointing volume of drops as well.
The quarterback position has done well, but injury is the main reason they aren’t playing their best. Yet, Timmy McClain has done enough in John Rhys Plumlee’s absence to not hold all of the blame.
Overall this group has done well. The O-line has been fantastic this season. You can tell by how much Kyle gushes about them.
The rushing attack has been great, the highlights of many of the Knights' games.
This group has been high-scoring. In my opinion, last week's game against Kansas was their only poor showing, not showing up until the game was out of hand. I know some will say the Boise game was a bad performance, but I view that more as bad luck than a poor showing. A few key plays were the only reason that was a low-scoring, close game. Those two interceptions should have been touchdowns.
And that right there gets to what’s holding this team back. The wide receivers, though talented, have been dropping more passes than you would like. Yes, they have made some incredible plays and put on some great performances, but you can’t help but feel they could be doing better.
As for the QBs, they're fine. They haven’t played badly or anything, but obviously, they aren’t playing at the level you want. Some of that has to do with bad luck, the team is better when it has a healthy starter. Timmy McClain hasn’t held the team back, but his play does leave you wanting more.
I’m grading on a bit of a curve here because of the JRP situation. Right now, UCF is 4th in FBS in total offense at 516.7 yards per game, and 3rd in rushing at 246.3 per game. But if we remove UCF’s two blowouts vs. Kent State and Villanova we get this:
Total Offense: 444.3 yards per game — tied for 29th
Rushing Offense: 209.5 yards per game — 14th
The difference is there but not as much as I thought it would be. The real issue has been Red Zone, where UCF is 107th at 76%, and has only scored TDs on 60% of their Red ZOne trips (15/25). Add back the two dropped TDs that turned into interceptions at Boise and UCF is only 69th — not so nice.
Those percentages would be higher with a healthy Plumlee and his dual-threat ability plus experience, but alas (and to be honest I thnk Timmy McClain has performed rather well on balance. I still think UCF has had a bit of bad luck so far on offense, and their #31 ranking in Bill Connelly’s SP+ speaks to that. Look for regression to the mean here.
For all the criticism the defensive line has faced as the second-best position group on the squad, it’s the linebacker corps that has been the problem. Easily the weakest corps on the team, transfers expected to return that group to form have not panned out.
What keeps this group from getting a “D” grade is that in all but one game they’ve got a takeaway. There’s still room for them to fall or rise as they play out the rest of the season. The safeties may need to be involved more in run stoppage for any hope of a Knights’ turnaround.
This team has clearly been the weaker part of the team. Against Big 12 teams, they've struggled to stop the run and against short passes. They have failed to show up when they were truly needed and they have given up more points than you would have liked.
So why haven’t I given them a lower grade? The Boise State game. Their performance in that game is what kept them in it and allowed them to win. They made it to where two end-zone interceptions didn’t truly hurt them. When you give up only 16 points to a solid team, you have to give the defense its flowers.
I know this is hard but let’s face it: The defense has not been where they were expected to be. I detect two main reasons:
- Rushing defense. UCF is 121st in the nation at 197.2 yards per game. Part of that has been a lack of depth on the defensive line and a lack of size at linebacker. But the proof is in the pudding here.
- Lack of turnovers. As I have said numerous times over the past few years, the lack of forcing turnovers has been a real problem for UCF. If your defense has to bend but not break, then its primary job is to get the offense extra possessions via turnovers. That isn’t happening: UCF has forced only five turnovers in six games — 116th in the nation.
If they turn it around, they’ll also be able to get off the field on third downs, which UCF is also struggling with (45.9%, tied for 114th).
I know people may immediately think that I’m knocking Colton Boomer for missing long kicks on the road to bail the team out of holes they dug themselves. It’s actually more kicks out of bounds, shanked punts, and horrible coverage allowing punt return touchdowns that take it here. The only things that prevent an “F” are the game-winning kick at Boise State and Xavier Townsend performing as the best returner in five years.
Boomer has been good this year but not great. He’s missed a few kicks, though I don’t hold that miss against Baylor gains him. It was 59 yards, and he doesn’t have the leg for that.
The rest of the unit is what holds this group back. I feel like I constantly see yellow on the field whenever theirs a kickoff or punt. And of course, you got to take away points for letting a field goal get blocked against Baylor and for giving up a punt return touchdown against Kansas.
Colton Boomer has been excellent this season, missing only one kick inside 50 yards. He’s been outstanding on kickoffs as well. Xavier Townsend and Johnny Richardson have also solidified the return game. Mitch McCarthy has been pretty good, averaging 41 yards per kick, and that average is relatively low because he’s pooched four of his 15 punts inside the 20.
Punt coverage, however, has not been good:
- Second-to-last in FBS in Net Punting (30.9 yards per kick)
- Third-to-last in FBS in Punt Return Defense (20 yards per return)
I have no explanation for this.
With the coaches being lumped together, Addison Williams’ defense stopping the run and failure to adjust definitely brings the grade down. Also, the decision to start John Rhys Plumlee in Kansas brings things down as well.
To have competed to level level they have minus the Kansas game with a backup quarterback through the toughest of it. To have seen how much better Plumlee is throwing the ball and how much better this team is on the offensive and defensive line has to be considered as well.
That being said, if this team misses a bowl game, expect me to mark them down further.
Kyle pretty much said what I was thinking and so there's not much I can add. All I’ll say is I like what Darin Hinshaw has been doing and I think Addison Williams has been showing that he is a first-year defensive coordinator.
I can’t fault the coaches for injuries because they have no control over that. The issue is depth, and that’s not a coaching issue — it’s a recruiting issue, and that takes time to rectify.
Give your prediction for the last six games:
Kyle: 3-3 I picked this team to win six games in 2023, I expect this team to beat Houston and Cincinnati while stealing one from another Big 12 counterpart.
Nick: 4-2. I think they beat Houston and Cincinnati, but I really feel like they can steal two more.
Jeff: 4-2. I’ve never seen a team in more need of a bye week just to reset and get their feet underneath them again. I think a good performance against Oklahoma can go a long way toward springing UCF for a solid finish to the end of the season and a bowl game.