Rob Calabrese (Jeffrey M. Boan/AP)
What do the numbers 78, 33.3, 29.7, 4, .1, and 0 mean to the UCF Knights? A disappointing loss. Those were the total offensive yards, third down conversion percentage, completion percentage, total yards rushing, yards per carry, and total offensive points in the Knights 20-14 loss to the Miami Hurricanes.
“Offensively, I’m somewhat disappointed in their performance with the field position they had in that first half,” said UCF head coach George O’Leary. “Again, tough loss, give Miami credit, they made plays when they had to make it, we came up short.”
Given that anemic offensive production and taking into account the Knights were facing a Miami team in their home stadium, it’s amazing that the final score wasn’t in the neighborhood of 42-0. After all, this was a Miami offense that scored 38 points just a week prior against the second-ranked defense in the nation (Florida State).
“I think the big thing is that they practice hard and I’m real proud of the defense,” O’Leary said. “I think we put them in some awful tough situations today too often out there and it seems like I’m always apologizing to the defense.”
The closeness of the game was a testament to the truly fantastic job that the UCF defense did on Saturday afternoon. Although the Knights defense wouldn’t call out their offensive counterparts, we will. The defense simply deserved a better outcome with considering their outstanding level of play.
Everyone knew entering the season that there would be some growing pains on offense, being that there was plenty of youth and inexperience at key positions. Those key positions are quarterback and running back. True freshman Rob Calabrese doesn’t appear ready to play in big games, and although he was close to making some big plays, the offense couldn’t sustain anything against a tough Miami defense under his direction.
“I think the big thing is, I think a lot of what Rob did today was just typical freshman stuff,” O’Leary explained. “We had some open receivers and he either underthrew them or overthrew them. That’s part of growing up as a young freshman and the maturity that we have to go through sometimes.”
Unfortunately for O’Leary and the Knights, Calabrese was not only the best option, but the only option, as junior Michael Greco’s knee was not allowing him to compete at a high level. Greco played three snaps, and accounted for -12 yards of total offense.
“Mike Greco, I asked him what he was, and he was about 60% he told me,” O’Leary said. “So that’s why he wasn’t out there earlier. Look at when we had him in there, he just couldn’t plant on the foot so we took him right back out again and put Rob back in.”
The Knights offense has been letting the defense down all year long. UCF ranks 118th in the FBS in total offense out of 119 teams. Their passing efficiency is 117th overall, they are converting on just 28.9% of their third downs which ranks them 117th, and they average just 13.5 first downs per game, which also ranks them 117th. Given the massive ineptitude of the offense, it’s amazing that the defending Conference USA champs have even won two games.
“I’m disappointed because the work that we put in with these youngsters and the understanding of what to do on the field,” O’Leary said following the Miami game. “One guy will make a mistake or one guy will make a call that’s not right up front and we just have to continue to work on it. The easiest thing to do is to blame them and that’s the cause of the offensive problems, I don’t see it that way. I think it’s a team and football’s the greatest game of all. It’s a team game and defense may be doing their share, but all three phases have to do their share if you’re going to win. We know where our problems are, it’s youth, but we can’t continue to make the mistakes.”
With a more than respectable defense and a special teams unit that ranks among the best in the nation at returning both punts and kickoffs, it’s the offense that’s weighing the Knights down like a two-ton anchor. With the C-USA schedule looming, and a conference that’s built on scoring points, the UCF offense will have to find some success or the 2008 season and great performance by the defense will go as a waste.