Fresh off their landmark 45-3 wipeout of #15 Oklahoma State in the Space Game, the UCF Knights have a LONG road trip out to Lubbock to face the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday.
We tackle the five biggest questions heading into Saturday in this week’s RoundTable:
1. About last week: How did UCF flip the script vs. the Cowboys?
Kyle: Aggression and belief. The more successful outings by the defense have been when the defensive backs have been more aggressive in helping to stop the run. Lee Hunter and the defensive tackles typically make their presence felt in the first level. This defense has learned that the key to stopping a run game is to stop it as a village.
Offensively, this was the most aggressive game in the air we’ve seen from John Rhys Plumlee passing early with the opening completions for the first two drives connecting for 37 and 38 yards to Xavier Townsend and Javon Baker. And those were just two of four receivers who connected for a 30+ yard reception.
Then the defense also came up with the most takeaways in a game all season to make sure that it didn’t just rain on the Cowboys — it poured.
Jeff: Bill Simmons would call this the Kitchen Sink game. We threw everything out there, both tangible and intangible, and Oklahoma State got swamped — both literally and figuratively.
But the most important thing was — wait for it — turnovers! UCF forced two on the first two possessions, four for the game, and if you’re like me and count turnovers on downs, it was six. The last time UCF forced four turnovers was 2021 vs. Memphis.
2. Any letdown potential now that UCF has to head out to Lubbock?
Kyle: Of course there’s letdown potential. A huge win of historical proportions like that and a winnable game in the last week of the season hosting Houston at home as the only obstacle to securing a bowl game even if they fail against Texas Tech.
That being said, the Red Raiders are just as susceptible to a letdown after beating Kansas.
Jeff: Maybe, but I’m less sure of that. Texas Tech might be at least equally in danger of that since they’re home and, as Kyle said, they just came off upsetting Kansas in Lawrence in the latest Big 12 headscratcher result.
Meanwhile, the fact that UCF is on the road in Lubbock for the first time has a way of focusing you a bit more than if you were home after a big win over an allegedly superior opponent.
3. Where is R.J. Harvey now among UCF’s great running backs of recent years?
Kyle: The top as far as a single season in UCF history. It could be said he has a chance to be more as his career as a Knight continues. The last runner to do what he’s down in yards was Greg McCrae five years ago. And with no disrespect to McCrae and his journey to earning a scholarship at UCF, he also wasn’t doing it against a schedule featuring Power 5 teams while also missing a starting QB with the same frequency as Harvey.
Jeff: Hold up there, cowboy. The top belongs to Kevin Smith and it’s not close.
But R.J. is moving his way up, at least into the top five single-season performances. He’s currently at 1,082 yards this season, which is 10th all-time at UCF, and is 100 yards from 4th. Four more TDs would put him tied for second-most in a season with Isaiah Bowser behind Kevin Smith’s 2007.
Career-wise, R.J.’s 1,881 is still outside the top ten (Elgin Davis is 10th with 2,170), but again, he’s knocking on the door.
Let’s see how these last two — hopefully three — games play out, and he could give everyone not named Kevin Smith a run for their money.
4. What is Texas Tech’s best weakness for UCF to exploit?
Kyle: The disarray at quarterback. Texas Tech lost their starting QB early and was even forced to play the third-stringer at times. Dare the quarterback — whoever it is — to beat you. The good news for UCF is that they practiced that game plan last week and executed it pretty well.
Jeff: This is weird because it’s not obvious. Tech is aggressively average in all statistical categories on both offense and defense.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, turnovers will be a factor. Texas Tech has been sloppy with the ball. They lost the turnover battle with BYU 5-0, which overcame their 100+-yard advantage in total offense in that game. K-State mashed them like Thanksgiving potatoes with the running game in that match-up.
Ergo: Run the ball and force turnovers out of their inexperienced QB.
5. What does UCF have to be careful of the most in this game?
Kyle: This isn’t a lazy answer, but it’s the simplest one. DO NOT TURN THE BALL OVER. Sure scoring touchdowns in the red zone is important. Of course, keeping the Red Raiders out of the endzone in their red zone opportunities and stopping third down conversion is still super important, but the Knights can’t give the opponent a free lunch.
Jeff: Kyle is right, but I’ll add one more factor: Lubbock is 3,121 feet above sea level. It’s not Denver, but it’s not Orlando, either. It’s high and dry up there. So hydrate, make plays early, and manage your defensive line, and when you’re tired late, it hopefully won’t matter.
Kyle: For the Red Raiders to win, the game needs to get sloppy. For UCF to win, John Rhys Plumlee will need to put up 200 yards passing while Harvey gets his sixth straight 100-yard game. I believe Plumlee protects the ball this game and the Knights win, 31-21.
Jeff: Agree. JRP put on a master class last week, because his running more early in the game got him into the flow and enabled him to test Oklahoma State’s defense, because they had to watch for that, commit the linebackers, and that opened up downfield shots. I say more of that, 100+ yards for R. J. Harvey, and a couple of first-half turnovers would be good. Then keep them off the field in the second half and you get out of there with bowl eligibility. 27-21, UCF.