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Knights Roundtable: Game 3 vs. Villanova

UCF faces FCS Wildcats with a new QB

NCAA Football: Kent State at Central Florida
Timmy McClain
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Time for another edition of the Knights Roundtable!

We answer five key questions about the UCF Knights’ upcoming game against the Villanova Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and the game will be shown on ESPN+.

Let’s begin:

1. What did we really learn from the Boise game?

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Boise State
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle: There are a number of lessons one can divine as referenced by the Week 2 edition of Knight Class. But for me, it’s how quickly this offensive line has come together. Boise State is a tough group up front and handled business well.

Jeff: I think this is one of the most impressive wins we’ve seen in a bit. To go into a place that far away and come away with a win, ugly as it was, has to count for something. UCF figured out a way to win, and those lessons will serve the team well going into this critical phase of the schedule with Timmy McClain at the helm.

Nick: This team has resolve in the face of adversity. They faced a ton it in a place that’s tough to win, they are only the 16th road team to win in Boise since 2000, and yet they managed to pull out the W. They showed they can succeed when their back is against the wall. The defense also showed they can make up for offensive mistakes. But to me, the biggest thing, like Kyle mentioned, is the O-line. There wasn't much to say about their performance, and when the O-line doesn't give you that much to talk about that means they did their job and they did it well.

Andrew: There used to be a term called “UCFing” a game where UCF would somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For many years, the Knights would fall short in these types of games. Last week at Boise State was not one of those games. Despite giving the Broncos opportunities to stay in and ultimately take the lead in the game, the UCF offense, which had been gashing Boise’s defense, finally stopped making unforced errors to set up the game-winning kick.

Another thing is that UCF has not had a good road record under Gus Malzahn, so to win in one of the toughest stadiums is a big deal. Having this gutsy early season win should help as conference play ramps up. UCF’s biggest enemy has been itself with the unforced errors. The Boise State game put that on full display, so hopefully the amount of film showing it can be used as a way of cleaning up those mistakes.

2. How badly is UCF going to miss JRP?

Kyle: It’s virtually impossible to answer this until we see what UCF has in Timmy McClain. Battling Villanova can’t do a lot really to show what McClain is as there’s likely to be first-game jitters with the backup quarterback's first start in black and gold against an inferior opponent.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Central Florida
JRP doing JRP things
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff: I agree with Kyle — It’s hard to say. One thing we mentioned in our podcast is that this is a different transition than last year from JRP to Mikey Keene. The difference in style and athleticism is much smaller from JRP to Timmy vis-a-vis to Keene, who is lighting up the passing numbers at Fresno but was not a running threat the way McClain can be. Also, McClain comes in as a redshirt sophomore with 11 starts under his belt at South Florida, so he’s clearly an experienced backup, whereas Keene was still a true freshman in 2021 when he came in for Dillon Gabriel.

One other thing is for sure: It’s nice how the schedule worked out with an FCS team at home for McClain to get his feet wet before conference play starts.

Nick: JRP is one of this team’s leaders, but that leadership is not going away. He’s still going to be at practices and in the locker room helping this team. But when it comes to how much the team is going to miss him on the field, I’m with Kyle on this. We don’t know because we haven’t seen what Timmy McClain can do as the starter. JRP was making some amazing throws in the first two games, but for all we know McClain can do that too. JRP is famous for his amazing scrambling plays, but I remember being in the stands watching McClain make similar plays against UCF when he was the starter for USF. Until we see how McClain does as the team’s starter we can’t truly answer that question.

Andrew: You always miss your starter when injuries take them away, but UCF benefits from having a talented and experienced backup in Timmy McClain. You’re going to get some different dynamics and with JRP still being around and supporting the team, should help mitigate the loss. Say what you want about JRP’s abilities as a passer, but his ability to make something out of less than nothing cannot be mentioned enough.

3. What do we expect from Timmy McClain?

NCAA Football: Kent State at Central Florida
Timmy McClain saw action vs. Kent State
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle: Game management at its finest. Expect UCF to control the ball up front in the run game. Then when the defense stacks the box with extra defenders to compensate, watch for offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw to dial up play action for McClain to hit Kobe Hudson, Javon Baker, or Xavier Townsend for big yardage plays. If Timmy avoids a turnover, that’s a win for him on the day.

Jeff: This week, not much, but that was going to be the plan anyway. You don’t want to put too much on tape before conference play begins. As I mentioned earlier, this is a good warm-up for McClain at home against a team UCF should handle. Stay healthy, make your reads, score a lot of points, and let’s get to Big 12 play halfway to bowl qualification.

Nick: For me, it feels like we’re back in Week 1. My biggest thing heading into the Kent State game wasn’t just that it was a tune-up game for the entire team but for JRP specifically. It was his chance to show off the supposed improvements he made in training camp while getting ready to face tougher competition. Now McClain gets a tune-up game to show off the improvements he supposedly made in training camp while getting ready to face bigger competition. I expect him to make some splash plays, either with his arm or legs, but something that gives UCF fans hope that he can hold down the fort. If he avoids making any big mistakes, interceptions, or fumbles, then that will make me really happy.

Andrew: Based on how he played at South Florida, we should expect more tough on his passes compared to JRP, but not as dynamic of a runner. That’s not to say Timmy McClain can’t run, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has the full run speed of JRP. Ultimately, the playbook should not change all that much. This is an audition for the 2024 QB1 driver’s seat and the 2023 season is still barely off the ground, so there is still a lot to play for. Offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw isn’t going to hold back.

4. Are we sleeping on UCF’s defense?

Kyle: No. They have yet to truly play an explosive offense. Let’s see if they contain Kansas State or Baylor before we start posing this question. That being said, the Knights’ defensive line is a force to be reckoned with. It would definitely be fun to see evidence for UCF fans to answer this question with a ‘yes’.

Jeff: Maybe. I still think Boise is better than their record indicates and that unit kept UCF in the game all day, on the road. I think who we’re really sleeping on is Tre’mon Morris-Brash. We know he’s good, but we found out how good last week. He’s a total chaos agent.

Tre’mon Morris-Brash
Photo: Derek Warden

His numbers last week were good (4 tackles, 3 TFLs, one sack), but even that belies the impact he had on the game.

Go back and watch the second half and plot where he lines up every play. Wherever he was, Boise ran away from him. That’s the ultimate respect from an offense. I suspect we’ll see more teams do that out of fear of the havoc he can cause, and that will put Josh Celiscar on the spot over on the other side. If those two guys keep playing at a high level, watch out.

Nick: I don’t think so. We’ve given them their flowers for what they’ve done. I think they got the right amount of praise for their performance against Boise. Have they faced a truly tough test yet? No. But they have looked better and better every time I see them and they look to be building momentum to when they finally do face a tough challenge, otherwise known as Big 12 offenses, they will be able to succeed.

Andrew: UCF’s defense was really good in the redzone last year statistically(largely due to one game skewing the numbers), but they were a sieve in between the 20s. This year, with a new defensive philosophy, they have been more aggressive in the defensive backfield and forcing more errors. However, the defense’s biggest issue seems to be a coaching one, relying too much on a 3-4 defense when the defensive line is UCF’s strongest unit. When the Knights ran the 3-4, they were susceptible to large-chunk running plays. With the 4-3, the extra beef on the line plugs the running lanes more easily and forces backs to either run into a wall or bounce out and get caught.

5. Should FBS teams ever play FCS teams?

Appalachian State v Michigan Wolverines
Remember this?
Photo By Leon Halip/Getty Images

Kyle: While the fans certainly won’t get benefit out of it, it’s a great opportunity for coaches to evaluate opponents for transfer portal candidates as well as for smaller programs to snag revenue from bigger ones who are willing to pay to give their teams a rest from tough competition during the year. Also, nothing builds up an FCS team like a victory (be it a moral victory in a close game or an upset win) in a strong performance against an FBS squad.

Jeff: When I’m appointed Supreme Allied Commander of College Football, I plan to institute the following rule: FBS teams are permitted to play one game vs. an FCS team per season, provided that the FCS school is located in the same state as the FBS school. Said game will also not count toward the standings, like a preseason NFL game. That way the big guys can help out the little guys but don’t get much credit for it when evaluating the season in general.

Nick: It doesn’t matter what I think because this type of game is never going away. It allows smaller schools to earn tons of money while big schools get a chance to evaluate their talent while getting their confidence up. Plus, the fact that every now and then you see one of these FCS schools pull off the impossible means that there's an argument that these games are winnable. So while most of the time these games suck to watch as a football fan, especially if you have no ties to either school, you're just going to have to accept that this type of game is never going away.

Andrew: Yes. Yes. Yes. If you say no, you are wrong. Both FBS and FCS programs need these games for multiple reasons, but primarily due to budget reasons. If all FBS really need six games for a balanced budget and power five schools need seven or eight, where are you going to get those extra games? FCS. The FBS schools need that home game revenue and the FCS schools need those mid to high six-figure paydays.

Media distribution is larger than it has ever been before and that has grown to include the FCS. The selling point of being televised isn’t what it used to be, and with the ability to create recruit film more easily, more and more talent is being found and it can and has found its way to FCS programs. They also still make good homes for players in the transfer portal who are still looking. While it will never be even, we have seen more and more FCS programs be competitive in one-off games with FBS programs. That’s not a coincidence.

With FBS schools allowed to use one FCS game a year for bowl eligibility, it makes business sense to keep them around. Eric likes to call these games scrimmages. While I disagree since they actually count towards something, there is value in being able to play a lower division foe and if things go right, be able to get your second and maybe third string some real game time. The updating of the redshirt rules a few years back might be one of the smartest things the NCAA has done.

Score prediction!

Kyle: 38-17, UCF

Jeff: 51-10, UCF

Andrew: 45-13 UCF

Nick: 40-10, UCF