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Knights of the Round Table: Previewing FAU

The Banneret Crew dispenses some wisdom in advance of UCF’s game with the Owls.

Photo: Derek Warden

The UCF Knights are licking their wounds after last week’s bitter defeat at the hands of Louisville. They face their next test on the road for the first time in 2022, as they head down to Boca Raton to face the Florida Atlantic Owls.

Let’s go around the Round Table and answer five key questions about the game.

OMG is the season over already?

Jeff: What?!? No. Stop it. You wanna get off the bus after two games, go right ahead. We’ll make room for someone else.

The fact is we lost a one-score game to a team that, for all we know, might actually be pretty good, especially if that defense holds up like it did on Friday. That team can HIT. And we shot ourselves in the foot multiple times, had some bad and/or unfortunate penalties, and we still had several opportunities to win it, and daggum near did were it not for a pass that should have been ruled incomplete being ruled an interception.

We’re two games in and have everything that we can control in front of us — namely, the conference championship. Let’s calm down a bit.

Bryson: Just like last season, a loss against Louisville does not make the season over. Was the 2022 matchup a worse game than 2021? Most definitely. However, unlike last season, the team was not injured to heck and back, meaning this week is a prime opportunity for the Knights to rebound.

John Rhys Plumlee will have to get back up after getting knocked down last week.
Photo: Derek Warden

John Rhys Plumlee might have had his weaknesses on full display last week, but one can argue that his biggest strengths weren’t utilized often enough. This is a chance for everyone on the Knights, from players to coaches, to rectify the team’s issues that Louisville exposed. This weekend against FAU will provide the test to see what the team has done to address them.

Andrew: STAHP. There are details that need to be worked on, but the season is far from over. UCF has a conference to win and there are another two games left to improve things. A school’s goal should always win the things they can control, which is the conference. You can’t control how things like the CFP committee or polls respond, so you focus on winning the games in front of you. There are at least ten of those left. One game a season does not make.

Kyle: Well if one loss for the season means it’s over, I have predicted the end of a second season already in 2022 since I see the Knights losing at least one more to SMU when they head to Orlando. Being said, conference play is still on the table and a chance at the conference title is still possible. Even if that fails, UCF can still make noise in a bowl game. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be set up to battle Louisville again in such a venue.

Noah: Not at all! UCF is still one of, if not, the best team in the AAC. A conference championship is still very much on the table. Fans need to calm down and give JRP a chance before outright dismissing him. Man can flat out play.

What did we learn that was good from last week, if anything?

Jeff: I am once again asking for someone to put some respect on the UCF Defense. Through two games, they’re giving up 125 yards per game through the air. That’s it. When they kept him in the pocket, Malik Cunningham looked rather average, especially in the second half. He was 14/29 for 195 yards and was sacked three times. And once UCF really clamped down on his running, when they needed it late, they made plays and kept the offense in the game.

UCF defensive coordinator Travis Williams
Photo: Derek Warden

Bryson: The passing attack is probably not going to be UCF’s strong suit this season, especially if the offensive line doesn’t step up its game. Luckily, between Isaiah Bowser, Johnny Richardson, Plumlee, and Ryan O’Keefe, the Knights have plenty of rushing weapons to use. So, for the most part, the rushing attack is still functioning well.

The Linebacker core of Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, Jason Johnson, and Walter Yates lll proved that the unit did not take a step back from last season, so that settles one concern from preseason. It also underscores one major takeaway from last week: Travis Williams and the defense are going to be working overtime to keep UCF in games this season, or at least as long as the offense needs to figure itself out.

Andrew: The D can ball. I’m a big proponent that if your defensive backs are your lead tacklers, you have a problem. Well, in each game, the top tacklers have been linebackers, which is normally the case. This is a good thing and shows that the defense is operating as it should. In fact, comparing this year’s results against Louisville against last year shows vast improvement, both on the field and off. It isn’t just the new players joining or the old players getting better, but it’s also the improvement in the coaching staff and their own personal development. Defensive coordinator Travis Williams was still feeling things when UCF played at Louisville and now seems a lot more comfortable with the scheme and calls.

Kyle: I’ll be the fourth to beat the drum on the defense. I predicted the Louisville win because I believed Malik Cunningham would confound the defensive front — and I was flat wrong. The defensive backs can still cover and support in the run and the D-Line couldn’t have been asked to do much more than they did. But most of all, the linebackers are picking things up just as quickly as advertised during the beginning of the season. UCF fans need only hope their health holds up.

Noah: We already knew this, but UCF’s defense can still do work. Holding a P5 team to 20 points is a win. FAU is a high scoring offense, however. UCF’s defense with definitely be put to the test tomorrow — more so than against Louisville.

What does UCF have to do to hold FAU’s high-powered offense?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 27 Charlotte at Florida Atlantic
FAU QB N’Kosi Perry
Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jeff: Everyone looks at N’Kosi Perry but it’s junior RB Larry McCammon who I have my eyes on. He’s averaging 100 yards per game, and given UCF’s struggles against the run last week, this is where the defense can expand its envelope. I’d also like to see that group force some more turnovers. They’ve only gotten two so far this season.

Bryson: The Knights are going to have to put the kibosh on another playmaking quarterback. This week, that is former Miami Hurricane N’Kosi Perry, who is currently second in the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Perry’s also ran for two touchdowns, so he has mobile capabilities to keep an eye out for, but he is not nearly as mobile as often as Malik Cunningham. Plus, Perry’s top receivers are all are averaging more than 13 yards per pass attempt.

So, the Knights secondary is going to have to keep these receivers covered or at least limit them to minimal gains if they want to neutralize a key part of the Owl offense.

Andrew: Maintain your assignments. N’Kosi Perry is on pace for his best year yet and like Malik Cunningham last week, he can run too. UCF’s defensive ends Josh Celiscar and Tre’Mon Morris-Brash are going to have to contain the outside to prevent Perry from getting to the open field on the outside. With UCF’s flex 4-3/Nickel defense, the linebackers are going to have to continue to cover a lot of field space when the Knight flex player(usually Justin Hodges) drops back into coverage. With any mobile quarterback, you want him to win in the air, not the ground. Dare him to throw.

Kyle: We’ve seen the athleticism reign supreme, now it’s their discipline and intelligence that will be tested. There’s a reason FAU is the 9th best defense as far as total offense in the nation. Any offense that can maintain balance is far more dangerous. Should UCF’s offense struggle again, that would also offer another element of difficulty as the Owls won’t be forced to pass to make up time. Avoiding falling for fakes and play action will be the key to stopping the big play and assure victory.

Noah: The secondary needs to step up. N’Kosi Perry has an arm and he’s not afraid to use it. The Owls put up 126 points in their first three games, and even though they were against mainly subpar opponents, points are still points. The secondary needs to stay alert all game.

Is this a trap? Boca Raton Bowl - Western Kentucky v Appalachian State
FAU Stadium
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Jeff: I’m going to say no, but that won’t prevent people from saying it is if UCF struggles. Put it this way: If it gets to that point, something has gone dreadfully wrong.

I do think this is a gut-check game for UCF though. How do you respond after coming off a disappointing home loss like last week? Do you get beat twice? Do you have confidence problems? Or do you go down there in full business trip mode and open up a can on them?

We’re going to find out.

Bryson: As much as I’d like to use an Admiral Akbar meme right now, this game is not a trap. For the premise of a trap game to exist, one needs to face a team that is having a subpar season, and a subpar team the Owls are not.

I mentioned FAU’s strengths on offense before and they have made strong showings at home so far, taking care of business against Charlotte and Southeast Louisiana. So, the home-field advantage factor is not to be overlooked, not by the team or the fans.

Andrew: No. Florida Atlantic is too good to be a trap. A trap game is against a bad team that you can either too easily overlook or get too emotionally caught up in. FAU doesn’t fit that. While they dispatched a bad Charlotte team easily, it put UCF on notice that FAU isn’t a pushover. The Knights have to go on the road but will benefit from having a good contingency of fans come with them.

Seriously, if UCF is overlooking FAU enough that this qualifies as a trap, someone is really dropping the ball here.

Kyle: By definition, this CAN’T be a trap game and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know what a trap game actually is. It’s easy to make the mistake because the term is completely misused all over the sports media landscape.

For a game to be a trap, one team must be experiencing a win streak (which UCF is not), one team must be clearly performing worse than the other (which FAU is not), and the following game must be one of great difficulty and hype (which Georgia Tech coming to FBC Mortgage Stadium is not). As much of a Stars Wars fan as Bryson may be — “IT’S NOT A TRAP!”

Noah: YES!!! FAU can shock UCF if they are not ready. FAU is 0-3 against UCF all-time, and they are chomping at the bit for a win. This would be FAU’s biggest win since 2007 against Minnesota. The Owls are HUNGRY. UCF cannot let up at any point in the game because that is historically with Willie Taggart and the Owls strike. The Owls are a comeback team. If you leave the door open for them, they will take advantage of you.

Score Prediction!

Jeff: UCF 38, FAU 20. I don’t know if we’ll get answers to all of the questions, but we’ll make some progress.

Bryson: UCF 28, FAU 17. As long as the offense takes advantage of opportunities the defense gives it, the Knights will be fine.

Andrew: UCF 21, FAU 17. UCF’s offense still needs work and won’t score enough to cover, but the defense will get the job done and leave Boca Raton with a win.

Kyle: UCF 24, FAU 14. UCF covers on the strength of a defensive score late.

Noah: FAU 38, UCF 35. I’m an FAU alum first. I have to go with my team. But this will be a shootout that can easily go either way. I just hope both teams have fun. I love both my teams equally...sort of.