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UCF Knights

UCF in unusual spot with second loss already

Matt Zemek

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Bob Meyer-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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UCF Knights

UCF trying to regain form part of our college primer

Florida Football Insiders

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The theme for week 8 is redemption for some teams like: Florida State, Florida, and UCF, while South Florida and Miami will look for some continued success.

The Gators are coming off of their first loss of the season even though they played one of their best games of the season. With LSU now behind them, the time now is to focus on South Carolina. The Gamecocks are coming off one of their best wins since the Steve Spurrier era defeating Georgia last week. The Gators will look to avoid the same fate this week.

Ryan Hilinski will start for USC after he was knocked out with a knee injury last week. Coming off his best performance of the season minus the crucial interception Kyle Trask will need to do it again. The South Carolina offense did just enough last week to get the win this time around the Gators offense should put up more of a challenge than the Bulldogs did. If the Gators can get consistent offense like they did last week, they should be heading into the Cocktail Party with a win.

The Seminoles are coming off a gruesome loss to Clemson. After back to back wins, some thought the Noles were turning things around and might compete with the Tigers for a little bit. Well, those people were wrong as the Noles got rolled by the score of 45-14. Now the Noles will prepare to take on an upstart Wake Forrest team coming off their first loss of the season.

Wake could be without star QB Jamie Newman and will turn to Sam Hartman. Meanwhile, the Noles don’t even know who will be under center for their team when the ball is kicked off at 7:30. The Noles do have Cam Akers, though, and the Decans have had their fair share of issues stopping opposing running backs. Expect the Noles to feed Akers early and Often.

The Knights are in new waters this year. They have already lost two games this season, and all eyes will be on how they respond. UCF will be back at home for a night Homecoming game against ECU. No better time for the Knights to bounce back than at home where they still haven’t lost at. Expect the whole offense to bounce back, especially QB Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel (above) is still just a freshman, and growing pains are to be expected from the first year QB. Look for him and Gabe Davis to reestablish the reliable connection for another score.

The Hurricanes will look to win their second game in a row when Georgia Tech rolls into town. The Jackets have struggled this season to a 1-5 record, and the Canes are looking to make it 1-6. N’Kosi Perry will get the start for the second consecutive week. With Perry in the Canes seem to be working the ball downfield more and really trying to utilize Jeff Thomas more.

The duo will get a few chances to strike against tech in this contest. DeeJay Dallas has been held under 100 yards in three straight games, but he has an excellent opportunity to break that spell as well.

The South Florida Bulls will head up to the Naval Academy and try to win their second in a row. After an awful start to the season, USF is still playing catch up and trying to at least hit the six-win mark. With the schedule getting tougher and tougher, it will be hard.

The Navy is led by its triple-option stack that is spearheaded by Malcolm Perry. Perry has been a force this season on the ground as expected, but he has shown his arm off a few times this season as well.

For USF to win this game, though, they will need more from the passing game and Jordan McCloud. If he can generate some offense other than Jordan Cronkrite running in a game where possessions will be valuable, the Bulls have a chance.

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UCF Knights

Zemek- “UCF magic”only over for 2019

Matt Zemek

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I said Saturday morning after the loss to Cincinnati that there was a need to address both the short-term and long-term situations facing the UCF Knights. Saturday morning was the immediate autopsy of a game – and season – which got knocked off track.

This column is meant to address the much bigger picture surrounding UCF.

One sentiment voiced Friday night was that UCF’s run is over. UCF is no longer “a thing.” UCF is no longer relevant.

If any of those commentators or college football fans were talking about 2019 alone, they are correct. UCF has been damaged too greatly and has too flawed a team to realistically stay in the Group of Five “New Year’s Six” bowl chase. Boise State would have to lose twice. Cincinnati would have to lose twice. Memphis would have to lose twice… and even then, UCF wouldn’t be in the clear.

The Knights’ chances aren’t TECHNICALLY finished, but they literally need every possible break – not most, but all – to fall their way over the next two months. That isn’t realistic. The 2019 campaign has been thwarted, even if the AAC championship isn’t entirely out of reach.

If you want to say the UCF hype and magic are over this year, fine. I can certainly accept that.

If you are referring to any period of time beyond 2019, get lost.

This program isn’t going anywhere.

Can we stop for a moment and realize how much horrendous luck the Knights have endured? McKenzie Milton got hurt. Darriel Mack got hurt. UCF’s defense – as I noted Saturday morning – played more than well enough to beat Cincinnati on the road. The Knights’ defense doesn’t need to be spectacular; it needs to be solid, relative to what Josh Heupel expects from his offense.

In 2017 and 2018, UCF’s defensive effort at Cincinnati would easily have been strong enough to win, and win decisively. In 2019? Dillon Gabriel and his receivers, AND his offensive line, were not good enough in concert with each other. They all suffered their share of failures.

If one person or unit did well, the other units didn’t finish the play. With Milton or Mack in there, the odds of such a red-zone disaster would have decreased sharply.

Now imagine a 2020 season without quarterback injuries. All the speed Scott Frost and Josh Heupel have recruited into the program will still be there. UCF has a solid foundation. This program isn’t going anywhere… which leads us to the program which blazed a trail for UCF (and yet doesn’t want UCF to succeed, for obvious reasons).

Before there was UCF, there was Boise State.

The Broncos did what UCF did, only better. (This is not a negative commentary on UCF, just to make sure no one gets the wrong idea.) Boise State played elite non-conference opponents early in the season and defeated them. The Broncos put themselves in position to contend for the national title.

Remember: Boise State went unbeaten in 2009 and defeated a higher-ranked opponent – TCU – in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl than the opponent UCF defeated when the Knights handled Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl.

The Broncos also would have played in the 2011 Rose Bowl had their kicker not missed a chip shot at Nevada on the Friday after Thanksgiving. TCU took the spot Boise State relinquished.

UCF rose to a very great height in 2017, but Boise State rose higher in 2009.

That run for the Broncos 10 years ago was not the product of uninterrupted dominance.

In 2007, Boise State lost three times, once by 12 points to WAC champion Hawaii and once to East Carolina in a bowl game.

If people thought Boise State was “over” – not just in that particular year, but for the long haul – they were sadly mistaken.

The Broncos delivered unbeaten regular seasons in 2008 and 2009. They didn’t lose more than one game in the next four seasons after their 2007 stumble.

Will UCF be as dominant as that? No one knows. Just realize that UCF being “over” is a 2019-specific thing, not a long-term reality.

The Knights have stockpiled too much talent to be wished off the stage by college football elitists.

UCF will be back. Mark it down… but not this year.

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