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November 2, 2012
UCF seeking redemption against SMU
ORLANDO, Fla. - UCF is seeking redemption, to atone for last season's disappointment.
When the Knights arrived in Dallas last year to play Southern Methodist, UCF still was barely beginning its Conference USA schedule with sights on defending its 2010 title.
Instead, the Mustangs put them back on the plane toting a 38-17 setback that was the start of 2-5 tailspin by the Knights to end the year.
UCF (6-2, 4-0 C-USA) enters Saturday's matchup winners of four straight and in the driver's seat in the East Division. SMU (4-4, 3-1) needs help the rest of the way to catch Tulsa in the West, but is also heating up following convincing wins the past two weeks.
"We want to win the conference championship," Mustangs coach June Jones said. "We started with the thought of possibly winning the Baylor game and getting on a roll and maybe be a BCS-buster kind of team...Our second thought was to do something we have never done before, which is winning the conference championship.
"To do that, you have to win on the road in those places. It's a tough place to win (at UCF). We are going to have to play our best game, but we think we can win."
H-back Dontravius Floyd said the Knights are focused on the next step toward getting back to the C-USA title game, but acknowledged there is a little something extra to play for against a Mustangs team that gave them their worst loss of 2011.
"We're gonna let the past be the past. But it does have an effect on us," Floyd said. "We're going into this game seeking revenge."
Knights coach George O'Leary said the one thing he isn't worried about is a letdown coming off last week's 54-17 win at Marshall. The evidence, he said, is how his team approached preparations this week for a deceptive Mustangs' team that's third in the conference in total defense, and is tied for the national lead in total defensive takeaways with 27.
"When (they) practice well they know they're going to play well," O'Leary said of his team. "They've been practicing better than I thought but I think they're going after each other in practice and they're competing which I think is the key.
"They treat every game like it's a one-game season and that's what I like about this squad. They're not talking about anything else but SMU right now."
One of the biggest reasons the Knights have been rolling is the play of senior running back Latavius Murray.
Murray started the season with 108 yards rushing against Akron, before suffering a shoulder injury that would sideline him for the next three games.
He had modest outings upon his return with 30 and 52 yards, respectively, in back-to-back games against East Carolina and Southern Mississippi last month. But he's exploded the past two weeks for five touchdowns and 192 and 156 yards, respectively, in wins over Memphis and Marshall.
"I'm just trying to make the most out of my carries and the most out of my snaps," Murray said. "When I got out there and take the field first as the running back and the offense hits the field I'm just trying to go out there and do my job."
But SMU may pose the toughest challenge Murray has seen this year, having missed the tough defenses of Ohio State and Missouri. The Mustangs have the top-ranked rush defense in the league, giving up just 119 yards per outing.
UCF's defense will also be challenged Saturday. SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is coming off a four-touchdown effort in the Mustangs' 72-42 win over Houston Oct. 18, and a career-high 353 passing yards and two rushing touchdown performance is last week's 44-13 victory over Memphis.
Gilbert told reporters in Dallas this week that his foot speed is "deceptive," but said he isn't afraid to run if given the opportunity.
Jones said he realized recently that Gilbert was "a little faster than I thought he was."
"Every now and then you can kind of catch the defense dropping eight or dropping a lot of guys into coverage," Gilbert told the Dallas Morning News. "That kind of leaves me open to make some plays with my feet."
Jones said he isn't surprised at how O'Leary's team has bounced back so far this season and expects his team to be challenged in all phases of the game Saturday.
"Obviously they have some talent," Jones said. "I think this is the most talented team we have played this year. We are going to be in a physical game, and we are going to have to play well to beat him."