Few were likely surprised to see the UCF Knights put a leash on the Bulldogs of South Carolina State, 56-10 last Thursday. Transfers, veterans, and freshmen alike were making plays all over the field in a tune-up game meant to build chemistry and continuity in a “live-action” setting.
The hope among fans was to not only see UCF starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee come out with a hot hand as he did but to see what the Knights’ defensive front could manage with the prospect of the Louisville Cardinals on the schedule this coming Friday in FBC Mortgage Stadium at 7:30 pm EDT. That was before we saw them struggle mightily against the Syracuse Orange, 31-7.
That being said, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn isn’t taking this rematch against the Cardinals lightly. In a game on the road last year, the Knights lost a gaggle of players including former starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel in a game that went to the final whistle.
“I know Lousiville didn’t play their best last game, but we know we’re going to get their best,“ said Malzahn. “. . . If I remember right, their back was against the wall last year when we played them, so we know we’re going to get their best . . .”
A lot of that respect comes from Cardinal quarterback Malik Cunningham. A dual threat guy that performed well against UCF in 2021’s game, coach Malzahn had recruited him during his days coaching at Auburn.
Defensive Tackle Anthony Montalvo also paid tribute to their protection of Cunningham. “The O-Line is coming back,“ said Montalvo. “They’re quick, they’re athletic, up front they’re big. I think they have two NFL guys on their roster — maybe more. Seeing how big they are, and how well they move, they can bring some physicality so the D-Line has to step up too.” Montalvo and others on the roster agreed to the fact that this match-up, 366 days after their most recent loss to this same ACC opponent, was one many had circled on their calendars.
Wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe mentioned that this matchup isn’t just an anticipated contest, but one that could define the trajectory for the rest of 2022. “I feel like this game is going to tell a lot about our season,” said O’Keefe. “I feel like they’re a really talented team. I feel like what they showed last Saturday [against Syracuse] isn’t really who they are. I feel like we’re fixing to get their best version of who they are. . . “
O’ Keefe does have a point that if the Knights hope to go out with a bang in the final year in the Group of Five, a setback here would certainly put a damper on any hopes for the Cotton Bowl later down the line. And considering that the Cardinal offense turned in three turnovers against the Orange, there’s an argument to be made that they beat themselves just as badly as their opponents did. All the more reason for UCF to stand fast and stay motivated.