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Round Table: LIFTOFF

The guys preview UCF vs. Temple in the Space Game

Derek Warden

It’s another weekday game as the UCF Knights face the Temple Owls on Thursday in the sixth annual Space Game at the Bounce House.

Let’s go around the Round Table to get the staff’s takes on Thursday’s game:

What switch got flipped in the SMU game?

Jeff: It was on offense, and it was attached to John Rhys Plumlee. For really the first time this season, he played within himself, didn’t try to go for broke on every down, took what the defense gave him, and executed. The numbers bear that out:

When you’re that talented, sometimes it’s hard to hold the reins. But JRP did just that, picked his spots perfectly, and that resulted in 31 unanswered in the second half.

Andrew: It’s an odd-numbered game, so the team had to deliver in the passing game. It’s an interesting observation, but it’s not my real answer. This was about momentum. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, but football is a mental game. SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee is a protege of Gus Malzahn and some of his play calls smelled of desperation to try and one-up his teacher. That combined with key drops by SMU receivers..there’s that mental aspect again..killed any chance of momentum for the Mustangs. UCF hit the ground running so perfectly in the second half, SMU’s desperation got worse and worse and they couldn’t come back from it.

Kyle: There were two. The offensive line had their most dominant game to date. The receivers caught the ball. The yards after the catch should fool nobody. It was only ever about getting athletes the ball in space in the passing game to get them to operate after the catch.

Bryson: It all had to do with the team maximizing its opportunities with the passing game. Ryan O’Keefe and Javon Baker call themselves “YAC monsters,” and with good reason. Those two make plays happen and the offense gave them plenty of opportunities to do so in the second half. Either O’Keefe or Baker were targeted on 10 of 12 second-half passes as opposed to 8 of 17 in the first half.

However, let’s not forget that John Rhys Plumlee still needed to get them the ball. He improved from going 10/17 in the first half to 10/12 in the second half. The second half was a perfect storm of Plumlee hitting his receivers, those receivers found space, and the Knights were off to the races.

The defense is historically good right now, but can it sustain this pace?

Jeff: I’m always on the lookout for Regression to the Mean, and right now this defense is allowing just 41% in the red zone, which is 20 percentage points better than Georgia’s nation-leading mark last year. No team has posted a red zone defense better than 60% in a season since at least 2013.

But there’s something to how this unit fares when they fare well on first down. Their 3rd down percentage is 7th in FBS at 26%, which is in line with national leaders over the whole season. That’s a credit to the front seven, who has put pressure on opposing passers on key downs. If they can improve their overall yards per play (5.7, 81st), we might see this defense make history.

UCF DC Travis Williams
Photo: Derek Warden

Andrew: Statistically, the best defense I’ve seen at UCF in the last ten years is from the 2014 season. In that season, the Knights were ranked 17th in scoring defense and 29th in total defense and it was their defense that helped secure them a conference championship. This year so far, UCF is ranked 12th in scoring defense and 41st in total defense. UCF’s currently top-ranked red zone defense is why points stay off the board. This is similar in nature to 2019 where they were ranked 36th in scoring and 95th in total defense while 11th in red zone defense.

SMU was the first offense that I would rate as potentially good and the defense rose to the occasion. However, they struggled at times against subpar offenses. They’re on a great pace though and they might be able to supplant that 2014 team.

Kyle: One has to think that the schedule is favorable for this to happen. Who is even the most explosive offense remaining on the schedule? Cincinnati? ECU? Tulane? Pair that with solid talent, and it makes for a fine recipe.

Bryson: I’m not so sure, mainly because while I think its performance against SMU was great, the Mustangs still made some chinks in the armor. SMU WR Rashee Rice still got 122 receiving yards and RB Velton Gardner broke out for a 39-yard TD run. Plus, SMU really shot itself in the foot with multiple drops that had they been completions, could have really impacted the game’s momentum. Can the defense hold up when their opposing offense is around the same level, but plays mistake-free or close to it?

One other factor is that they haven’t played outside the state of Florida yet. So, I think it will be interesting to watch and see if the defense can keep this up as it travels to hostile environments over the next few weeks. Also, it still has to line up against Navy, who has the 12th-highest rushing offense in the country right now. I don’t care what Navy’s record is, I am always going to be wary of them.

What do we need to worry about with Temple?

Jeff: Pass defense. Schedule notwithstanding, they’re third in the nation in passing yards allowed. Now, that may be because they have played some weaker teams that they put behind early, but there’s always something to a number that good. This is a good night for the O-Line to flex its muscle and pound the rock.

Andrew: The Kurt Warner effect. Temple is led by true freshman E.J. Warner, who is making his first collegiate start. Any hope the Owls have rest in his hands, but he’s been experiencing typical freshman growing pains. Warner has thrown six interceptions versus five touchdowns in four games. If he can keep the turnovers down, the Owls might be able to hang around for a while.

Massachusetts v Temple
Temple QB E.J. Warner, son of Kurt.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Kyle: The Knights need to be worried about themselves. If they allow themselves to continue to start slow and not take their opponent seriously, turnovers and a target on their back is the recipe for problems.

Bryson: Don’t let Temple’s record fool you, its defense is actually one of the better ones in the country statistically. It just gets nearly non-existent support from the offense. The Owls rank 8th in the nation in red-zone defense, 12th in total defense, 19th in scoring defense, and 5th in sacks. They don’t turn the ball over (doing so only three times this whole season), but they do really slow games down from a scoring perspective, making offenses earn every point.

UCF’s offense found something that worked in the second half last week, so it needs to find it again for Temple.

Has the offense finally turned the corner you wanted them to turn?

Jeff: I hope so, but we’ll know for sure if they put a hurting on Temple early. If they step on their throats in the first half and go up 28-0, I’ll be as close to convinced as anyone. But, if Temple hangs around and we jab at them for a few rounds, I’ll get nervous. But then, I’m always nervous.

Andrew: The short answer is no. Despite moments of greatness, the offense has still struggled at times and has not been able to consistently deliver. Is the offensive line being tested? Are the receivers holding on to the ball? Is quarterback John Rhys Plumlee making good decisions? These are questions that have not been consistently answered positively. Are they on the right track? Yes. Would I say they’ve turned the page? I’m not sold yet. I’d like to see the offense put a full game together against an FBS opponent. Then, make it two.

Kyle: With no offense to Jeff as the editor, but already we’re asking this question? One can’t turn a corner without completing a turn. A single half does not a corner clear. How about they supplant Temple and live up to an expectation? How about they plunder the Pirates in their building first? THEN — we’ll talk.

Bryson: Ask me this again during Knight Shift after the game on the Black and Gold Banneret YouTube channel. I’ll say the offense has reached the corner but hasn’t turned it. Last week’s second half showed promise. It was a peak at something the unit can do to be productive more consistently. However, the word of the day is consistency. Plumlee has still not strung together any consecutive games with >50% completion percentage and 150 passing yards. So, until this offense can put together some good performances back-to-back, I wouldn’t say they’ve turned the corner yet.

Space Uniforms: What do we think?

Jeff: I like this one. It’s a bit of a departure from the rampant customization that they were doing recently, but I said on Twitter that if we had to pick one of the six to be the definitive UCF Space Game uniform, this is it. It checks all the boxes.

Oh and I’m SO happy that we have reflective Canaveral Blue numbers! Makes my job easier!

Andrew: This follows the trend of minimalistic designs the school is putting out. Like in previous years, each detail has a specific meaning and I personally love that. The only drawback is the detail gets lost the moment you zoom out a little. Props to the branding and design teams who have now made five different uniforms since 2018 without repeating key details in the tops or bottoms.

I am disappointed in the hyped-up helmet color. If you really wanted to promote having the darkest shade of black in school history, coat that thing in vantablack and make national history. Then slap a chrome Citronaut logo on the helmet. If BMW can do it, so can UCF.

Kyle: I dig collecting jerseys, and I enjoy wearing them, but rating them ain’t my gig like it is Drew’s. But that being said — these too are awesome and WAY better than the white space shuttle motif. I still don’t understand hyping something as cool as the space game uniforms and then coming out with some boring white silliness.

Bryson: I think I may have a new favorite Space Game uniform. If it’s not my favorite, it’s a close second to 2019. I’m a big fan of stark contrasts on uniforms, and the way the rest of the jersey contrasts with the white trimming around the number works exceptionally well. Also, the choice to make the numbers Canaveral Blue was a really creative one that helps make this uniform really stick out from the ones that came before it.

Like Drew, I’m not as excited about the helmet color, mainly for its color transition. You don’t want to overcomplicate your logo that much. If you want to play around with it, pick one thing and stick to it. If there’s any reason this uniform comes in as my 2nd-favorite to 2019, it’s because of the helmet.


Jeff: To the moon! 42-14 UCF.

Andrew: This game isn’t close. There’s just too much talent and the defensive backfield is going to feast. UCF 42-10

Kyle: UCF dominants 35-7. Scoring is that low because head coach Gus Malzahn opts to run the ball to grind the minutes away.

Bryson: UCF takes it, 24-7. Temple has not allowed more than 30 points in a single game all season and this offense hasn’t shown enough consistency for me to confidently say they can break that trend.