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UCF’s Week 2 Checklist vs. Florida Atlantic

Four questions that will demand answers from the Knights tonight against the Owls.

NCAA Football: Florida A&M at Central Florida
UCF QB Brandon Wimbush
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

1. How will UCF’s defense adjust without cornerback Brandon Moore?

The strength of the UCF Knights’ defense now has a soft spot, at least on paper. You can’t just expect the next man up to be as good as Moore, who is UCF’s best CB. But it sounds like the Knights will put their trust into JUCO transfer Tay Gowan and redshirt sophomore Zamari Maxwell to make sure there isn’t a dropoff.

“Our entire football team, they’ve seen them for all of spring ball, all of training camp. Really confident in those guys, who they are as players,” head coach Josh Heupel said of the two replacements. “Their consistency, the way they’ve played, made competitive plays. I think everybody’s really confident in those guys.”

I think the FAU Owls’ path to victory in this game has to come through the air with quarterback Chris Robison. I’m sure he is well aware that the Knights are a man down in the secondary, so how will head coach Lane Kiffin and Co. try to attack that point?

Said Gowan this week: “I talked to [Moore] and he gave me a lot of advice, like ‘Yo, it’s your time. It’s time to step up for this program.’ So, I know I’ve been preparing for this since I got here.”

2. How will UCF defend Owls TE Harrison Bryant?

Bryant is the first real threat of the season toward the Knights’ defense. He is a future NFL player at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds with enough speed to stretch the seam. He racked up 662 yards last season and was a safe target for Robison last week against Ohio State, catching six passes for 79 yards. Will the Knights try to bracket him with a linebacker and a safety in coverage or let someone like Richie Grant or Antwan Collier go one-on-one with Bryant? Again, I expect the Owls to throw a lot in this game, so Bryant, a first-team all-conference selection, should be a major focus tonight.

3. How will the Knights deal with FAU’s aggressive defense?

As has been mentioned throughout the week, the Owls’ defense played much better versus Ohio State after the game’s first few drives. A series of miscommunications and blown coverages by defensive backs led to easy scores for the Buckeyes. But for the most part afterward, the Owls were rigid. Their front seven was especially outstanding; they absolutely outplayed the OSU offensive line in the second and third quarters.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how the Knights’ offensive front holds up against those D-linemen and linebackers? And since FAU likes to send its fair share of corner and safety blitzes, Brandon Wimbush and Dillon Gabriel will have to see the field quickly. They can’t afford to be late on their reads because the Owls will be coming with pressure consistently.

4. Will Brandon Wimbush connect on his deep passes?

When Wimbush missed a few open receivers 40 yards down the field versus Florida A&M, it didn’t take long for UCF fans to begin grumbling in unison. However, from a playcalling standpoint, don’t expect anything to change; Heupel will keep dialing up the deep shots.

“To be honest, I really wanted him to throw kind of the way he did,” Heupel said of Wimbush on Monday. Throw them aggressive and when they hit, they’re touchdowns, not just long gains. We were a step off on both of those, so some positives in that even though they were both incompletions.”

It’s upon Wimbush to hit those throws tonight. Or else, even more people will be calling for a larger dose of Dillon Gabriel.