Whether it’s fans chomping at the bit, players ready to hit someone in a different color jersey, or coaches ready to see what they built in camp, the wait is over for 2022 UCF Knights Football. Thursday night in the newly dubbed FBC Mortgage Stadium at 7:00 pm EDT, they host the defending HBCU National Champion South Carolina State Bulldogs.
As winners of the Celebration Bowl in 2021, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn showed plenty of respect for their head coach Buddy Pough entering his 21st season on the sidelines as well as their experienced squad returning nine players on each side of the ball.
Malzahn mentioned that to him, the most exciting piece of the first game of any year was to see a team’s identity after all the off-season work that was put in. “You learn a lot about your team the first game so that’s what I’m looking forward to,” said the second-year Knights signal caller.
After naming John Rhys Plumlee the starting quarterback last week, Malzahn had mentioned that practice felt different after that. While the running back and receiver corps have been hyped up as a force regardless of who the passer was, a number have players said in the closing days of camp that Plumlee’s ascension has served to galvanize the offense. Coach Malzahn stated that RJ Harvey was a go for backfield play after missing all of last year due to injury while freshman Xavier Townsend surprised people by popping up high among wide receivers and punt returners on the depth chart that was released Monday.
The offensive line was the group with a number of offseason question marks. It may be a bit of a surprise to some seeing transfers Tylan Grable and Ryan Swoboda listed starting at tackle. While fifth-year senior Sam Jackson mentioned that the number of returning starters for SC State was something to respect, it could be an opportunity not only for the Grable and Swoboda to gel with the veterans in the interior of the line but also for Jackson to sharpen up in live play after being moved inside to guard.
#UCF OLine statesman Sam Jackson shows excitement for how much linebackers have developed over camp leading into the SC State season opener at the #bouncehouse #GKCO #ChargeOn pic.twitter.com/foxzxrOfOa— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCFBanneret_SBN) August 29, 2022
Defensively, the unit Knight fans are likely most interested to see is the linebackers. With Jeremiah Jean-Baptist as the only returning starter in the group, recruitment and patchwork did a lot to fill that gap in the offseason.
While Jackson gave his praise as a player who has to battle them in practice, defensive lineman Josh Celiscar also offered that the linebackers have caught on quick and play aggressively. The UCF front seven not only has the luxury of support from a veteran secondary but has also gotten sharper as a whole having to chase Plumlee around in the backfield.
While getting the win is certainly of the utmost importance against the Bulldogs, gathering intel on how to best prepare their team for the next game hosting Louisville Cardinals will be a focus for the Knights coaching staff as well.