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Knights Roundtable: Game 3 at Kansas State

UCF opens its inaugural Big 12 schedule in Manhattan

R. J. Harvey
R. J. Harvey
Photo: Derek Warden

Welcome to our first-ever Big 12 Conference play edition of the Knights Roundtable!

We answer five key questions about the UCF Knights’ upcoming game against the Kansas State Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. on Saturday and the game will be shown on FS1.

Let’s begin:

1. What did we learn from the Villanova game? Anything?

Andrew: We learned that Timmy McClain needed this tune-up game to shake off rust and build confidence as the new starting quarterback. He started a little shaky but settled and threw for over 300 yards and 70% on the day.

Villanova was flat-out out-matched, especially their offense versus UCF’s defense. Connor Watkins started 0/8 in passing and finished 9/23 for 144 yards and an interception. Watkins was also sacked a couple of times. The Wildcats were 1/12 on third down. Their offense just was not as talented as UCF’s defense.

Kyle: That the offense can finish plays and Boise State’s calamities were indeed a series of unfortunate events. Timmy McClain has shown that he has the trust of this squad. Not too much more that you can hope or ask for in a tune-up game like that was.

Nick: Thank the lord Timmy McClain’s first game was this one and not the one this Saturday because he clearly needed a tune-up. However, during the game, he began to get in rhythm and showed that this team could win with him. He created something for him to build off of. We also once again saw how good the defense could be.

Bryson: Back during media day, OC Darin Hinshaw said the biggest thing with McClain was trust, as in trusting him and the offensive system. Saturday proved a golden opportunity to build that trust in a game-time scenario and he delivered, going 20/28 for 321 passing yards and rushing for 44 yards in nine carries. Now that both McClain and the offense have had this game to adjust, they look ready to take on the Big 12.

2. What’s your confidence level in Timmy McClain after Saturday, on a scale of 1 (“YIKES”) to 5 (“JR Who?”)

Andrew: I give him a 3. Playing against Villanova does not really prove anything. The Wildcats were out-matched, so it gave McClain the chance to gain some confidence with little risk. Kansas State is obviously way better and McClain now needs to go on the road. The jury is still out on if he’s the real deal or if he’s just keeping the seat warm until JRP comes back.

Kyle: Solid performance. McClain was asked to get comfortable and take care of the football. He did. A 3 all the way with hope for improvement.

Nick: Sorry that I’m not giving a new take, but yeah I’d also give him a 3. What else can you say? It wasn’t a perfect performance. He struggled on some easy throws. He made some mistakes. but you can chalk that up to nerves and him having his first start in a long time. But he also made some impressive plays, especially with his feet, and like I said earlier, he showed the team could win with him.

Bryson: I have to say a 3 as well. Between McClain’s fumble and the fact he had to contend with an FCS defense as opposed to a Big 12 one keeps my confidence level in check. This game was more about showcasing his competence rather than his ability to excel, and he did that very well, both with his arm and legs. Maybe we can check back on this question again next week, given we’ll be seeing Big 12 opponents like Kansas State for the rest of the season.

3. What should we expect from the offense in this game?

Andrew: The offense will still be run-first, but won’t be afraid to throw the ball. Against Villanova, UCF threw 33 passes and had 54 rushing attempts. Despite the talent gap, the Knights only averaged 4.6 yards a carry, which while good, should have been better, The Knights will seek to establish a rhythm with the run opening up the pass, but if they fall behind, they will start to lean more into the pass.

Kyle: I would love to see Gus open the game by slinging passes to attack where Kansas State is weakest and surprise the Wildcats by challenging them with a backup quarterback. I doubt that happens, and R.J. Harvey pulls the defense in where McClain can pop the top off the defense with Kobe Hudson and Javon Baker. Expect UCF to throw the ball 25 times or less.

Nick: I expect them to try and dominate in the trenches while establishing a dominant run game. I do expect them to try and give a few of the wide receivers more targets to see if they can test what the passing game will look like against a Big 12 team.

Bryson: Kansas State is third in the nation in rushing defense and 106th in passing yards allowed. Missouri QB Brady Cook attempted 35 passes in the Tigers’ win over the Wildcats last week, but they don’t have as deep a running back room as UCF has, plus Timmy McClain is starting his second game of the season.

So, I think we should expect a revolving door in the backfield as UCF tries to tire out the Wildcat rushing defense and then take the opportunity to throw the ball when they are not expecting it. Don’t let the Kansas State secondary get comfortable.

4. What’s the outlook on the defense in its first major test of the season?

Andrew: UCF’s defense hasn’t really been tested yet. Kansas State could be short some key players in quarterback Will Howard and running back Treshaun Ward, which helps the defense. The defensive line, when they’re lining up with four down linemen, causes mayhem at the line of scrimmage and helps mask some of the deficiencies in the defense. The linebackers need to work on their outside containment as they have been susceptible to outside runs.

Kyle: It’s time for the defensive tackles to blow up the interior of the trenches and prove defensive coordinator Addison Williams correct in his statements surrounding the depth of their defensive front. If the secondary can manage to allow only four plays of 20 or more yards in the contest, UCF will win the game.

Nick: Personally, I don’t know what to expect from the defense. Like we said this is their first major test. Yes, the unit has done well in the first three games which shows me they have a chance to keep up with K-State’s offense. But the talent of the first three offenses they faced is nowhere near the level of talent of the one they’re about to face, and considering K-State’s loss to Missouri last week, I expect them to come out firing. UCF’s defense has a chance to prove themselves to be legit, but it’s going to be a challenge.

Bryson: This is the defense’s “show me” game. Even if K-State QB Will Howard and RB Treshaun Ward don’t play on Saturday, the Knights cannot take their backups lightly. If I had to spotlight a specific unit, I’m going to go with the secondary. The Wildcats have four receivers with 150 receiving yards or more and all four average more than 10 yards per reception. They are 27th in the nation in passing offense for a reason and if backup QB Avery Johnson does play, all he might need to do is spread the UCF secondary thin and go where it’s weakest. The Knights cannot let that happen. This is going to be a test for the secondary no matter who is behind center for Kansas State.

5. What potential is there for UCF to be overwhelmed by the environment, on the road at K-State in its first Big 12 matchup?

Andrew: UCF does not have a good track record on the road under Gus Malzahn, but they’ve played in hostile environments before. I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed by the environment itself, but they need to keep their focus. The game at Boise State was only close because of unforced errors. As long as they do their jobs, the team should do well.

Kyle: I don’t think this is the toughest environment that UCF has played in. That will certainly be playing Oklahoma in a few weeks. Here, I think this game will be more about showing off their skills to the Power 5 at large. To me, the only questionable issue as far as comfort is Timmy McClain as the backup starting under center. If he stays comfortable, look for this to be a battle.

Nick: UCF has won on the road in more hostile environments. They just won on the road in Boise, something few teams have done since 2000. But we’ve also seen this team struggle to win on the road in the Malzahn era. So is there potential for them to be overwhelmed, yes. There's always a potential for that when you’re on the road. But I think this team has the ability to tune out the crowd and just do what they need to do.

Bryson: If the Knights were not overwhelmed by Boise State, which was much further away from home and filled with unforced errors that they were able to overcome to win, then they should not be overwhelmed by the stadium environment in Manhatten, Kansas. Though, I would not overlook the Manhatten’s environment in terms of weather. The wind is forecasted to be between 10 and 20 miles per hour on Saturday, so that might be something the Knights will need to account for.

Score prediction!

Andrew: UCF 31-17. This is assuming Will Howard and Treshaun Ward do not play for Kansas State.

Kyle: Death, taxes, and the over in the Big 12: The only certainties in life. UCF, 30-24.

Nick: I’m expecting a close game where the defense and offense have their moments. 31-28 UCF.

Bryson: Even if they are down a QB and RB, Kansas State is not going to go down easily. I’ll take the Knights, 35-31.