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Knight Class Week 2: UCF at Boise State

What did we learn about UCF this week according to The Student of the Game?

Derek Warden

The UCF Knights’ first road game of the 2023 season which has them traveling more miles than most programs in the country became a test real fast. They battled the Boise State Broncos in Idhao for a sloppy 18-16 victory. Unfortunately, the health of starting quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is currently left uncertain at this time.

Blue Field Blues?

When any college football fan attends or tunes into a game featuring Boise State, the famous blue field comes to mind. Whether it’s a symbol of G5 “giant killing” history or a gimmick for notoriety is up for debate. Nonetheless, Knights’ head coach Gus Malzahn acknowledged the challenge associated with facing a program that won its 22 previous home openers. He even tried to arrange practice at a local high school field with a blue field, but logistics weren’t able to be worked out.

Whether or not practice at Oviedo’s Master Academy would have prevented Kobe Hudson’s drop-turned-interception as the first turnover in the Broncos' red zone, enabled Jordan McDonald to get the extra yard to convert the turnover on downs in the “5-cat” on Boise’s 13, or kept Javon Baker from committing a second drop-turned-interception for a third red zone disaster is unknown. However, the Knights coming out with 530 yards of offense and only 18 points and still winning is fascinating.

Credit to kicker Colton Boomer who bombed in field goals from 50 (a personal best), 33, and 55 (resetting his personal best to tie for the longest field goal in UCF history) before eventually leaving fans relieved with a 40-point walk-off. With that in mind, the game had a feeling of UCF “playing with their food” just like last week where the meal in question was a touch spicier.

As much as it faced criticism, the wildcat formation did its part to secure a go-ahead touchdown. Running back RJ Harvey turned the direct snap into the only trip into the endzone for points. Harvey did his part help to stop Knight fans’ heartburn with 15 carries for 70 yards.

O-Line Chemistry

I know that I focus on the offensive line more than most, but their performance tonight was excellent. The UCF skill players were getting entire convoys out in space for run plays to the outside (tight end Alec Holler doing his part in run blocking again as well).

Meanwhile, thanks to consistent protection, Plumlee had one of his better performances wearing black and gold. While running 11 times for 73 yards, his 16 completions on 24 passes for 272 yards with 0 touchdowns and two picks may not be his best statistically (though if Hudson and Baker catch those passes and pull the interceptions from the stat sheet, he might have 300), but the touch and placement of his passes and connecting on 67% of his throws is nothing to sneeze at. His health is in question after a hit that drew controversy was his last play of the night where he was running in space.

Grading the Early Test

Panic will abound as it does inside of any fanbase with an “ugly” win. Anything surrounding JRP’s health is certainly warranted, and players will be criticized — and in many cases for things that weren’t their fault. But at day’s end, how did certain groups live up to the challenge?

While the receivers had a bad day, they also made some rather aerobatic catches as well. I would imagine it hard to believe that the football gods will continue manifesting sure open touchdowns into turnovers on Hudson and Bakers’ behalf.

However, beyond that, there aren’t many places where I would criticize players as much as coaches. Both offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw and defensive Addison Williams coaches seemed to overthink in a way smart first-year guys would.

While you might have plays that could be successful like the wildcat or with Harvey throwing the football, maybe the best time to use them isn’t when your offense has momentum and is clearly dominating in the red zone with conventional plays — especially on 4th and 3rd downs?

As for coach Williams, the defensive tackle position is the deepest one you have on the team. When playing a team that’s tough in the trenches with a quarterback like Boise State’s Taylen Green (who stands at 6’ 6” and 220 lbs) with the dimensions of a viking warrior, I’m not sure about how mixing in 3-4 formations (where the defensive line only has three players with hands in the dirt).

That means only one player in your deepest position is on the field at a time. This also lines your defensive ends closer to the middle of the field where it’s harder to help on outside runs. Furthermore, the Broncos' offensive linemen now have a clearer path to run downfield to get a block for a big play. I’m not a college football coach, but I have questions on these elements.

That being said, the defense played well getting a turnover, and keeping the opponents under 20 points while recording eight tackles for loss. In a conference notorious for a lack of defensive pedigree as the Big 12 is, UCF may have the opportunity to scare folks in this conference.

With Villanova on the calendar next week at the Bounce House, Plumlee’s status will certainly lead to speculation about whether backup quarterback Timmy McClain will get the nod to start.

Until next time Knight fans, class dismissed.