Rob Calabrese (Reinhold Matay/AP)
The season is half way over for UCF and the team sits at 2-4. The Knights have been close to pulling two upsets against in-state teams USF and Miami, but they haven’t been able to get over that hump. UCF is also 1-1 in the C-USA and is looking for ways to get its offense going in order to repeat as the conference champions.
Offensively, the Knights have struggled throughout the season. The Knights are averaging 17.7 points per game, which ranks 106th in the nation. UCF has had great starting field position throughout the year, but have not been able to capitalize, as the offense seems to be out of rhythm from top to bottom.
At quarterback, the Knights have seemingly settled on freshman Rob Calabrese while also rotating him with junior Michael Greco. Calabrese has displayed loads of potential with a strong arm, but has struggled to adapt to the speed of the collegiate level. He has a bleak QB rating of 67.9 while completing fewer than 40% of his passes. While Calabrese has shown glimpses of being a good player, he appears to be over his head for the time being. Greco has had a knee injury that his hindered him for much of the season. Greco has been solid this year when he’s played, posting a 103 rating with four passing touchdowns.
The Knights have clearly had a difficult time replacing Kevin Smith at running back, which is to be expected. His assumed replacement, Phillip Smith, left the team this summer due to disciplinary reasons, which forced Ronnie Weaver into the starting role. Weaver, a redshirt freshman, as well as the team’s three other running backs, all true freshmen, have had a difficult time finding consistency this season. Coach O’Leary has discussed the backs’ inexperience and lack of vision at times, which has been a bit of a problem. Weaver has seemed to grasp what it takes to make it at this level in recent weeks, as he has started to run more confidently and show better vision. The group needs to improve overall, as it is ranks 84th in the nation with 126.7 yards a game, but it seems to potentially taking a step in the right direction.
UCF’s receiving corps has improved significantly from the summer, in which catching the ball was a major concern. The Knights’ receivers have developed some consistency and are routinely making plays, namely Brian Watters, who is the team’s leading receiver with 265 yards. The unit has been depleted by injuries, as Kamar Aiken missed the first month of the season with a fractured foot and senior Rocky Ross will miss the rest of the year with a broken collar bone.
The offensive line has done an adequate job this year. Patrick Brown has been excellent as expected, despite playing on an injured knee the last two games. Jeramy DeVane left the team during the middle of the season for personal reasons, but Cody Minnich has done a solid job replacing him. Coaches are still experimenting with the right formula for the starting group, but overall the line has done a good job through the season.
UCF’s defense has been very good this year, allowing 338.3 yards per game, which ranks 51st in the nation. The number is somewhat misleading, as the defense has had to battle fatigue this season after being put in difficult spots numerous times by the offense.
The front seven has done a spectacular job as expected. Torrell Troup has done an excellent job clogging the middle this year and has logged 21 tackles, six being for a loss, this season. Bruce Miller has been a big playmaker at end for UCF, posting four sacks and an interception for UCF. David Williams, Antonio Wallace, Jarvis Geathers and Travis Timmons have also been solid this season.
Cory Hogue has missed a lot of his senior campaign with a rare disorder in which liquid gathers in his lower legs. Despite missing two games, he has totaled 20 tackles on the year and sophomore linebackers Lawrence Young and Derrick Hallman have done more than fill in. Young leads the team with 38 tackles, while Hallman has 25, while both have an interception as well.
Speaking of interceptions, UCF’s secondary has caused all kinds of headaches for opposing quarterbacks. The team has forced 13 interceptions this season, which is the second most in the NCAA. The unit has been susceptible to big plays through the season, something that has concerned O’Leary, but if the safeties start playing a little headier, than this should be one of the nation’s better defensive backfields in the second half in the season. Joe Burnett (two interceptions) and Johnell Neal (three) form one of the best cornerback tandems in college football.
UCF’s special teams play has been somewhat of a conundrum. The return game has been incredible, the punting solid and the kicking game very poor. Joe Burnett, Darin Baldwin and Khymest Williams have all been very good returning the ball, with Burnett establishing himself amongst the best returners in the nation. UCF is 4th and 16th in the nation in kickoff and punt return yards respectively, and that is a combination of great vision, speed and blocking down field.
Blake Clingan has been a very good directional punter for the Knights this season and is averaging 40.1 yards per punt. The kicking game has been horrendous at times this year. Transfer Darren Daly is 2-of-5 on the season, while Nick Cattoi is one-for-one, but also has a missed extra point to his name. The kicking game has improved since the beginning of the season, but it is not at the consistent level the team was used to last season.
Brendan Sonnone is a senior writer for InsideKnights.com, covering the UCF Knights for Scout.com. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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