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Knights Roundtable: Game 5 vs. Baylor

UCF plays its inaugural Big 12 home game against the 1-3 Bears

Photo: Derek Warden

At last, it’s our Big 12 Home Opener Edition of the Knights Roundtable!

We answer five key questions about the UCF Knights’ first-ever Big 12 home game against the Baylor Bears. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and the game will be shown on FS1.

Let’s begin:

1. What did we learn from the K-State game?

Nick: The defense is this team's weak point. After finally facing a Big 12 offense, they struggled to stop them. But we also learned that while this team can compete with Timmy McClain, he showed that he still has a lot to learn.

Andrew: We knew there would be some growing pains. Remember, Kansas State is the reigning conference champion. Even though they lost some players to the NFL, they’re still pretty good. In order to be the best, you have to play the best, and playing against Kansas State exposed some of the flaws of the team. The offense is in good shape despite the struggles of the running game last week. It’s worth noting that Kansas State has one of the nation’s best rushing defenses.

The defensive line was exposed for not being able to power through the beefier offensive line of KSU. Ricky Barber was on a snap count last week, but with how manhandled the whole unit was, would he have made a material difference? The linebackers also had a rough game as they continued to be susceptible to outside runs. KSU RB DJ Giddens had his way with the linebackers and I think he broke Walter Yates III’s ankles.

Kyle: The defensive coaches are going to need to draw something up for how the defensive front attacks teams that are athletic at all positions (not Kent State and Villanova). 165 of Kansas State’s passing yards were to running backs and tight ends. Yes, giving up 200+ yards to a single running back was also a tough pill for this group to swallow. Some of that is the defending conference champions having weapons all over the field.

That being said, the defense had a string of five straight drives where they had only allowed three points, and then penalties happened in the mid-to-late 3rd quarter that started the team’s collapse. We did also learn that the offense when they are multi-dimensional can compete with a Big 12 team.

2. About Timmy McClain’s performance last week: Growing pains or legit concern?

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Kansas State
Timmy McClain
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Honestly, I’m not fully sure of how to describe his performance. He had moments of brilliance. He made some spectacular throws. And he kept UCF in the game for the first three quarters. But while the blame for the loss isn't on him, he had some moments where he showed his inexperience. Specifically, the interception near the end of the first half, and his holding onto the ball for too long and not throwing it away resulted in a 12-yard loss that would kill what looked to be a game-tying touchdown drive. Overall he didn’t make that many mistakes, but the ones he did make were huge. I’m hoping that it’s just growing pains.

Andrew: For his first real test as a UCF quarterback, he did fair. He did some good things like show good touch on deeper routes, but he did plenty of not-so-good things too. He held on to the ball too much and kept looking for homerun throws. By doing so, he created too many 50/50 balls that were bailed out by some amazing wide receiver play. He also created some bad sacks and lost yardage plays because of a lack of field awareness and not throwing the ball away when it was the right move to make. McClain’s interception was one of those types of plays. The WRs, especially Kobe Hudson, cannot be understated here. They’re the only reason why McClain’s numbers looked as good as they did. There’s a reason he’s QB2 and the game against Kansas State helped reinforce that, but it gives him good film to study to get better for his next game.

Kyle: Timmy McClain did what he was asked to do for most of the game. If you asked head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive Coordinator Darin Hinshaw if they were comfortable with McClain being forced to throw to bail UCF out of defensive mistakes, the answer would have clearly been no. McClain for the most part only started to struggle in obvious passing situations late in the game.

For all the negativity surrounding McClain’s start on the road, Malzahn himself said Monday, that the rest of the team’s performance has to elevate to meet the gap in production between the starting and backup quarterbacks.

3. What kind of crowd should Baylor expect to greet them on Saturday?

Photo: Derek Warden

Nick: I was in the stands for the Villanova game, and that crowd was crazy. The stadium was packed and the fans were rowdy. and that was for a team that wasn't even in the FBS. Now we are facing a Big 12 team at home, as a Big 12 team. It’s already been reported that the game is sold out. It’s also parents' weekend and prior to the show, there's going to be a show featuring Pauly D from Jersey Shore who is now a DJ. Basically what I’m trying to say is that the team should expect a packed, loud, and crazy crowd. I don’t think last week’s loss has hampered that excitement. If anything I think it will make the fans even louder, as they are more desperate to see a win.

Andrew: UCF is honoring the 2013 UCF team that defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. The atmosphere is going to be wild. The secondary market prices were the highest I’ve seen since Miami played at UCF back in 2009. The truth is that the secondary market overpriced itself and prices had to drop fast as we are less than 48 hours from kickoff. Even though this will likely prevent a completely packed house, the game itself will be very well attended and the fans loud.

Kyle: Just ask former Cincinnati and current Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder. Even after heading to a college football playoff game, before entering the NFL he said that the Bounce House was the loudest venue he played in as a visitor. There’s no reason to believe the Bears receive anything less.

4. Any concerns about the defense based on last week?

Nick: I mean, yeah. I’m a bit concerned after they struggled to stop Kansas State. They couldn’t stop the short pass and they got dominated in the trenches, which resulted in a lack of sacks and huge rushing plays. If that happens again, it’s panicking time.

Andrew: They aren’t champion caliber, but outside of Oklahoma, I think UCF has seen the toughest offense they’ll see in 2023. The good thing is they took a licking early and can make tactical adjustments. The problem is that their inability to contain the outside and the ease opposing offenses can work the short passing game has been an issue all season. Any team, including Kent State, can take advantage of that.

Kyle: I know Malzahn thought so on Monday. Again, 165 receiving yards from tight ends and running

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

backs with a 200+ yard rusher in the backfield. The defensive front needs to adjust whether they have Ricky Barber back or not.

5. Baylor is off to a rough start. Could UCF be overlooking them a bit?

Photo: Derek Warden

Nick: I would hope that after last week, they aren’t overlooking anybody. After having a chance to win and coming up short, you would think the team is desperate to get a win back and as a result, they'll take Baylor really seriously.

Andrew: UCF is a different team at home versus on the road. Their record at home over the last several seasons has been fantastic. I don’t think they are overlooking Baylor so much as there is a possibility of getting caught up in the moment of the first home conference game. The key is to remain focused on the game and ignore the fan service that’s going to happen when play is stopped.

Kyle: Not if they were listening to their head coach. On Monday, Malzahn reminded the press in attendance that while Baylor is 1-3, that includes two nationally-ranked teams in Texas and Utah. They also played Utah to within a touchdown 20-13.

Also, after the players lost a game that thought they had a shot at according the Lee Hunter and Kobe Hudson, they are surely craving a conference win.

Score prediction!

Nick: I’m expecting an offensive shootout with UCF breaking away late in the game. UCF 38-28

Andrew: I don’t think this one is going to be all that close. UCF 45-21.

Kyle: I feel like UCF will control the tempo more and survive Baylor, 34-24