With a new starting quarterback in Brett Hodges and a defense that is struggling to force turnovers, there are a lot of things that need to fall into place for UCF to nab a victory in Saturday’s home game against Buffalo.
UCF will win if…
It can finally force some turnovers on defense. Head coach George O’Leary referenced that the defensive line will need to step up to be able to force teams to turn the ball over. The Knights have recovered just one fumble this season, with that being a muffed punt in the game against Southern Miss.
“That’s something that we have done a good job with in the past,” O’Leary said in reference to forcing teams into mistakes. “Turnovers occur because of your front seven, usually. First of all we have to start getting more guys around the ball, and second I think we have to start forcing them more.”
Buffalo (1-1) comes off a game against Pittsburgh last weekend where they turned the ball over four times, including two fumbles and a mishandled pitch, in a 54-27 loss. Under head coach Turner Gill, the Bulls are 0-5 when they turn the ball over four or more times, so it will be key for UCF to put some pressure on sophomore quarterback Zach Maynard.
Buffalo will win if…
They get ahead early. The Bulls are explosive, having secured 500 yards of total offense against the Panthers last weekend. They average 404.5 yards per offense in two games this season against C-USA opponent UTEP and Pitt.
"When you watch them on film, I think they're an aggressive offense,” O’Leary said. They run a lot of different stuff, you know a lot of spread. They got some good skilled athletes, receiver wise, and their quarterback's been productive.
“We have got to go out and play on defense and pretty much don't give up many big chunk plays in the game. I think that's how [Buffalo] has been scoring, chunk plays.”
The Knights do not have the offensive firepower to exchange scores with the Bulls, especially averaging just 238 yards offensively through their first two games.
The last time they played…
Buffalo came out with the 48-20 victory back on Oct. 2, 2004 over the Knights in a Mid-American Conference battle. It was the first time in six tries that Buffalo came out with a victory in the all-time series.
In that game, the Bulls torched the Knights on the ground, rushing for 245 yards and five touchdowns, the most for them since joining the MAC. Buffalo was 6-for-6 in red zone opportunities.
Keep an eye out for…
The Bulls’ starting quarterback, Maynard. He set six career highs in last weekend’s game against the Panthers, including passing for 400 yards and tossing four touchdowns. The young quarterback also set a school record, edging Randall Secky for most passing yards in a game set back in 2002.
In Saturday’s game, he completed passes of 24, 54 and 67 yards, all for touchdowns.
As for the Knights, keep tabs on how Hodges handles his first career start in a UCF uniform. After last weekend’s game against Southern Miss, O’Leary named Hodges the starter for the remainder of the season, saying he earned it on the field over sophomore Rob Calabrese. For Hodges, he has the same mentality in the starting role as he did backing up Calabrese.
“The mindset that I have had in the preseason and in the first two weeks is not going to change now that I’m starting,” he said. “The only difference is now that I’m with the one’s a lot more I’m kind of getting get my timing down the receivers and my timing down with Ian [Bustillo] with the snaps.”
The Knights are ranked third nationally in kickoff return yards at 37.22 a game. UCF has already set a school record in 2009 for three different players—Quincy McDuffie, Darin Baldwin and Jamar Newson—return a kick 70 yards or more in a season. McDuffie is ranked ninth in the nation for kickoff returns, while Baldwin ranks 13th.
Saturday’s game will mark the 150th game of O’Leary’s head coaching career between coaching at Georgia Tech and UCF. He is 79-70 overall as a collegiate head coach.
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