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October 2, 2013
UCF eyes American championship
Yes, UCF came up short in its much-anticipated home game against SEC and national powerhouse South Carolina. However, even with that loss, all the goals the Knights have going into this season remain intact.
Specifically, those goals involve winning the American Athletic Conference title and earning a BCS bowl bid. The first step toward achieving those goals is made this weekend, as UCF hosts Memphis in the first game for the Knights since joining the American.
It would be human nature if UCF had a bit of a hangover coming off the 28-25 loss at the hands of the nationally-ranked Gamecocks. The Knights held a 10-0 halftime lead in that game, only to see South Carolina score four touchdowns in the final two periods to secure the victory in front of one of the largest crowds in the history of Bright House Networks Stadium.
"I remind them about what our goal is, and the only goal on the team is to win the conference championship," said head coach George O'Leary. "I'm glad it's a conference game and their mindset is on Memphis right now, and I doubt they'll talk about the last game. They're into the Memphis game and what they need to do to win that game."
Beating Memphis means containing the most prolific current pass rush in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Tigers DE Martin Ifedi leads the country in sacks, averaging 1.8 per game, and the team's 4.33 sacks per game also leads the FBS.
Here's the good news: UCF already has shown it can protect the passer well. South Carolina did register two sacks against the Knights, but UCF's front line did a fine job fending off the Gamecocks' ballyhooed DE Jadeveon Clowney.
"We could have won this game," LT Torrian Wilson told reporters after protecting QB Blake Bortles' blind side against South Carolina. "We should have won this game, but we'll learn from out mistakes for the next one and do even better."
UCF will have at least one more chance to prove it can defeat one of the nation's top teams. On Oct. 18, the Knights face Louisville, which is undefeated and earmarked as the top team in the AAC.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Blake Bortles has enjoyed such a scintillating start to the season that it's now becoming a relevant question in Orlando whether Bortles decides to bypass his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. Bortles' stock is rising significantly after completing nearly 71 percent of his passes for 1,174 yards and nine touchdowns through four games.
--WR Rannell Hall had a career day at South Carolina's expense, hauling in a pair of touchdowns as part of a 142-yard performance in UCF's 28-25 loss to the Gamecocks. Hall has 354 yards and three touchdowns through the air through the first third of the 2013 season.
--LB Terrance Plummer has been a bulwark of consistency, leading the team in tackles in each of UCF's first four games and making 12 more stops than anyone on the squad. In fact, Plummer's 25 solo stops would rank third on the team in total tackles, and he ranks among the top 15 most prolific defenders in the FBS.
SERIES HISTORY: UCF holds an 8-1 advantage all-time against Memphis and has reeled off eight straight victories in a win streak that dates back to 2005, when the two programs became colleagues in Conference USA. The Knights and Tigers are carrying over this one-sided rivalry to the American Athletic Conference. UCF has scored 26 or more points in each of those eight victories.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel like people are underestimating us right now and ... we're going to come into conference play and finish. And I feel like that is going to shock the world." -- DB Clayton Geathers, at UCF's weekly news conference
Scouting the run offense: UCF generated 69 net rushing yards, a season low, in the 28-25 loss to South Carolina. After the coaching staff expressed a desire to rotate running backs, Storm Johnson was the only player at the position to rush against the Gamecocks, logging 16 carries, with QB Blake Bortles accounting for the other five rush attempts.
Scouting the pass offense: Rannell Hall and Breshad Perriman combined for 252 receiving yards against South Carolina, the first time a duo at UCF topped the century mark in the same game since a Nov. 11, 2006 game against Memphis. Bortles threw for a career-high 358 yards against South Carolina and became the sixth UCF signal caller to top 5,000 yards passing for his career.
Scouting the run defense: South Carolina gashed the UCF ground game for 225 yards on the ground, with top RB Mike Davis accounting for 167 of them including a 53-yard touchdown that sparked the Gamecocks' second-half comeback. Memphis is averaging nearly 200 yards per game running the football.
Scouting the pass defense: UCF's starting defensive line of Thomas Niles, Deion Green, E.J. Dunston and Demetris Anderson combined for 12 tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery against South Carolina. DB Jacoby Glenn has played well, accounting for 15 tackles and four passes broken up this season.
Scouting the special teams: P Caleb Houston has excelled as a freshman who's never played at this level, booming a career-long 54-yard punt against South Carolina to give him a 42-yard average. Four of Houston's 13 kicks have been downed inside the 20-yard line, and the total punt-return yardage by UCF opponents is only 24 yards.
--Senior DB Sean Maag snared his first career interception against South Carolina.
--DB Clayton Geathers made 11 tackles against South Carolina, giving him 206 stops for his career.
--PK Shawn Moffitt remains perfect, making all five of his field goals and going 12 for 12 on extra points as UCF enters the month of October.