Welcome, everyone, to UCF Knights Big 12 football.
Not playing an actual opponent of that caliber yet of course, but the formality of snaps taken with the infamous “XII” stitched and painted on all the appropriate places. With that in mind, what can we learn from a 56-6 smackdown of the Kent State Golden Flashes?
Get ready — class is in session:
Darin Hinshaw’s Impact
If you were looking for UCF to suddenly become an air raid offense with first-year offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw calling the plays, you might be disappointed. 389 of UCF’s 723 total yards were rushing. Shockingly (not really), some of it featured quarterback John Rhys Plumlee who ran it for 90 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts. (Props in the clip below to tight end Alec Holler was blocking his tail off throughout the game while also catching a touchdown pass).
Continuing with the trend of obvious statements, UCF’s running back corps is loaded with talent. RJ Harvey went for 10 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown in addition to a 50-yard receiving score. Johnny Richardson led the squad with 12 runs for 100 yards (a notable change from last year) as the only back who didn’t find the endzone. Demarkus Bowman, Mark-Anthony Richards, and Jordan McDonald all scored as well.
When Plumlee and the running backs weren’t carrying the ball though, that’s where Hinshaw’s influence truly shined. There was more touch on pass attempts by JRP and more passing attempts were executed. He finished the evening completing 22-of-30 throws for 73% with 281 yards and three touchdowns. Most passes were where they were supposed to be except for two interceptions in the endzone. The 35 total passing attempts compared to 46 rushing in a blowout victory shows the balance fans were promised with Hinshaw taking over playcalling.
For some of those pass plays, Plumlee was escaping an interior pass rush from a defense that featured a starting defensive tackle who was 6’5” and 255 lbs. For all the hype surrounding Bula Schmidt and Drake Metcalf battling for the starting center position leading into the season, it would appear Metcalf and Schmidt as a center guard combo still need some more time to gel.
As for skill players doing skill-player things, fans should be thrilled by how the coaches are utilizing Xavier Townsend. Over 100 yards all-purpose (28 of which came on a receiver toss and a solid block by Holler) with a receiving touchdown (the Knights’ first as a Big 12 school) in the 1st quarter alone.
Worthy of note is Hinshaw keeping some of the things that Knights fans have come to know and love. While Isaiah Bowser has graduated, McDonald getting the direct snap in short yardage keeps alive the number five in the wildcat. While opponents will sure know what’s coming when McDonald steps onto the field to run the “5-cat”, McDonald is a bigger stronger version of what UCF had before.
Why There’s Confidence in the Defense
All the language from the coaches in the offseason told us to look out for the depth in the defensive line. Regardless of who they faced on Thursday night, fans should be believers in what the front four can do. What’s unique is how disruptive the defensive tackle unit can be in the pass rush. (And not just Ricky Barber and Lee Hunter who led the team with eight tackles)
Then when the opposing offense bounces to the outside, Josh Celiscar (who had the second-most tackles with six) and Tre’mon Morris-Brash as the defensive ends contain any quarterback rollouts outs or bounce-out runs. The way these elements complement each other is a harmony that can be heard only by opposing backfields like the score from a horror film.
It’s that pressure that contributed to what may have been the most athletic play in the contest by Texas State transfer DeJordan Mask for an interception.
What Fan Panic is Most Justified
It wouldn’t be a Knights’ blowout win without fans freaking out about something, but here are a few places where the concerns are somewhat justified:
First off, the team finished the game healthy. No major injuries were announced and no one is set to miss time in the next game. However, coaches, fans, and teammates alike gasped at some plays where they would prefer Plumee (who is ironically a two-sport athlete also playing baseball) slide instead of taking big contact.
Plumlee put up three turnovers including two poorly-placed endzone shots. It’s not so much that he rolled the dice with the throws as it is that the error for both picks was the same. When a receiver is by the sideline, you throw the ball to the outside of the receiver by the sideline, not to the inside where the coverage man is waiting to make a play. This way, if the ball is underthrown, (as it was in both instances), it doesn’t lead to a turnover.
The lack of sacks and turnovers in general is concerning from the defensive standpoint. Especially from a clearly outmatched opponent.
It’s not that what occurred isn’t correctable in 10 days' time, but it is more difficult to do against a G5 team in Boise State that is clearly more talented while on the road.