The UCF Knights have lost two games before the first Saturday of October. That is headline news. The Knights are part of a situation which can’t be neatly summarized in one column.
Let’s deal with the big picture later, in a separate piece For now, let’s focus on the Knights’ short-term reality, which is that they have no more margin for error and that they are no longer the favorite to win their own division, let alone the American Athletic Conference.
How did the Knights get here?
There are plenty of obvious and accurate answers, but they can be summarized in a simple sentence: Their biggest lapses and worst plays are coming at the wrong time.
No sport involves perfection, or even near-perfection. Great baseball hitters make an out two-thirds of the time. The best basketball shooters make less than half of their 3-point shots. Legendary quarterbacks will fail to complete 30 percent of their passes if not more.
It is slightly (maybe even moderately) overstated that athletes and teams have to be great under pressure. An underrated and more accurate truth about athletes and competition is that pressure doesn’t require greatness on a relentless, unceasing basis. The athlete who can merely avoid melting down under stress – who makes the basic, routine plays in pressure situations – often does more than enough to win.
Spectacular plays made under pressure will obviously win admiration from everyone in the room. If the game is big enough, they become written about and remembered for generations.
Yet, most games – even the big ones – involve situations in which the simpler ability to make the expected play is sufficient to achieve victory.
UCF did this in its run of two straight unbeaten seasons.
It has ceased to do this in its pair of losses in the Rust Belt, first to Pittsburgh and now to Cincinnati.
The worst and most irritating aspect of the Pittsburgh loss was that UCF became sloppy after grabbing a 31-21 lead. The Knights committed multiple personal-foul penalties on Pitt’s TD drive which sliced UCF’s 10-point lead down to three at 31-28. Later, UCF’s offside penalty on 4th and 5 prolonged Pitt’s winning touchdown drive.
UCF carried the run of play in the final three quarters, but horrendous timing on mistakes pierced the Knights’ armor.
It was much the same in Cincinnati on Friday.
The UCF defense played well enough to win. Cincinnati’s offense scored a modest 20 points, and even then, one of UC’s drives began at the Knights’ 19-yard line. In truth, UCF’s defense was responsible for only 13 points. It did as much as it could have hoped for.
A year ago, UCF bottled up Cincy’s offense. It did the same this season.
Last year, UCF blew out the Bearcats because the offense got out of its own way and made basic plays. This year, with the defense playing equally well against Cincinnati, the offense scored a touchdown on only one of six red-zone possessions. It didn’t score any points on multiple red-zone possessions. Field goals on those two scoreless trips could have made a huge difference.
This game was more than the red zone, however.
UCF was haunted and hounded by the reality that when Dillon Gabriel made a good throw, his receivers didn’t catch it. When the receiver got open down the field, Gabriel often failed to make a good or timely throw. On a lot of other plays, the UCF offensive line got demolished by Cincy’s excellent front seven.
In a sport where 11 men need to operate in concert with each other, UCF couldn’t get its offensive unit to function well together. Everyone fell short often enough to override the fact that some players did their jobs on individual plays. When certain players did their jobs, teammates did not… which ruined the end result.
UCF has wasted good-to-great defensive performances this season. It used to be that UCF giving up fewer than 30 points (in the Pitt loss, the Panthers scored 35, but a blocked punt accounted for seven of those points, meaning the UCF defense allowed only 28) was an automatic win.
Twice this year, UCF’s defense has allowed fewer than 30 points, and the Knights have still lost.
Are the injuries at quarterback a factor UCF could not control? Sure.
Yet, the litany of mistakes, the collection of red-zone failures, and the inability of passers and receivers to both do their jobs on the same play all wrecked the Knights.
This is their short-term reality. The bigger picture can be addressed another day.
USF and UCF got American Conference 2020 schedules Tuesday
On Tuesday afternoon the American Athletic Conference made official is 2020 football dates for opponents for its conference members. And, that means UCF and USF got to look for the first time at their full conference slates and when they are playing whom.
First for the Knights, they learned that they will open year three of coach Josh Heupel’s conference play on Thursday night September 24th at East Carolina. It is one of three stand-alone weeknight(day) games UCF has on their schedule.
The next one will be Friday night October 16th, as UCF travels to play the Memphis Tigers. That’s a team that the Knights defeated for two Conference Championship Game victories in 2017 and 18.
— American Football (@American_FB) February 18, 2020
UCF will also play a traditional “War on I-4” game with the rival Bulls on the Friday after Thanksgiving November 27th. This will be the fourth straight year of playing on “Black Friday.”
As for the Knights other part of the league schedule, they will have their AAC home opener with Tulsa on Saturday October 3rd and then, finish the slate with two huge home matchups with Temple Saturday November 14th followed by Cincinnati at Spectrum Stadium the following week.
For the Bulls, who welcome first year coach Jeff Scott in 2020, they will only have two standalone appearances in conference play. Those will be a Friday night home game October 23rd with Tulsa and then, the previously mentioned final rivalry game with UCF on Friday November 27th.
The Bulls first conference game of the season will be at Cincinnati on October 3rd, while the home opener is East Carolina the following week at Raymond James Stadium.
USF has a tough road slate beginning at Temple on October 17th and then, after the Friday night home game with Tulsa, playing at Memphis November 7th and at Houston November 14th.
The conference is playing 2020 with only 11 members, as UConn has departed and gone back to the Big East. This will also be the first time that the AAC doesn’t play a two six team division format and will instead take the top two ranked teams in conference play for it’s December Championship Game.
Speedy former UCF RB Killins looks to impress at Shrine Bowl
One-player eager to start showcasing himself Saturday afternoon in the pre-draft process in St Petersburg is former UCF speedster RB, Adrian Killins.
Killins ,who just finished four years of highlight runs and touchdowns for the the Knights will participate in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
— East-West Shrine Bowl (@ShrineBowl) December 2, 2019
Killins is generously listed at 5’9 and 165 lb. and came UCF without much fanfare from Daytona Mainland High School. However, he had been an explosive player on the football gridiron, and he was also a former two time 3A State 200m track champion before coming to Orlando.
Once at UCF in 2016, Killins immediately showed off his explosiveness and moniker of “fastest player in college football” with a 100-yard kickoff return at ECU and an 87 yard touchdown run at “the Big House” in Ann Arbor against Michigan.
His best season was his sophomore year, when he was named First Team All American Athletic Conference RB, as he rushed for 790 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead UCF. He showed versatility and caught another additional 25 passes for 169 yards.
He also set a UCF record for longest play from scrimmage that still stands, in the UCF regular season win over Memphis, as he took a handoff and the looked like a missle racing down the sideline:
Longest run in @UCF_Football history ✔️
Longest run in @American_FB history ✔️
2nd-longest in NCAA this year ✔️
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 1, 2017
Killins helped the Knights experience their greatest season ever at 13 – 0 with not only a thrilling double-overtime conference title game rematch win over the Tigers, but a New Year’s Day upset of SEC Powerhouse Auburn in the Peach Bowl for the perfect season.
His next two years under Josh Heupel and his new coaching staff were not as spectacular. But, he still he would make the occasional explosive run and finished his career with over 1,700 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.
He did leave a final impression with his 115 yards and 1 TD in the regular season finale with USF.
Now, he knows that with his smaller size, even with blazing speed, he will be challenged to stick on an NFL roster, and another way might be as a kick returner. Killins left UCF with a career 21.8 avg on 47 returns as a Knight.
He will likely need to show that part of his game to help him get a realistic shot at the next level. And, we wait to see if there will be explosive plays from him Saturday.