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UCF’s Black Friday Checklist vs. USF

Even though these two programs are headed in opposite directions right now, nothing can be taken for granted in a rivalry game

Central Florida v South Florida
This was the scene after last year’s War on I-4. What’s in store for the 2019 edition?
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Here are four things I’ll be tracking closely during tonight’s War on I-4

1. Can the UCF Knights’ defense get home?

When The Daily Stampede’s Nathan Bond was asked on this week’s BGB podcast what the South Florida Bulls need to do in order to have any shot in this game, the first thing he mentioned was that they must protect the QB, which will most likely be Jordan McCloud, who is currently battling a sore thumb on his throwing hand.

The Bulls’ O-line maybe hasn’t been as bad in that department as the numbers suggest. Yeah, they rank 126th in the nation in sacks allowed, but 19 of those 43 sacks came in two conference games. The Knights’ season-high in sacks recorded is five. They have reached that total twice, most recently versus Houston. There is a chance they top that number tonight, which would further extinguish USF’s small, flickering odds of pulling off the upset.

2. Who wins the turnover battle?

One of the few things South Florida does well is create turnovers. The Bulls’ 24 takeaways are the most in the American and third-most in the nation. And while it’s really correlation without causation, we know that the Knights have lost every game in which Dillon Gabriel has thrown an interception.

UCF, meanwhile, is hoping it can finally be in the right place at the right time. The Knights have gained just 13 turnovers this season and none in their past two games. There’s not much of an explanation for that; there have been some dropped INTs and just some unfortunate bounces. Let’s see if they wrap up the 2019 regular season with a ball-hawking performance that resembles the 2018 defense.

3. Will the Knights cap off their red-zone trips with touchdowns?

This is something we all fretted about earlier in the season, especially in the wake of the Cincinnati loss as UCF scored one touchdown off of six trips inside the 20. However, the Knights have been much better in that area during the second half of the schedule, reaching paydirt on 14 of 19 trips. They settled for field goals on three other possessions.

I bring this up because the Bulls have been outstanding at stopping their opponents in the red zone. They have allowed 20 touchdowns on 39 trips and just 26 scores overall. That 66.7 percent success rate is tied for the fourth-lowest mark in the FBS. Again, versus an opponent that is looking for any reason to believe, how UCF executes in the red zone will go a long way toward deciding tonight’s result.

4. Which seniors show out?

I mean, it’s Senior Day. You know every one of those guys wants to make a memory in their final regular-season game and final game inside of Spectrum Stadium. I would probably include junior WR Gabriel Davis in here as well, since it sure seems like he will be moving on to the NFL after this year.