For Knights fans this season, the restricted tailgating policies might be the least of their worries.
I chose to write about UCF's performance against the Samford Bulldogs until the morning after because I found too many words that could describe the team's play:
However, after sleeping on it, I've landed on the perfect word to describe the game for the Knights: Familiar.
For five years I've watched UCF football and every year, I come into season embracing the hope for change and every year (by the first home game, no less) I'm disappointed. It would be one thing if there was a new facet of the team that somehow caused it. However, it's the same sticking points.
There aren't enough words that I can type to talk about how pedestrian the offense looked. After George O'Leary called a dive play for Brynn Harvey for the 20th time in the first half, I screamed "Enough is enough!" He needs to embrace like most people have that Kevin Smith was a once-in-a-lifetime talent and not everyone can carry the football 40 times a game. Wasn't new offensive coordinator Charlie Taafe brought in to mix things up? Where were those deep passes twice a quarter? How about Corey Rabazinski working as an H-Back?
Sans an option run early in the second quarter, Sophomore quarterback Rob Calabrese looked like more of the same under center. He showed zero poise and difficulty finding receivers with his throws.
His eventual replacement, fifth-year Senior Brett Hodges, looked and played like a Division I quarterback. He didn't do anything flashy (and did make one awful read that resulted in a interception returned for a touchdown), but he didn't panic under pressure and found multiple receivers, including a connection with Kamar Aiken to set up a Brynn Harvey touchdown run at the goal line.
O'Leary has already stated that this is still Calabrese's team. My first reaction was to ask why. However, in the long run, it actually might make sense. When Hodges leaves the team at the end of the season, all that will be left is Calabrese and Joe Weatherford. What's a benching after less than a half of pathetic play going to do to his confidence?
The defense was unbelievably disappointing. With the front seven all returning, I envisioned a brick wall that would take turns getting licks on Samford quarterback Dustin Taliaferro.
Instead, we were treated to an ineffective pass rush & soft coverage in the secondary that accounted for 17 of Samford's 24 points. Instead of taking down Taliaferro, they continued to allow him to roll out of the pocket to find open receivers for simple 7-yard pass completions.
The coverage in the secondary worries me after watching Samford pull an end around pass to wide receiver Riley Hawkins for the second touchdown of the game. Taliaferro ended up competing 60% of his passes with no interceptions.
I will say this to get it out of the way: Jamie Boyle should not put on a uniform the rest of the season. The place kicker missed an extra point and both his field goal attempts. As a kicker, your job is to get the ball between the goalposts. You don't have to worry about reading a blitz. You don't have to watch for some Wildcat formation. Just get that little ball between the two big yellow metal posts. He failed to do so. The job should go to Nick Cattoi.
The return game may have been the only highlight. Sans a muffed punt by Senior Rocky Ross, the team was able to capitalize on good field position multiple times thanks to returns by Ross, Darin Baldwin & Quincy McDuffie, who returned a kick for a touchdown. This should aleviate any pressure on putting stud prospect Josh Robinson into return packages until he feels comfortable.
I know people are going to say I'm complaining after we won the game. Yes, a win is in fact a win. However, not to take anything away from Samford, but this was Samford.
This was supposed to be a paycheck game. Maybe not to the extent that Florda playing Charleston Southern was supposed to be, but we paid an FCS team to come to our house to basically serve as tackling dummies to open the season.
Instead, we allowed Samford to play efficient, error-free football en route to a near upset. If the Knights looked average against a team like Samford, it's going to be a very long season. This game just proved that the Knights are a long ways from being in anything resembling a Conference-USA championship.
I can only hope they can shut me up next week when they travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to play Southern Miss. If not, we might start hearing "Fire O'Leary!" chants by the time the bus parks back in Orlando.