Each week during the football season, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming game ahead. It’s a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.
In our fourth roundtable of the football season, Jeff Sharon, Jeremy Brener, Eric Lopez, Brian Murphy, and Andrew Gluchov take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about the UCF Knights and their matchup with the Temple Owls.
1) The Knights are looking for their first three-game winning streak of the season. What’s the biggest key to making that happen?
Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): Pressure, pressure, pressure. UCF’s defense has to harass Anthony Russo and neutralize Temple’s pass game. If they make the Owls one-dimensional, Temple won’t be able to score. UCF’s offense will take care of itself.
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): I think the Knights just have to play their game. It worked against Tulane, it worked against Houston, and now it’s time to put it together against Temple in order to gain as much momentum heading into next week’s big game against Cincinnati.
Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): Show up and don’t look past this game, ahead to Cincinnati.
Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy): The penalties that plagued this team during the dawn of the season can not rear their head again. There’s a talent gulf between UCF and Temple, even with the Knights missing a bunch of defensive starters. Temple’s quarterback, Anthony Russo, is returning from an injury to his throwing shoulder; top running back Ra’Mahn Davis entered the transfer portal last week; the Owls’ leader in receiving yardage, Randle Jones, is injured; Temple’s defense has rolled with a lot of inexperienced players due to a combination of injuries, opt-outs and COVID protocols. This game will be close only if the Knights thwart themselves.
Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): The biggest factor has been the offense creating a sense of timing and synergy. The offensive penalties have dropped by a lot and has allowed their big play offense to flourish. UCFast slowed down a little for a while and it has made a world of difference. The game against Temple should afford the Knights to try a few new things with little risk since the Owls are a team with little in the cupboard.
2) Tre Nixon could make his first appearance since the season opener. How big is this for the UCF offense?
Jeff: How do you make the #1 offense in the nation better? Add the most experienced player on maybe the nation’s best WR corps back to the mix. Tre was supposed to be a security blanket for Dillon Gabriel this year. Now that he’s back, expect even more big plays, especially if Temple keys too much on Marlon Williams.
Jeremy: It’d be nice to get Nixon back. However, I think what UCF has proven this year is how deep they are at receiver. Marlon Williams, Jaylon Robinson and Ryan O’Keefe have all stepped up in his absence and have given Dillon Gabriel some of the best passing stats in the country. Getting Nixon back only makes the offense deeper.
Eric: It is a nice bonus for the offense. The question will be how quickly can Nixon catch up on timing and being back in a gameflow when facing real competition versus practice reps.
Brian: The Knights don’t need Nixon for this game, so I would be a little surprised if he plays. Or, if he is active, if he plays his normal number of snaps. In fact, quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle indicated on Wednesday that UCF will be cautious with Nixon, who has been out since Week 1.
“Tre looks really fast, he looks really good running around. Hoping we can see him again at some point, “Halzle said. “We’re not going to do anything foolish for the guy. Obviously, he wants to be out there, but it’s our job to make sure that he’s in a position where he’s safe when he’s out there as well.”
It’s wonderful to think about UCF lining up in four-wide sets with Nixon and Jaylon Robinson on the perimeter, Marlon Williams and Ryan O’Keefe in the slots. But the Knights will be totally fine if that doesn’t become a reality for another week.
Andrew: The Knights have a lot of weapons at receiver and Nixon’s time away has allowed younger players to shine. So Nixon comes back. Who do you sit? Do you need to rush Nixon in? The answer is no. Nixon can be held to a limited number of plays or packages without the risk of an offensive drop in production. UCF runs two to three wide receivers on a regular basis, so someone would have to take a bump. Ryan O’Keefe would be the first. The question is when Nixon is 100%, who starts between him and Jaylon Robinson?
3) What is one of the Knights’ weaknesses that could be exposed against the Owls?
Jeff: Themselves. UCF should handle Temple on paper, but with the Cincinnati Bearcats looming on the horizon, this could be a trap if the Knights don’t take care of business for four quarters.
Jeremy: The Knights were able to hold their own in Houston just 48 hours after Antwan Collier’s arrest that led to four defensive players being dismissed from the team. The Knights need to show that there is consistency there among its young defensive pieces.
Eric: I am not sure Temple has enough bodies to expose any of UCF’s weaknesses. My guess is that Temple will try to run the ball to challenge the Knights’ defensive front and set up play-action passes against their young secondary.
Brian: “Exposed” is probably too heavy a word. UCF’s freshman cornerbacks will be targeted by Russo, who is not going to beat you with his legs. But they — and the secondary as a whole — played very well against Houston. Compared to the Cougars’ offense, this is probably a step down in class.
Andrew: If there is anywhere that could be “exposed”, it’s the players who stepped in for the four suspended starters on defense last week. They stepped up and played a great, spirited game. Now do it again. Do it for the rest of the season.
4) Name one Temple player UCF needs to keep an eye on.
Jeff: It’s all Anthony Russon for Temple. They go as he goes. He’s finally back from an injury and has had great success against UCF in the past, although granted, not as much as his predecessor, P.J. Walker [shudders].
Jeremy: QB Re-al Mitchell is a dual threat that usually runs for as many yards as he passes for. The Knights were able to keep Houston’s Clayton Tune at bay, and the Knights will be tested yet again by another mobile quarterback.
Eric: QB Anthony Russo will return after missing two games due to a right shoulder injury. Russo has had previous success in the Bounce House as he threw for 444 yards and four TDs in 2018. Russo will need a similar performance to stay close with the Knights. The problem is Russo had a much better supporting cast then than he does now.
Brian: Redshirt senior Tayvon Ruley has taken over for Davis in the Owls’ backfield. In his first opportunity with an expanded workload, he rushed 15 times for 66 yards and a score last week versus SMU. Also, considering the high probability that Temple will have to play catch-up for most of the night, expect Russo to take some shots downfield to Branden Mack. The 6-foot-5 wideout caught a 75-yard touchdown as part of a 104-yard outing against UCF last year. In the 2018 meeting, he registered five catches, 65 yards and a TD.
Andrew: I’m with Eric on this one. Anthony Russo has been a thorn in UCF’s side, but Temple comes with a depleted roster. There just are not enough horses for him to settle down and make things happen. The only way he reprises his last game in the Bounce House is that the defense falls asleep at the wheel and allows him to.
5) Score prediction.
Jeremy: Temple is arguably the easiest opponent UCF has faced all season. Knights win, 49-20.
Eric: UCF 52, Temple 21
Brian: The spread has moved between 3-5 points in Temple’s direction since the start of the week, most likely because of Russo’s return. Thus, UCF is now considered a 25-point favorite by most sites. I have no problem giving that many points, Temple, because of its lack of defensive depth, has run out of gas in the latter half of recent games. Head coach Rod Carey has said so himself. The Owls have allowed 96 second-half points in their last three games. And now that defense goes up against perhaps the nation’s fastest, most potent offense.
UCF 54, Temple 17
That total would actually be under the projected O/U of 76.5.
Andrew: This game isn’t going to be close. UCF 52-17. As Brian noted, it looks like everyone is taking the under on this one.