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September 25, 2013

Knights take aim at milestone win

There are all kinds of hyperbole in the sports journalism world. It's not an exaggeration, however, to call UCF's home game against No. 12 South Carolina the biggest game in the history of the program.

UCF already has knocked off Penn State as part of its 3-0 start, the first for the team since 1988. Back then, UCF was competing at the Division II classification and the total enrollment at the school was 18,150. Twenty-five years later, the total enrollment at UCF has more than tripled and the Knights are a FBS team.


Louisville remains the unquestioned favorite in The American Athletic Conference. But that favorite status won't look nearly as solid if UCF can knock off the Gamecocks.

It's also UCF's first game ever on national network television, with ABC broadcasting this non-conference matchup.

The anticipation for this contest is running very high. With UCF being off the week before, it's allowed extra preparation time for the Knights to face the SEC contender, and it's allowed two weeks' worth of hype for the eagerly anticipated game. The contest at Bright House Networks Stadium is sold out.

The Gamecocks also enjoyed a bye week last week. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier doesn't have any illusions about this being a walkover game for his squad.

"They're a good team, no question, and they firmly believe that they're going to beat us down there," Spurrier said. "They firmly believed when they went to Penn State that they would beat those guys, and they did. They're confident they're going to beat us, too. It's going to be a tough game. That's just the way it is."

Recent history bodes well for the Knights to pull the upset. The last time UCF hosted a nationally ranked team was in 2009, when the Knights knocked off a Houston team that was 12th in The Associated Press poll.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--QB Blake Bortles has been tremendous, completing 50 of 70 passes through three games and connecting on seven touchdowns with only one interception. Bortles is fifth nationally in passer ratings (199.5) and has thrown a touchdown in 11 consecutive games.

--LB Terrance Plummer has been UCF's leading tackler in each of its first three games in 2013, and with 28 stops, he's the only Knight on the squad with at least 20 tackles. Plummer remains a key playmaker and emotional leader as UCF enters a portion of the schedule that includes games against highly-ranked South Carolina and Louisville.

--RB Storm Johnson has six rushing touchdowns, posted the best game of his career against Penn State with 117 rushing yards and now faces a huge challenge going against the Gamecocks' formidable defensive line. Coach George O'Leary said he's been impressed with Johnson's improved vision, as well as his ability to pick up blocks in pass protection.

SERIES HISTORY: South Carolina has won all three meetings with UCF, but the two most recent games have been decided by single digits.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I had somebody in line trying to get my family some tickets. ... I'm just glad everybody wants to be a part of this." -- LB Terrance Plummer, on UCF's home game against South Carolina being sold out

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the run offense: UCF coach George O'Leary said he wants to rotate at least three running backs with Will Stanback and Cedric Thompson getting reps behind starter Storm Johnson. Stanback, a freshman, has seen his role expand. He has 129 yards on 25 carries through three games.

Scouting the pass offense: UCF has had a different receiver top 100 yards in three consecutive games, which hasn't happened for the Knights since 1998. UCF must account for a South Carolina defense that has 10 sacks through three games, and has the most ballyhooed defensive lineman in the nation in DE Jadeveon Clowney.

Scouting the run defense: Three different South Carolina players have already tallied triple digits in rushing yardage this season, and South Carolina has generated at least 220 yards on the ground in every game in 2013. UCF is allowing an average of 119.3 rushing yards per game.

Scouting the pass defense: UCF has a new-look defensive backfield, but the only interception tallied by the Knights has been recorded by DL Troy Gray. South Carolina QB Connor Shaw has been solid, completing 64.9 percent of his passes for six touchdowns without an interception.

Scouting the special teams: Junior PK Shawn Moffitt has converted his first four field-goal attempts this season, building on his strong start in 2012 when he made his first eight field goals. KR Rannell Hall is a threat to take a return deep every time he touches the ball.

ROSTER REPORT

--DE Miles Pace, a sophomore, made his first career start in the Sept. 14 win at Penn State. LB Chequan Burkett also made his first collegiate start.

--DT Demetris Anderson, a transfer from Western Michigan, had a career-high five tackles against Penn State.

--WR Jeff Godfrey has made at least one reception in 17 consecutive games.





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