1. Can the UCF Knights keep the self-inflicted mistakes to a minimum?
Quoting last week’s pre-ECU edition of this article:
“[T]his question will probably matter a lot more next week when UCF visits a very competitive Temple squad (foreshadowing).”
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And this question is still plenty relevant after the Knights committed far too many mental errors against the Pirates. Their 11 penalties — seven of which occurred either before or after the play — didn’t impact the result, but that’s because East Carolina isn’t good. The Knights can’t give Temple that much help and expect to come out of Philadelphia with a victory.
Some penalties will happen; the Knights have no problem with that because they want to play a physical brand of football, especially on the defensive side. But it’s those pre-snap/post-play mistakes — false starts, offsides, dead-ball personal fouls — that the Knights have focused on eliminating this week.
“It’s all mental,” said wide receiver Tre Nixon, who was whistled for being offsides and for a personal foul against ECU. “... That’s just stuff that we’ve got to control as players. The coaches, they tell us, ‘Keep your head in the game, don’t do nothing crazy.’ It’s just on us players to do that.”
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2. How will the UCF running game look without Greg McCrae?
“We too deep!” has been one of the Knights’ mottos dating back to last year, but it is most appropriate when talking about the team’s running backs. That depth will be tested today with McCrae sidelined by a knee injury. Subtracting last week’s game, in which McCrae received just three carries, his 69 carries are at least 23 more than any other UCF back.
Once McCrae exited, the Knights turned to Otis Anderson and Bentavious Thompson to carry the load. It helps that Adrian Killins Jr. is expected to play after sitting out most of the ECU game due to an ankle injury, but it’s fair to wonder if he will truly be at 100 percent, no matter what his backfield mate says:
#UCF's Otis Anderson became the injury update guy today, talking about Adrian Killins and Greg McCrae.— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) October 22, 2019
On Adrian Killins: "AK, he practiced today. He looked just about 100 percent. I forgot he even had a nick or an injury."
The Temple Owls have a top-50 run defense and are allowing just 3.3 yards per carry this season. Who will step forward in place of UCF’s most dependable RB?
Maybe McCrae knows something ....
3. Can UCF score TDs against the Owls’ outstanding red-zone defense?
The Owls probably won’t admit it, but they have employed a bend-but-don’t-break defense this season. They have allowed plenty of big gains — 18 plays of 20 yards or more in their last three games — but once opponents get inside the red zone, Temple clamps down.
Those opponents have taken 30 drives inside the 20, but only 13 of them have concluded with touchdowns. Temple has permitted points in just 53.3 percent of those situations, the second-lowest rate in the FBS.
The Knights scored six times in seven red-zone trips against East Carolina, but for the season, their red-zone success rate is 75.8, 104th in the FBS. In its two losses, UCF scored just three TDs out of 11 trips inside the 20.
4. Will the Temple pass rush be hampered by injuries?
While many UCF players have spent this week healing up, the Owls have significant injury issues of their own. Specifically, defensive end Quincy Roche and defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh both appear to be game-time decisions tonight. That duo has combined for 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks, and are the top reasons why Temple ranks among the nation’s top 40 in both categories.
Like Killins, those two may suit up but may not be at full strength. How much does that affect Temple’s D? It’s worth noting that Roche and Maijeh might match up often against left guard Cole Schneider and left tackle Samuel Jackson, both of whom are also nicked up heading into this important showdown.