You could see the look in UCF football players Torrell Troup and Jah Reid’s eyes after Tuesday’s weekly football press conference. They know Southern Miss is not Samford. They, along with head coach George O’Leary, realize that Saturday’s game is not just another week in the season.
"Obviously, this is a very important first conference game coming up with Southern Miss up at their place,” O’Leary said. “As I told our football team, I think every game is important, but when you get to conference play, it is extremely important that you come out and get things done the way we need to get it done.”
In order to follow the game plan, the Knights know they are going to have to get certain things to fall into their favor, starting with consistent quarterback play. Both Rob Calabrese and Brett Hodges saw time in last weekend’s game against Samford, with Hodges playing the best of the two.
Even after Calabrese completed just three passes through more than a quarter, O’Leary still said he’s the starting quarterback, but that both guys will see playing time against the Golden Eagles.
"I spoke to Charlie [Taaffe] about it and both quarterbacks will play,” O’Leary said. “That is where I will leave it. Until one really takes it and runs with it, I think that is really what we will do with it in fairness to both players.”
Southern Miss will pose some challenges to the UCF defense coming off a 52-0 win over Alcorn State. The Golden Eagles converted 34 first downs and recorded 631 total yards of offense in the game, nearly tripling the Knights’ total against Samford in both categories. USM’s defense was also solid, forcing three turnovers and compiling two sacks.
Two of the Golden Eagles threats on offense, Damion Fletcher and Austin Davis, both played well in Saturday’s game. Davis accounted for four touchdowns and threw for 217 yards on 19-of-25 attempts, while Fletcher rushed for 126 yards on 19 carries. O’Leary has both guys on his radar for Saturday’s game.
“I’ll tell you, I’m concerned about the passing game a little bit,” he said. “We’ve faced [Fletcher] for three years now, so we’ve seen him. What’s impressed me and I think the key to their whole football team is their quarterback [Davis].
“I think [he] does a great job of checking to run or pass and then getting the ball into the hands of guys who can do something with it when they catch it.”
The last part of that offensive threat is wide receiver DeAndre Brown, who plans to make his 2009 debut Saturday versus UCF after sitting out the season opener with an injury. Brown caught 67 passes last season for 1,117 yards. He had six catches for 89 yards in the last season against the Knights.
“He didn’t play in the last game, but I’m sure we will see him on Saturday,” O’Leary said. “…I think he is a very, very good player at 6-foot-6 and 225 or so. I think he is someone you have to be aware of.”
Another challenge for UCF will be Southern Miss’ no-huddle offense. The Knights have seen it in the past, but it’s going to be a tough task to see if UCF can keep track of their assignments on defense.
“It’s a no huddle team and they are basically getting the call from the sideline and it’s very similar to what we saw last year from them, so nothing has changed,” O’Leary said. “Again, I think defensively you have to be sharp as far as your assignments and understand, by tendency, what they are doing.”
The biggest story for the Knights against Samford was running back Brynn Harvey, who rushed for 111 yards on 31 carries, but looked spent towards the end of the game. O’Leary noted that 30 plus carries might be too much for Harvey and that the Knights will use more of back up running back Ronnie Weaver against Southern Miss.
"That was way too many [carries],” O’Leary said of Harvey’s workload. “I have already instructed that I want a rotation with those running backs. I think the kid is a good football player, but he can’t go through the season with 31 [carries].
“I think he played 50 plays and that’s too many for a kid like him."
As far as the quarterback play goes, both Calabrese and Hodges have continued to look sharp in practice leading up to the match up with the Golden Eagles.
“They practice very well,” O’Leary said. “I have no problem there. It’s just when the lights come on, you have to produce and that’s the way I treat it.”