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Round Table: Knights Look to Storm Past SMU

The crew discusses the SMU game post-Ian

Quadric Bullard
Photo: Derek Warden

We’re back up and running after Hurricane Ian, and with the UCF Knights playing the SMU Mustangs on Wednesday night now, it’s time for a quick Round Table:

First, how did you make out from the storm?

Jeff: All things considered, we did great. We lost power early Wednesday morning in northern Oviedo and didn’t get it back until Saturday, so I’m still scrambling to catch up on work. But we had no flooding despite living near a stream, and the one oak tree that fell near us split the uprights between my fence and my neighbor’s pool screen. I cannot complain one bit, especially considering we were prepared with plenty of water and a generator.

Andrew: It’s no secret I don’t live in Orlando. I live about 10 miles from the coast in Bradenton. A few days before the storm hit, it was aiming to hit Tampa Bay. Then, it started to turn and the target moved south. At one point, it was due to make landfall near my house. A cold front pushed the storm into Charlotte Harbor and I’m sure we all know somebody in southwest Florida who has been adversely affected as a result. The amount of flood damage near UCF and Volusia County has been severe too.

We got incredibly lucky here. Like Irma, we didn’t lose power or water. Over 70% of the county did lose power at one point. We got hit by Cat 1 winds but were protected by some woods behind the house. The yard was covered in debris and there are downed trees in an easement further behind the house, but no structural damage. I managed to get hurricane grade windows installed the day before the storm, which is another story in itself.

Bryson: My family was very fortunate to have only lost power for two hours on the morning of Day 2 of the storm. The most damage we had was a soaked front door rug due to rainwater getting through the front door and some downed trees in the wooded area behind our backyard.

That said, it has been surreal and heart-wrenching to see the flooding this storm has caused throughout the UCF area, especially to the homes of my fellow UCF students, whether they be in houses in Oviedo or apartment complexes like Arden Villas.

So, my thoughts are with all of my fellow UCF students that have had their lives dramatically altered by this storm. To see how the hurricane has affected UCF students, check out UCF’s student-run news website NSM Today.

Kyle: Crazy as the flooding has been from the storm, my family and I only had to deal with minimal power outages and some yard work with debris removal. Prayers and blessings to those who have had to deal with much more than we did.

Is this SMU mass transfer story a thing, and if so, how will it affect the game?

Jeff: No. The headline makes it seem like half the team is quitting, but it’s at most two wideouts (only one of which has seen one start and two DBs, one of which lost his starting job after the first two games. This seems more like fodder for the TRANSFER PORTAL BAD crowd on Twitter. SMU’s fine.

Andrew: Not really. It’s the new norm where players who want to leave will stop playing after the fourth game to guarantee they keep a year of eligibility. These four players were not starters, but a couple of players were on the back end of the two-deep. Remember, this is a new coaching staff, so you’re going to have attrition. It’s natural.

Bryson: The biggest impact I could see this story having is just another addition to the transfer portal debate among college football fans. I’m sure they’ll be a time to talk about that, but it’s not right now for our purposes. As for this game against SMU, the impact seems pretty minimal. Maybe the loss of safety Isaiah Nwokobia leaves the Mustangs a tiny bit thinner in the secondary, but other than that, nothing. SMU is still the same team it’s been all season.

Kyle: It’s a headline, not a story. This isn’t even the first time this has happened with a new coach in the American. Does anyone remember Dana Holgerson arriving in Houston and losing his starting quarterback? And I can guarantee you that none of the players implicated in the SMU story has a portion of the impact on their team that D’Eria King did when he transfered to Miami. King had as many Offensive Player of the Week Honors as McKEnzie Milton did in 2017. This is merely a sign of the times.

Are you encouraged, discouraged, or non-plussed by UCF’s performance against Georgia Tech?

Jeff: I was more or less non-plussed until I saw what Georgia Tech did with Pitt last week. Yes, the new coach thing with our old pal Brent Key is a factor, but the fact is that Tech roster is more talented than maybe we thought. They certainly looked like it in the first half of the last game. Maybe that win will look a little better each week.

Andrew: It wasn’t a good day, but they were rock solid in the red zone. The defense gave me more worry than the offense after giving up more than 20 plays of 10 or more yards to the Yellow Jackets and ultimately giving up over 400 yards of offense. A lot of that was due to bad fundamentals. SMU’s offense is way better, so UCF’s tackling and pursuit angles are going to have to drastically improve. On the offensive side, you take what the defense gives you. UCF is a run-first team, so if the passing game continues to struggle, expect a large dosage of the run again. Gus Malzahn and Chip Lindsey really need to get all three aspects of the passing game(QB/WR/OL) on the same page. Plumlee might not be the most accurate passer, but the receivers can’t keep dropping passes and the line has to buy Plumlee some time to go through his progressions.

Bryson: I don’t really know what to make of Georgia Tech. Their win against Pittsburgh certainly makes UCF’s game look a little better, but I think that speaks more about the Knights’ defense, which we’ve already established as the best unit on the team right now.

The big issue in the Tech game was the offense, which I’m still non-plussed on, but I feel a bit better about it now than I did then. Pitt’s Kedon Slovis had a similar game to John Rhys Plumlee last week in that he completed about half of their pass attempts and threw an interception. However, unlike UCF, Pittsburgh kept at their passing and got 305 yards and 3 TDs, but lost. Meanwhile, UCF leaned on the run game and won.

Personally, I think it speaks to UCF’s ability to adjust when something isn’t working, which is a good trait to have. That said, I think it doesn’t change the fact that JRP had a bad game in the passing department, so that will be something to monitor going into the SMU game.

Kyle: The Knights beat a team they were supposed to beat. Fans and media alike can’t get past the 49 yards of passing offense. But the real tale will be what UCF did with that information in practice. Did they shore up issues with receivers dropping the ball? Is the defense prepared for Tanner Mordecai and the SMU offense? Beating a squad one-dimensionally on offense and showing up special teams to beat a power 5 opponent is a fun story, but we know the biggest positive UCF can hope for is to growth entering conference play.

This feels like a styles-make-fights game. Will UCF’s offense have to carry the day, or will the defense have to be the heroes?

Jeff: I think the offense again is going to have to step it up here, but not in the way you think. SMU is ranked in the hundreds in rush defense, and UCF is ranked top ten in FBS in rush offense. This should be pretty simple: Ram the ball down SMU’s throat, keep Tanner Mordecai off the field, and cap off long drives with touchdowns. If that happens, it should be a big confidence-building game for the offensive line.

Andrew: The defense is going to have to stop Tanner Mordecai. The line is going to have to flush him out of the pocket and make him uncomfortable. This will help the defensive backfield, who are going to be busy covering Rashee Rice, who is their top receiver. If UCF can keep Rice in front of them and limit SMU to small-ball offense, the Knights defense will be able to get off the field and allow the rushing game to wear the Mustangs defense down. UCF’s offense isn’t designed to play from behind, so they need to make the best of their possessions.

SMU WR Rashee Rice
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bryson: SMU has the 6th-ranked passing offense in the FBS, so if UCF is going to win this game, the defense is going to need to restrict Tanner Mordecai, who ranks 2nd in the FBS in passing yards per game. Most of his caught passes ended up in the hands of WR Rashee Rice, who has the 6th-most receiving yards this season in the FBS. So, forcing Mordecai to go to other receivers could help as well.

Kyle: The answer isn’t one of the other, it’s YES! UCF’s offense will have to control the pace of the game and limit chances for Mordecai and Rashee Rice to take the field while also playing clean football. The defense then must minimize and contain their ability to score. SMU will see more red zone success than any other opponent, that is a fact of life, but seeing to it that it is the least success possible is their goal.

The game being moved to Wednesday effectively turns UCF’s full bye week into two half-bye weeks. Is that an advantage or disadvantage?

Jeff: I think it’s not as much of a disadvantage as one would think because you get some extra time to prep for SMU, and you probably won’t need quite as much time to prepare for Temple as you would have had, given that their two wins are against Lafayette and UMass. I would have liked more time to get some guys a little more healthy, but again, the half-bye on the back end of this week will hopefully help.

Andrew: This benefits SMU more than UCF. They get extra practice time along with more rest while getting their last loss out of their system. UCF is a bit distracted with everything around them and the attendance is expected to not be at the level it would have been if the game was played as originally scheduled. It’s good that UCF will have a full week from this game until the next and settle things down.

Bryson: It’s an advantage for this week’s game, given it is against SMU, while it’s a minimal disadvantage going into next week against Temple. Considering the circumstances UCF was faced with, this is the last good option it had. While it would have been nice to get this game in earlier in the week and have a shorter, but uninterrupted bye week, having a long bye leading up to the SMU game and a mini-bye heading into the Temple game seems like an adequate amount of rest to prepare for both matchups on paper.

Kyle: I think it prevents a disadvantage. Sacrificing extra preparation for a hapless Temple squad over recovering for lost hurricane days to get right for SMU makes sense. Also, it can be argued that SMU has limited intel on preparing for the Knights should they play their best. The reason? It’s safe to say that the Knight has yet to actually play their best in the 2022 season.

Score prediction!

Jeff: UCF controls the line of scrimmage and rushes for 300+ yards. 36-20.

Andrew: UCF isn’t designed to play from behind and SMU stays one step ahead. 31-20 Mustangs.

Bryson: I picked SMU to win this game at the beginning of the season, but UCF’s defense has more than proved itself since then, so I’m slightly more optimistic now than I was then. So, I’ll say UCF squeaks this one out, 27-21.

Kyle: I see we have some homers kidding themselves or being fooled by Rhett Lashley’s poor efforts to hide this offense’s prowess at AAC media day. A score of 38-23 hands UCF a second loss with hopes for a rematch with SMU in the conference championship game.