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PROVO — Charles Kano, senior writer for truebluecougars.com, spoke with University of Central Florida insiders Marc Daniels, play-by-play voice of the UCF Knights on 740theGame.com, and Iliana Limon, a blogger for the Knight Notepad of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. He asked them a series of questions to help Cougar fans get some insider views on UCF Knights football in anticipation of the UCF-BYU game in Provo this Friday night.
What is the buzz around the Knights’ camp and the campus about the match-up against BYU?
Daniels: The loss to FIU was really deflating to the fans and players. Fans have seen the momentum that UCF has built over the past few years winning a couple of conference titles, getting a top 25 ranking and really manhandling Boston College a few weeks ago. The loss to FIU was very uncharacteristic of a George O’Leary coached team. They were disappointed but need to have a quick turnaround going into their game with BYU.
Limon: UCF fans expect this game to be a challenge. They are also anxious to see if the Knights can correct the mistakes from last week’s game as most were not expecting a loss against FIU. Most UCF fans thought the program was much further along. The players have acknowledged that they had the right game plan but did not perform well enough to win.
What are the UCF coaches and players saying about BYU at this point?
Daniels: UCF is past the wow factor of playing a team like BYU, not that they don’t respect them, just that they feel that can play with anyone. Coach O’Leary has said that they are throwing out the Utah game because they don’t feel it is representative of Bronco Mendenhall's team. They are anticipating a big, tough offensive line and an aggressive attacking defense. Coach O’ Leary and his staff also respect the schedule that BYU has played so far, including the physicality of the Cougar team.
Limon: On offense they are going to try and establish the run against the BYU defense. They are used to playing defenses with a lot of speed. They see the BYU defense, especially the defensive line, as maybe not being as fast but having good size and power.
The defense is looking at Heaps as the main threat on offense. One player said this week that they watched the Utah game but aren’t going to be fooled into thinking that they will see the same team in Provo.
What has been learned about UCF at this point in the season?
Daniels: The defense is very good, despite the loss. They are ranked top 5 in almost every defensive category. The defense is returning many of their core players from last year and has a very strong secondary.
Jeff Godfrey is a dynamic player who leads the offense and has one of the deepest running back corps in the country with three returning starters in Brynn Harvey, Latavious Murray and Ronnie Weaver.
Limon: Defense has performed well, only one touchdown given up at this point. However they really haven’t been tested by a team like the Cougars. BYU will be a step up in competition, and Heaps will be the best quarterback they will probably have played so far this year.
On offense, Jeff Godfrey is a legitimate dual threat quarterback. He has really made a reputation for himself as a player who does not make a lot of mistakes. He is a good runner but also broke the Miami-Dade County high school passing record in high school, so he can throw the ball.
Will the altitude in Provo be a factor for the Knights?
Daniels: Coach O’Leary is not making it a factor. In 2002, UCF went to Logan and played USU and lost by 3, but the altitude was not a memorable factor in that game. If anything, this might be a mental factor more than anything. I don’t know if they are doing anything special in practice as far as conditioning, but they are not really discussing it.
Limon: Coaches have really avoided talking about the altitude, especially with the players. They have simply said that they will take the measures to prepare the team for the game. The coaches have done a good job of rotating a lot of players into the game, so the altitude may not have that much of a factor.
They are preparing the players to play in a sizable stadium with a large crowd. They are also anticipating the full treatment associated with playing on ESPN as the only game on TV, including a loud crowd anxious to see their team redeem themselves.
What is the Knights' biggest strength coming into the game?
Daniels: The defense’s ability to get to the quarterback without utilizing a blitz. Defensive end Darius Nall has done a good job of getting pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks. The secondary covers very well, and they have two guys back there that will more than likely end up playing on Sundays.
Limon: Consistency on defense has been the strength. Opponents have been able to move the ball on them early, but they seem to find their footing quickly and adapt to what the opponent is doing.
On offense, it is the play off Godfrey. His ability to scramble until he can make a pass has been really fun to watch.
What is the Knights' biggest perceived weakness?
Daniels: UCF gave up six sacks against FIU. I think that thing that Coach O’Leary is worried about is BYU and future teams that UCF plays using what FIU did as a blueprint as how to beat the Knights.
The Knights also lost three receivers from last year. The new guys they brought in are amazing athletes but have less experience, and it shows.
Limon: The team has not learned to play under pressure or from behind. They also have shown that they struggle picking up blitzes from the opposing defense.
Who are the Knights’ playmakers and team leaders?
Daniels: Godfrey at quarterback is a passing and running weapon. Junior receiver Quincy McDuffie has been really good on special teams, averaging 32 yards a kick return last year. UCF thinks he can be a playmaker on offense as well.
Defensively, Josh Robinson had great numbers last year. This year, teams are throwing at him almost 50 percent less. Junior safety Kemal Ishmael is the unquestioned leader of the defense.
Limon: Corner Josh Robinson has been the anchor in the secondary and is really strong against the pass. Look to see him take advantage of this opportunity to prove himself against Heaps.
On offense, Godfrey is the leader, but running backs Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey will really be the ones that UCF counts on to establish the run.
What are the keys to the game for UCF to be successful?
Daniels: UCF can’t make so many mistakes. Last week, they had 10 penalties and some turnovers, both not characteristic of a UCF team. They also have to control the time of possession against the BYU offense.
Defensively, UCF needs to limit third down conversions, and they must sack Jake Heaps.
Limon: UCF will need to get great line play on both sides of the ball. They will need to impose their will on the BYU lines. The Knights will need to establish the run. If they don’t do this, it will be very difficult for them to have a good showing. Finally, they will need to limit the number of turnovers, something both teams know all too well.
Who do you think wins and give us a score?
Daniels: I never pick against UCF but I won’t give a score because I don’t want to be someone’s locker room material. I think UCF can compete with anyone. They are no longer in awe of some of their opponents, and every year when their schedule comes out they believe they can win every one of those games.
UCF players and coaches know that BYU is primed to have a big day offensively; they just don’t want it to be against them. The Knight defense tends to give up plays early, but they will try to keep the crowd out of this game.
Limon: I think it will be a close game, but I will have to give the edge to BYU. It is just too hard to cross two time zones and play in that big of an environment and get a win; 27-24, BYU.
Who do you think will be the game MVP?
Daniels: Godfrey, because when he plays well, everything goes well.
Limon: If UCF is able to get a win I think the MVP would have to be Godfrey. He is just a unique competitor, and I don’t see him having two bad games in a row. Godfrey was highly recruited out of high school as a receiver or corner because he is maybe 5 foot 10. UCF offered him as a quarterback and he jumped at the chance to prove himself. I think a lot of schools regret not taking a chance on him, considering how well he has played.
Anything else BYU fans should know about UCF?
Daniels: UCF is 5 and 1 on ESPN, and Coach O’Leary says they love the exposure. They just don’t want to get exposed.
UCF is the second largest school for enrollment in the country. They also have the only indoor practice facility in Florida. They also have an athlete’s village on campus so that the players from the time they wake up until they go to bed are surrounded by their sport. All the buildings are fairly new and state of the art. It has been a very nice recruiting tool for UCF.
Limon: UCF has the second highest enrollment in the country, behind Arizona State. They really are a young and upcoming program. Florida and Florida State will always get their fill of top recruits. With Miami under possible sanctions, six to eight potential players could swing to UCF over the next few years. This team is hungry and excited to grow and develop into a player on the national stage.